Overplayed Song of the Week: Justin Bieber Featuring Nicki Minaj, ‘Beauty and a Beat’
Weeks on Chart: 15
Peak: No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100, January 5, 2013
Current Radio Play Frequency: No. 6 on KIIS FM’s Playlist
Back in October, I discussed how the video for the third single off Believe, Justin Bieber’s 2012 “big boy” album, managed to soften my heart toward the increasingly obnoxious heartthrob for its five-minute run time, but only through repeated semi-voluntary listenings have I come around to the song itself. I don’t think this is an accident; the song and the video are Justin and the people who make him systematically wooing the listener, simultaneously creating and fulfilling a fantasy, saying all the right things. They may not be particularly original or interesting things, but it doesn’t matter, because we’ve Won A Date With Justin Bieber and now he wants to show us off, eh eh eh. It’s hard to deny that this song makes such a proposal sound kind of fun, even to a non-Belieber.
This song also features Nicki Minaj, who is sort of phoning it in, but also appears to have a healthy sense of humor about guesting with the Biebs (“Justin? Bieber!” she gasps theatrically, poking fun at the target audience without insulting them, before making a few mildly predatory allusions.) At any rate, she works more seamlessly with him than Big Sean did, and generously makes sure the song doesn’t end without someone saying the word “wiener,” but ultimately doesn’t let anyone forget for a second that this is a Justin Bieber song.
Production notes: The MVP of this song is that fat, Seinfeldian bass, a timelessly humanizing anchor to the rushing synths that open the song. It’s retro and summery at the same time, and evokes the universally appealing sensation of a cool shower on a hot day, which I think is why I hear this one at Trader Joes’s more than I heard “Boyfriend” or “As Long As You Love Me.” Those songs are more sonically daring, with their weird icy bird calls and defiantly empty spaces, but “Beauty and a Beat” is classic bubblegum. If I were a tween jamming out to Believe in my bedroom and my mom walked in and caught a snippet of it before telling me to come down to dinner, I feel like “Beauty” would be the song that wouldn’t make her worry about what the garbage music I listen to was doing to my brain.
But it’s not so classic that it lacks all edge; the Daft Punky breakdown is one of the better drops of 2012, and that opening chord progression is pretty major as well; I’ve suspected Crystal Castles of ripping it off since the first listen of their most recent album (skip to the 38-second mark):
Lyrical notes: This is the only track on Believe that Justin didn’t cowrite, which is kind of surprising since I figured nobody but an 18-year-old boy millionaire could have come up with the line “We gonna party like it’s 3012 tonight.” Nope, Wikipedia tells me that this is a Max Martin song, which accounts for why it feels like it’s both about nobody and about You, Yes, You.
Nicki’s verse, as I said above, is serviceable and makes a joke(?) about ethering Bieber and stealing him from Selena Gomez (the song was released pre-breakup), though it does kind of disintegrate in the last few lines:
Beauty, beauty and the beat
Beauty from the east, beautiful confessions of the priest
Beast, beauty from the streets, we don’t get deceased
Every time a beauty on the beats … beats
I’d just like to point out that nobody on everyone’s favorite noncontroversial hip-hop lyric decoding website RapGenius.com has an explanation for “beautiful confessions of a priest,” which I feel is a huge victory for Minaj. (They also transcribe the lyric “we don’t get deceased” as “beat don’t get deceased,” which, though redundant, makes a whole lot more sense.)
Final verdict (NEW!): Too good of a song to get lost in the narrative about how Justin’s star is fading, but hey, we’ll always have Raging Waters.