“Rolling eyes back in my head, make my toes curl, yeah yeah,” scats Justin Bieber on a new song called “Yummy,” because that’s the sort of year 2020 is already shaping up to be. Released at the stroke of midnight ET on Friday while “World War III” was trending on Twitter for unrelated reasons, the bleary-eyed and only mildly pornographic tune is the opening salvo in #Bieber2020, a complicated charm offensive that will (eventually) involve his first new album since 2015’s Purpose and (later this month) a YouTube documentary series called Justin Bieber: Seasons that looks to involve him squinting forlornly into the middle distance while he explains the five-year gap between blockbuster albums. “Yummy” is kind of sweet and kind of gross. It frankly does not benefit from the lyric-video format.
The chorus begins, “Yeah you got that yummy yum / That yummy yum / That yummy yummy.” Very likely addressed to Bieber’s wife, Hailey Bieber, née Baldwin, the tune is a pillow-soft and agreeably low-stakes tribute to no longer practicing abstinence, with the slurry melodic grace of Swae Lee and a decent approximation of the clipped, cryptic diction of Frank Ocean. I like the extra-luxurious way Justin Bieber sings the words bona fide stallion, which goes a long way toward easing the blow of subsequent lines like “Light a match, get litty babe” and “And you ain’t never runnin’ low on supplies.” Please do not explain to me what that means.
Bieber’s world-historically tumultuous personal life and youthful bouts of jerkoff-type behavior could never quite obscure his enormous impact on 2010s pop, his innovations in the fields of crossover-minded R&B, or crossover-minded EDM, or crossover-minded Latin pop. Purpose was, in fact, a pretty fantastic album, and 2019 brought high-profile and occasionally forward-looking collaborations with Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, and (oh, well) Dan + Shay. But in recent years the Bieber narrative has been dominated by both tentative domestic bliss and fraught pop-idol misery; 2020 will also likely bring a massive world tour, just like the grueling and oft-disquieting jaunt inspired by Purpose, which involved Bieber performing lethargically in a giant glass cage and tossing off stage banter like, “You guys ever feel like sleeping all day?” (In July 2017, Bieber canceled the last 14 shows of the tour to protect, in the words of his superstar manager Scooter Braun, “a man’s soul and well-being.”)
All of which is to say that the erotic lightness of “Yummy” is unexpected, and not unwelcome, given the likely struggling-in-the-spotlight heaviness of what’s to come. The trailer for Justin Bieber: Seasons—which premieres January 27—takes a slightly sterner tone than your typical pop-star doc, given the alarmed comments from his family and friends and managers alone: “I was concerned.” “He was a shell of himself.” “There’s a lot of pressure that I think people don’t see.” (That one was Hailey.)
Bieber is 25 years old but seems 45 years old to us and probably 85 years old to himself. All his frothiness, even in his early teen-pop era, has somehow always weighed a ton. Expect big things from him in 2020, but dense and doleful things too. As album-cycle-launching singles go, “Yummy” is nowhere near as vapid as Taylor Swift’s “ME!” but also nowhere near as transcendent as, say, Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.” (Bieber also finds time to hawk his line of “cheap ass” house slippers.) Think of it as the softcore quiet before an emotionally hardcore storm. He’s not asking too much of you. Yet.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the upcoming documentary series about Justin Bieber would be on Netflix; it will be on YouTube.