Justin Bieber & BloodPop
"Can we still be friends?"
Ah, now there's a tough question. Especially if it's asked in the wake of dashed hopes for something more.
Still, most of us have likely asked that question … or have been asked. And it's also the inquiry at the core of Justin Bieber's latest hit, "Friends."
So … How's Your Mom?
An infectious, dance-ready beat—courtesy of of producer and co-songwriter BloodPop—propels "Friends" forward. It's a synth-fueled earworm that's likely to slither all over the charts for the balance of the summer.
The song's confident, upbeat tone contrasts a bit with its tentative subject matter: Justin playing the part of a guy begging to keep a friendship alive after romance has ended.
It's unclear who, exactly, did the breaking up in this narrative, though Bieber's opening line suggests perhaps it was him. "I was wonderin' 'bout your mama," he begins, a seemingly innocuous angling into reestablishing the relationship. "Did she get that job she wanted?" He follows up with more questions: "Sold that car that gave her problems?/I'm just curious 'bout her, honest."
Right, right, the old, "How's your mom doing?" ploy. Can you say, "Awkward"?
Bieber knows it, too: "Know you're wonderin' why I been callin'/Like I got ulterior motives." Obviously, Biebs has enough sense to know he's on thin ice here. So out come his apologies and compliments before he says anything else. "Know we didn't end this so good," he admits. "But you know we had something so good."
You know what's coming next: "So I'm wonderin,' can we still be friends?"
As ex-boyfriends are wont to do when they have second thoughts, regret soon mingles kinda creepily with jealousy. In the song's third verse, Bieber asks, "Wonderin' if you got a body/To hold you tighter since I left." Then there's another mildly manipulative query ("Wonderin' if you think about me") before Mr. Bieber realizes he's over the line and pulls back a bit ("Actually, don't answer that").
As the song winds down, we hear Bieber's plaintive plea eight more times: "Can we still be friends?"
The Wrong Question
Now, as pop songs go, this one's pretty tame. The only thing suggestive here is a vague allusion to Bieber's ex potentially embracing someone new in his place. And Bieber seems genuine—at least as much as listeners can measure such things—in his repeated request for a renewed friendship.
That said, I think we'd do well to consider what's going on when this song's main question comes up. And I wonder if it's actually not the right one. Can you be friends with someone you've broken up with? Sure. Anything's possible, right?
But I think anyone who finds themselves being confronted with this question by an ex looking reestablish relational ties would do well to ask these questions too: Is it wise to be "just friends" with someone you were once romantically involved with? Is that likely to end well for either party?
I'm going to leave those two questions hanging, just as Justin Bieber does his.