What constitutes a good life?
It’s a question thinkers, sages and spiritual leaders have pondered for millennia. For Greek philosopher Plato it had to do with the pursuit of virtue and balance. Similarly, Aristotle conceived of the good life as one that encompassed moral and intellectual excellence. For Gandhi, it was all about embracing deep integrity. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” he said.
Moving into Christian conceptions of that idea, the Apostle Paul exhorted Ephesian believers to respond to God’s gift of salvation and forgiveness in Christ by living “for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13). Finally, Jesus’ served as our prime example by laying His own life down so that others might truly live: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Justin Bieber is also delivering a message about the good life, circa 2012, in his latest hit, “Beauty and a Beat.” And while it may seem preposterous to compare an 18-year-old pop singer to the spiritual and philosophical giants of the ages, Justin’s understanding of what matters most is nevertheless impacting millions of impressionable followers and fans. Indeed, many of them may be more likely to unquestioningly ingest Bieber’s prescription than they are to encounter the ones offered by Plato, Aristotle, Gandhi, Paul or even Jesus.
So what, in a nutshell, does Justin say matters most? Five words: hot girls and cool music.
“‘Cause all I need,” he tells us repeatedly, “is a beauty and a beat/Who can make my life complete.” While he’s certainly not referring to salvation in a spiritual or everlasting sense here, Bieber’s earthly grasp of the best in life boils down to having a beautiful woman to go dancing with.
And it doesn’t hurt if others happen to notice: “Show you off/Tonight I wanna show you off/What you got/A billion could’ve never bought/ … Take a bow, you’re on the hottest ticket now.”
As is so often the case in pop music these days, it seems the best a person can hope for is the rush of a great night out. “We’re gonna party like it’s 3012 tonight,” Justin tells his girl, “I wanna show you all the finer things in life/So just forget the world, we’re young tonight.”
The closest Justin gets to anything beyond this generic description of an awesome, nonstop, beat-blasting bash is a repeated line that hints at getting close to his girl—perhaps on the dance floor, perhaps afterward. “Body rock, girl, I can feel your body rock.”
Philosophically, then, Bieber’s latest offers a red pill for the good life that pays heed only to feeling as good as possible right now. Thoughts of tomorrow—or how the night of partying might influence tomorrow—are nowhere to be found here. There is only an effervescent embrace of eternal youth.
Beauty and a beat.
Never mind that this superficial, fleeting construct is, as the wise teacher Solomon once said in Ecclesiastes, little more than a vapor that burns off in the morning sun.
I could end this review right there if it weren’t for a certain guest performer who joins Justin on this track. Bieber invited pop rapper Nicki Minaj to add her layer of the bizarre, the sensual and the profane to the proceedings.
“In time, ink lines, b‑‑ches couldn’t get on my incline,” she begins. “World tours, it’s mine/Ten little letters on a big sign.” Then a truly strange, double entendre-drenched verse hints, “Justin Bieber/You know I’ma hit ’em with that ether/Buns out/Weiner/But I gotta keep an eye out for Selener.”
Moving toward the end of her verse, Minaj injects an out-of-nowhere reference to confessions and Catholicism: “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 streets.”
It’s classic Nicki Minaj … which isn’t a good thing.
Moving on to the video, it reminds us that Bieber’s career began as an Internet sensation. The majority of the low-res, YouTube-like images are of the singer filming himself as he sings and dances his way—along with a sizeable, youthful entourage—through a water park. Accordingly, we see water slides and pools, with footage of Bieber as he cavorts topside and underwater with a variety of enthusiastic, bikini-clad backup dancers and synchronized swimmers.
The sexual undertones of Minaj’s contribution get reinforced when she (wearing a bombastic babydoll getup that shows off quite a lot of her chest) and Bieber indulge in a brief moment of undulating pelvis grinding with him gyrating behind her and singing once again, “Body rock, girl, I wanna feel your body rock.” Minaj simultaneously sings suggestively, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s go, let’s go.”
Now try to feed that line into a worldview meat grinder and see what the philosophic result is.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.