R&Bieber’s back. After genre excursions into pure pop, country, EDM, and airport reggae on records with Billie Eilish, Dan + Shay, BloodPop, and Ed Sheeran, the Canadian singer shifts gears again on his first solo single since 2015’s Purpose. “Yummy” is a torrent of sexual innuendoes set to muted keys and trap drums. The beat is catchy without being brash, the polar opposite of Purpose’s noisy radio standards like “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean?” It gives the singer an opportunity to zip around his upper register without having to face off with blaring synths and horn fanfares. It’s a smart way to lead into a new album, reminding everyone what all your voice can do. The lyric is simple and silly enough to lodge itself in your brain upon repeat plays, the kind of sex record that plays for all ages because not everyone gets the joke. “Yummy” seems destined for an extended stay in the penthouse apartments of the charts.
The pivot back to R&B is a fascinating one for Justin Bieber, if you remember what happened the last time he tried it. 2013’s Journals collected tracks recorded during the tour behind 2012’s Believe. The production squad comprised veterans like Andre Harris (Ciara’s “Oh,” Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies”), Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Déjà Vu”), and T-Minus (Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life,” DJ Khaled’s “I’m on One”). The music was melancholic but also revealing, the mark of a young singer-songwriter making the jump from teen-pop fare like “Boyfriend” and “Baby” to something more personal and honest. Fans seemed to enjoy it, and it won the favor of a lot of listeners who’d pawned Justin Bieber off as kiddie shit, but the reviews were mixed, and the U.S. sales numbers were never released, so that the question of how well it resonated with the public remains forever unanswered. Why come back to that sound now?
Since Journals, pure R&B has made astounding strides, thanks to great records by Rihanna, Beyoncé, SZA, Ty Dolla $ign, the Weeknd, and many others. R&B, which suffered on the charts at the start of last decade (before Billboard discovered where the audience went and adjusted its album and single tallies to include streams), is more of a sure-bet new direction for a pop artist than it was in 2013, when EDM was everyone’s road to riches. It makes sense that Bieber would feel more comfortable stepping back into those waters this year. Will his next album dive bravo delta into urban contemporary sounds, or will the genre-hopping of his last few features be the guiding force for JB5? Will Journals ever get the proper respect it deserves, as a solid album that the artist is hesitant to even call an album? Would a spiritual sequel be even better? We’ll just have to wait and see.