Let’s have a toast for the assholes: on Justin Bieber and good pop music

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In a review of MIA’s critically condemned MAYA, Pitchfork writer Matthew Perpetua posits an especially apt claim for artists in the top 40: “Right or wrong, the social contract is simple: If you bring the hits, we’ll put up with your shit.”

It makes sense for a lot of musicians: Kanye circa-“George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” Chris Brown (man, how does he still have loyal Breezies?), John Lennon and countless other icons whose crummy reputations have been brushed under the rug.

A lot of it is inexcusable — but their careers have stood the test of time, in spite of their noted shit.

Justin Bieber, however, is the most exemplary model of late. Purpose is one of the best pop records of the year, front to back. Slick, airy R&B: it’s as routine as it is perfect. And he’s regaining fans back to his side — not Beliebers, but music fans who feign surprise that his tunes are actually quite good.

Bieber has cred now! But let’s not forget that he’s still a dick of gargantuan proportions. And we’re not talking about his Pap-publicized nude photos (or the gross tweet his father and #proud daddy made about them).

The discussion surrounding his growth as a “mature” pop musician is now “I didn’t expect him to be so good” or “I like him even though he’s a dick!” as opposed to the “Justin Bieber should be deported to Canada” of years past.

Of course, part of the crowd approval is that he’s saying “Sorry” now. He’s repenting for all of his peeing-in-buckets and cavorting-with-hookers debauchery. He’s pulling the anti-Kanye. Instead of having a “toast for the douchebags” like Kanye does on “Runaway,” he’s pouring one out for all his past misanthropic sins.

But even when he was an innocent tween YouTube sensation, he didn’t receive the kind of positive appraisal that he does now. Back when the Biebs dropped “Baby” and “One Time,” he was surrounded by leery jeers that, in retrospect, were excessive for a precious, snot-nosed high schooler who could sing and dance.

Times have changed. His musical output this year is the sonic equivalent of an apologetic dog who may or may not have wet the carpet. “Purpose” is a full-on puppy dog eyes assault, with all the sonic trimmings courtesy of Skrillex and Diplo. He’s really, truly, sorry for all the times he’s screwed up.

But really, he’s not. There’s still an undercurrent of outright meanness with his music. Even in the pseudo-apologetic “Sorry,” his lyrics are still sprinkled with asshole-isms; “I’m missin’ more than just your body,” makes for a great hook in “Sorry,” but that’s not a line you would actually say to a girl…right?

“Love Yourself” is a full-on dig at his ex-girlfriend. It’s pretty and catchy and acoustic and sounds vaguely like an Ed Sheeran and Sufjan Stevens mashup, but it’s still a dirty laundry drag constructed like a sincere apology. A nightmare dressed like a daydream, if you will.

Point is, the dude’s still kind of a jerk. Enjoy Justin Bieber’s mopey request for forgiveness. But it’s a shame he’s not just celebrating in his assholery.

Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected]. Tweet him at @joshuaboat.