Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" Has A Deep Inspiration Behind Those Catchy Lyrics
Whatever your feels about Justin Bieber, and pop music that sticks in your head for weeks, you've got to tip your hat to the solid work of songwriting genius that was his smash hit "Boyfriend." Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" not only sold all the copies, debuting at number two in the Billboard Hot 100 , but it helped establish Bieber as a viable adult recording artist. He even performed a preview of the track on The Ellen Degeneres Show on his 18th birthday. It doesn't get much more adult than that. But who wrote "Boyfriend"? It was a collaboration between musicians Blackbear (also known as Matthew Musto) and Mike Posner, the latter of whom appeared on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon to open up about his inspiration for the lyrics. The part that sticks with me from the video above is Posner's insistence that the key to the song is the word "if," because that makes so much sense.
During the interview, he confides that, originally, the lyrics for the song were totally different. The refrain had nothing to do with boyfriends, but was far more intimate: “Inside of your bedroom, no one has to know, inside of your bedroom, that’s where we should go.” But Posner stresses, "I never really liked those lyrics." As such, he returned to the studio and spent "hours... or it felt like hours" coming up with a new line that could act as the center of the song.
In the video, he states "this statement popped into my head, 'If I was your boyfriend' and I like if/then statements in songs… I like if I was your boyfriend. So that’s how we wrote it.” The "if" that the song hinges on is rather clever. Think of it this way: normally, in songs written by young male stars to cater to a female audience, there's often an implied "if" at play.
The "if" is that the song is written not for an audience of millions, but for you personally. You get this a lot with boybands — an obvious example is *NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye," in which the implied "if" is that you're invited to imagine you're in a troubled relationship with one of the *NSYNC hunks. Your relationship with the *NSYNC-er of your choice may be difficult, but it's also inviting — after all, it's one of immense passion ("I loved you endlessly," "I've lived for you and me").
We get a similar thing here, but twice over. First, there's the "if" of if Justin Bieber was addressing these lyrics to me and totally madly in love with me, how would I feel? Dreamy, probably. There's also the "if" of the singer's voice; Bieber is enjoying a flight of imagination, singing "If I was your boyfriend," and much of the lyrics are in the conditional. If Bieber was your boyfriend, he'd "never let you go," he'd "keep you on my arm girl, you'd never be alone."
He indulges in playful fantasy: he "could be your Buzz Lightyear, fly across the globe." As such, maybe the reason "Boyfriend" is so powerful is not that it's a great love song (though, sure, that too), but that it's something much rarer: a moving celebration of imagination. It's not just celebrating our own capacity to be moved as audiences by soppy songs by cute singers, it's celebrating the one thing that unites the singer and the listener: imagination. The songwriter magics up a whole world in his head, just like the listener.
So, sure, it's got a catchy melody and a simple refrain, but please don't dismiss this song as being more trivial than it actually is. Like everyone who's truly excellent at their job, Posner is simply skilled at making songwriting look (and sound) effortless. Use Posner's interview as an excuse (as if you needed one) to revisit a timeless Bieber classic today and enjoy the sophistication of the double "if" at play.