Not like there were too many people hating on Justin Bieber’s lead Believe single “Boyfriend”—the song debuted at #2 on the Hot 100 and had more rappers jumping on remixes of it than a ’90s Puff Daddy hit—but just in case, he decided to make “Die In Your Arms,” the album’s second transmission, “hater-proof.” At least according to manager Scooter Braun, who used the guarantee on Saturday when teasing the song’s release, also calling it his “favorite song on #BELIEVE” and comparing it to “old school MJ.” Bold claims all, but now that “Die in Your Arms” is upon us, we’re happy to report that we’re not gonna contradict him on any of them.
To be honest, though, we’d go a generation or two later than the Jackson 5 with our musical comparison, and compare “Die” to another family band of young’ns—Hanson. The sweet soul, immaculate production and sunny vibe of the song would’ve sounded right at home on Middle of Nowhere, and when Bieber’s doing his yearning-but-playful vocal thing, he actually sounds a whole lot like lead singer Taylor. Though Hanson might not inspire the reflexive reverence of “old school MJ,” we still mean the comparison as a compliment—pop/rock doesn’t come much more delectable than those early Hanson singles, and Bieber’s latest offering definitely hits at that same high level of craftsmanship.
The song is an attention-grabber from the get, with its gently gabbing organ hook (like The Doors if they went Motown) and admittedly very J5-esque “mmmhmmm,” “yeah, yeah” backing vocals and snapping paving the way for a rather funky drum loop and Bieber’s introduction: “Say you love me, as much as I love you, yeah / But you hurt me baby / Would you do this to me?” Bieber never really goes for the MJ-esque kill on the song, keeping things sweet and simple, crooning on the chorus “If I could just die in your arms / I wouldn’t mind / ‘Coz every time you touch me, I just…” The closest to Michael he really gets is on the song’s spoken ad-libs, interjecting “Ooh baby, I know loving you ain’t easy, sure is worth a try” (though in the bridge he contradicts himself, claiming “loving you is so damn easy”—continuity editor!) and, of course, “I’m gonna make you believe, girl!”
“Boyfriend” may have marked The Bieb’s semi-self-conscious transition into “adult” pop, but while “Arms” is more unapologetically young-sounding, it’s also the more mature, balanced and professional pop song of the two. It might not be as big a hit, and it certainly won’t spawn any catchphrases as good as “swag, swag, swag on you,” but all told, it’s probably the better song, and has moments (like the subtle but stunning harmonies on the chorus) that top any of the first single’s biggest thrills. (Would it have killed him (no pun intended) to throw Cutting Crew a bone, though? Just one small lyrical reference? Fine.)