While it was going to be tough to follow up the success “Sorry” saw, the same co-writing team of BloodPop®, Bieber, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter — the sole four writers on “Sorry” — joined forces once again for “Friends,” which was released on Aug. 17, and marked BloodPop®’s first official lead-artist credit on a single. This reunion resulted in what could be considered “Sorry 2.0,” between the song's similar bass lines and mini-drops, and the new single's continuation of the breakup story “Sorry” introduced, with Bieber pleading “If it ends, can we be friends?” in the chorus.
Now in its sixth week on the Hot 100, “Friends” is currently at No. 36 on the chart dated Oct. 14 (the song having peaked at No. 20 on Sept. 9). Although “Friends” hasn't quite been the smash “Sorry” was so far, it’s still undeniably catchy and affecting, and is blowing up airwaves around the world. As “Friends" continues its run on the Hot 100, Billboard caught up with BloodPop® to hear about Bieber’s involvement with the song, what it means to him lyrically, and finally having a single with his name on it — as well as the star-studded collabs to come.
You worked with Justin Bieber on “Sorry” and some other Purpose tracks, but how did he get involved with “Friends”?
We [Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter and BloodPop®] wrote “Friends” a year ago. The demo of it was kind of like a chill, laid back vibe, and we were trying to write it for another artist. I can’t remember who it was.
For a while, we were just going to put it out as Julia [Michaels], and then I was playing it for a good friend of mine, Josh Gudwin. He was the vocal engineer and one of the executive producers on Purpose. That’s how Bieber heard it, and then Bieber kind of finished it and -- much like the other songs on the last album where it came together very fast -- it was like a whirlwind, and all of a sudden it worked out.
Did Bieber do anything to the lyrics or the melody?
He always kind of puts his touches on everything, whether he started the writing or not. Writing is such a big, confusing thing where sometimes it’s hard to define. It’s almost like a spiritual thing, where all the writers work amongst themselves. But yeah, he did add some stuff. It stayed the same song, but there were little changes here and there.
What do you think he brings to songs vocally, and/or when he puts his own spin on things?
I can’t even put my thumb on it. It’s some kind of secret spot…a secret spot that you know when it’s missing, and you know when other people are trying to find it. He just has one of those voices where you can recognize it immediately, and no matter how you feel about him, you’re like, “Wow, that’s pleasant.” You can’t argue with it.
It’s definitely like one of those pop anomalies that don’t come very often, in terms of vocals. It’s cool for him to make those melodies with the vocals. On the other hand, I feel like Julia Michaels is one of those voices. I feel like in five years or even one year, everybody will know that Julia Michaels voice. There are just so many certain amazing things she does that you can’t imitate.
Do you feel like any lyrics in “Friends” are particularly special?
My favorite has always been the opening line, “I was wonderin’ ‘bout your mama.” That’s a certain thing that can be like, “Is your mom happy?,” Because it’s like, "If she’s happy, you’re happy, and I care about everything that comes with your life." I think that sets the tone for an earnest note of “I actually care for someone,” because when you’re friends with somebody, you’re like, “How’s everything? How’s your family?” So I like that line because it sets the tone.
Some reactions to the song were like “Of course he’s wanting to be friends, that’s what all the guys say” -- but opening the song with a line that’s that personal, it makes the line “Can we still be friends?” a lot more serious, if that makes sense.
Right. It’s a complicated notion, because when you date somebody -- especially for an extended period of time -- and you get to know their family, then you break up, and you have to delete all the people who came with that person out of your mind. I think that is part of the reason I like that line, because it’s addressing all the baggage that comes with the breakup. I have friends who had that with their ex-boyfriends, where they really got along with the family, like, “I really liked that guy.” And that’s complicated when it ends.
For sure. So what is it like to see your name out in the masses that isn’t with the word remix next to it?
It’s super-cool, it’s definitely different. I’m still kind of processing the differences. Like everything in Joanne [Lady Gaga’s album, which BloodPop® co-produced] -- it was exciting to see that come out, and [“Friends”] feels different, yet it doesn’t. I guess it’s because I approach everything as BloodPop®, you know. My name just so happens to be on this, but it’s very exciting.
Was there something sonically that felt different, other than the fact that your name was on the track?
It’s basically like a disco track at the core of it, which is what I really wanted to do when coming out with BloodPop® stuff -- kind of the overarching theme of positivity. It’s something I really associate with BloodPop®, that track, because I don’t think there’s a better notion than “Can we be friends?”
You’ve called the music you’ve been making this year “the best music I’ve made.” Would you say the positivity aspect is playing into that? Or why do you feel that way?
I think it’s just an overcompensation for sheer darkness. I don’t know if 2017 will go down as the year with the best history, you know what I’m saying. You need this hyper positivity to counteract all this negativity around us. That’s kind of like the whole goal of BloodPop®, it’s an exaggerated caricature of positivity to hopefully relieve some stress.
So do you have more BloodPop® singles coming? You’ve been with Ellie Goulding and Hailee Steinfeld, according to your Instagram…
Yeah, I do have a lot of songs coming. A lot. Ellie Goulding is involved, and I have a song with PNB Rock. A lot of music with other artists as well. But I don’t want to say too many names!