The return to the pop world of two of the biggest solo stars of the 2010s, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, has coincided on the same single: “I Don’t Care,” the new collab between the between the two “Love Yourself” co-writers, and Sheeran’s first musical release since his world-conquering Divide album in 2016.
Released earlier this May, the breezy bounce of “I Don’t Care” was always going to have an immediate and tremendous commercial impact — and indeed, the single launches at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, both stars’ best ranking on the chart since 2017. (Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” remains at No. 1 for a seventh week, making Sheeran and Bieber the latest in an increasingly impressive line of veteran pop stars held at No. 2 by the viral hit.)
Will the late-spring release take over radio for the warm-weather months? And what does the sound of “I Don’t Care” portend about the future musical directions of Bieber and Sheeran? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. The timing of the release of “I Don’t Care” seems to be designed to maximize the song’s chances at earning song of the summer honors. What kind of chances do you think it has to be a real contender there?
Danica Daniel: No one can deny that Bieber owned the summer of 2017 with his feature on “Despacito,” which helped make Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee the first artists to score a foreign-language-based Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit since the “Macarena.” The song was instantly catchy and carefree and — I am not going to lie — when “I Don’t Care” came up on my Spotify playlist I instantly hit replay a few times. So I definitely think it’s a contender for song of the summer. I also don’t think it hurts that the song is Sheeran’s first new music since 2017’s Divide and Bieber’s last album was 2015’s Purpose, so I am sure that Beliebers and Sheerios will be clamoring for new music and quick to add this song to their BBQ, pool and beach party playlists. (Which, based on the lyrics, is highly ironic.)
Eric Frankenberg: Two of the most prolific chart-toppers of the last five years releasing a new single, both years removed from their last LPs, right before Memorial Day, seems like a very easy bet to be a major contender for Song of the Summer. But historically speaking, the SOTS is usually an out-of-the-box smash that announces itself, unquestionably, as a dominant force. The No. 2 debut of “I Don’t Care” behind the cultural juggernaut that is “Old Town Road” gives me pause that this track can not only become a successful hit but rise to the point of “Despacito”-level ubiquity. I think it will finish on the official Song of the Summer top 10, but I’m holding back from predicting an all-out victory.
Jason Lipshutz: After spending a week with “I Don’t Care,” my opinion has morphed from “This is a bit underwhelming coming from these two hit-makers” to “This is potentially the most surefire Top 40 hit since ‘Girls Like You’ was inescapable for months on end.” Like that Maroon 5 smash of yore, “I Don’t Care” takes a few spins to burn into your brain, but once it’s there, its pop appeal feels obvious and immediate, as if its universality had been hiding in plain sight. A splashy Hot 100 debut was an inevitability thanks to the star power involved, but I expect “I Don’t Care” to linger in the upper reaches of the chart for a while.
Andrew Unterberger: Say this: If it doesn’t become song of the summer, it won’t be for lack of trying. “I Don’t Care” couldn’t be much more custom-designed for sunny days, from the light Caribbean inflections of the beat to the shots of Sheeran and Bieber lounging by the pool in the video to the “Hell yeah!” mini-singalongs in the verses to the general affability of the chorus. But it’s true that the most predictable song of the summer rarely ends up the overall champ, so maybe we tend to underrate music fans’ desire for something a little new and different soundtracking their beach days and road trips.
Taylor Weatherby: I think “I Don’t Care” is one of the catchiest pop songs 2019 has seen yet, so to me it’s already a real contender. Though the production is a little more dance-leaning, it’s melody and lyrics make it a pretty purely pop song — and its bright production is perfect for the warm weather, with its “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” hook in particular being a brain-sticker that people will whistle all day after hearing the chorus for the first time. As far as the pop song of the summer candidates go, I’d say its biggest competition so far is the Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker.”
2. Post Malone, Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie, Shawn Mendes, and now Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” is keeping some mighty big pop names as silver medalists on the Hot 100 this year. What does the continued reign of Lil Nas X over these established superstars say to you about pop music in 2019?
Danica Daniel: Pop music is dead, right?! Just kidding. What I love about the success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” is the fact that he found the track on BeatStars created by YoungKio and bought the track from the Netherlands teen for only $30, while Post Malone, Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes and, of course, Bieber and Sheeran are undoubtedly working with exponentially bigger budgets. So I think it’s a reminder to the music industry that spending millions on a track and enlisting big name artists doesn’t necessarily guarantee a hit record. I also must mention that most music fans, like myself, are into more than just one genre — so songs like “Old Town Road” that blur the lines of genre, in my opinion, will always appeal to a larger audience, and thus do better on the charts.
Eric Frankenberg: Sometimes, we have periods on the Hot 100 like 2010-11 (Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Adele, Kesha, Pink) and 2015-16 (Adele, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Drake, The Weeknd, Rihanna) where the usual suspects feel bulletproof. But we’ve also gone through periods where the throne is in flux, as some of the aforementioned superstars have stumbled trying to figure out how to move forward among new crops of hitmakers. Whether “Old Town Road” is a forebearer for the future of pop music or a singular vision that can’t be replicated is yet to be seen, but perhaps Swift and Mendes and Bieber and Sheeran can use Lil Nas X to recall the energy that yielded them their own breakthroughs as we head into the 20s.
Jason Lipshutz: This streak of huge names having to settle for the runner-up spot on the Hot 100 speaks less to any deficiencies with “ME!,” “If I Can’t Have You” or “I Don’t Care,” and more to the enormity of “Old Town Road,” which has seemingly united music fans across the country in a relatively short time span. The fact that the song has broken streaming records for multiple weeks in a row demonstrates how huge it’s become, to a point in which it will almost assuredly define the year in popular music in the same way that “Despacito” did two years ago. And that’s the exciting aspect of pop music — its ability to completely upend expectation. No one could have seen this out-of-nowhere single stymying the big new singles from pop’s A-list, but thanks to “Old Town Road,” Taylor, Shawn, Ed and Justin have had to keep their respective horses in the back.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it means we’re in a pretty healthy place for pop music on the charts right now, to be honest: a place where there’s still plenty of room for established stars to have their expected impact, but in which they’re not walking into No. 1 hits by default. Maybe a few of them would have if not for the once-or-twice-in-a-generation moment like “Old Town Road,” but you just never know when one of these unexpected cultural phenomenons is going to come along, or where from — a concept that Bieber himself should be more familiar with than anyone.
Taylor Weatherby: That names are mattering less and less. Superstars clearly still have power, considering all of those artists shot to No. 2 on the Hot 100, but an undeniable smash is what ultimately wins no matter who is singing it. It also tells me that people are looking for different. There is nothing else out there right now as genre-bending as “Old Town Road,” and its continued Hot 100 reign shows that people don’t care about defining a song by musical style as much as they enjoy a ridiculously catchy tune — whether it’s sung by a rookie or a legend.
3. New albums from both Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber are sure to be two of the year’s most-anticipated releases. Whose upcoming LP do you think “I Don’t Care” will end up being more in line with sonically/musically, if either?
Danica Daniel: This is a tough one. I could see “I Don’t Care” fitting into either artist’s next album based on their previous work, but if I had to choose, I would go Bieber all the way. Besides Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” I feel Bieber has provided us with many more party bangers then Sheeran over the years, and “I Don’t Care” already reminds me eerily of 2015’s “What Do You Mean?” Also when I think of Sheeran, I think of songs that make me have serious relationship FOMO, and this isn’t one of them.
Eric Frankenberg: It feels like a total wildcard – both, or neither. Like Swift’s “ME!,” “I Don’t Care” arrived without a proper announcement of a forthcoming album. That allows both Bieber and Sheeran the freedom to re-arrange and adjust their track lists depending on the long-term performance of their new single. “I Don’t Care” doesn’t stray too far from the mid-tempo trop-pop of “What Do You Mean” or “Shape of You,” so this could simply be a re-introduction for both superstars, before the official unveiling of Bieber 2k20 and Sheeran 4.0.
Jason Lipshutz: Gonna go with the “neither” option here: “I Don’t Care” seems like a one-off, a stopgap single for two artists with little to prove and zero indication that an album is imminent. Ed and Justin probably saw an opportunity to come together, rack up millions of daily streams and goof around in front of a green screen together. Far be it from anyone to deny them such earthly delights.
Andrew Unterberger: Like his good buddy Taylor, Ed Sheeran’s evolution from acoustic-toting singer-songwriter to top 40 pop centrist has been so gradual and smart that you have to flash back to the beginning sometimes to even remember how much distance they’ve ultimately traveled. Using that parallel, that would make this Sheeran’s “Shake It Off,” which would imply that his forthcoming fourth LP will be his 1989 — an album of practically non-stop pop hits that all but officially backburners his folkier instincts. We’ll see if that ends up coming to pass, but I find that a little likelier than Justin Bieber going for Round Two with the Island-and-EDM-influenced megapop of Purpose — too much has changed for the Bieb since 2015.
Taylor Weatherby: My initial reaction to that question is “definitely Bieber” because its bouncy dance-inspired production sounds very “Sorry”-esque to me, but then again, I could see Justin steering his own music in a more unexpected direction since his next set has been so anticipated. The same goes for Ed — you wouldn’t necessarily expect a dance-leaning track from the guitar-strumming, occasionally rapping singer, but it would be a fun lane for him to explore in the post-“Shape Of You” era. That’s a very long-winded way of basically saying I’m not really sure: I could see both Justin’s and Ed’s next albums following the “I Don’t Care” vibe, but also wouldn’t be shocked if this is the most production-heavy tune these two put out this year.
4. What’s your favorite image from the hyper-colorful, green-screen heavy “I Don’t Care” video?
Danica Daniel: While I literally burst out laughing at the visual of Bieber running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain in an ice-cream suit, my favorite shot has to be that of the 25-year-old flying on a magic carpet past a rainbow. Ever since Disney’s Aladdin, I have always fantasized about falling in love while on a magic carpet ride — and who could deny that Justin is, for Beliebers everywhere, a modern-day prince?
Eric Frankenberg: Ed Sheeran as a panda bear in space. At this point, I trust pandas over humans to figure out our next steps, assuming Earth is, in fact, in as bad of shape as Lil Dicky tells us it is. Close runner-up is Bieber as part-ice cream cone, part-magical pony.
Jason Lipshutz: There’s a scene in which Justin Bieber, dressed as an ear of corn, hops up to the fence overlooking a pool party. What’s going on in this moment? Is Corn Bieber about to excitedly enter the pool party, or is he dejected about his exclusion from the festivities? I’d love to hear Bieber unpack his motivations for this fascinating development in the story of the video.
Andrew Unterberger: Give me the teal-and-purple windbreaker that Sheeran sports sporadically throughout the video, please. Actually, just give me a pop culture moment for boldly colored windbreakers in general.
Taylor Weatherby: This video is too much for someone as indecisive as me, so I have three favorites: First, when Justin bounces behind Ed at the pool while dressed in the corn costume gets me every time (honestly, any time he’s in the corn suit or the ice cream costume I crack up — he looks so giddy it’s hilarious). Second, the shot of a monkey holding Ed dressed as a banana. It flashes by so fast you almost don’t see it, which is what I love about it most. And third, the shot of Ed marrying Justin’s “Never Say Never” cardboard cutout is classic — it makes me think this is a bromance that’s going to live on past “I Don’t Care.” That’s what I hope, anyway.
5. Not counting “I Don’t Care,” what’s your favorite song about not fitting in or not wanting to be at a club or party?
Danica Daniel: I’m taking it back to 1997: Hands down my favorite song about not fitting in has to be “Outside,” the final track off of Mariah Carey’s Butterfly album. When the 2019 Billboard Music Awards Icon recipient cooed ethereally in her signature soprano that “Early on, you face the realization you don’t have a space where you fit in and recognize you were born to exist,” my teenage self felt like Carey had ripped a page out of my diary. And while the song most likely spoke to her mixed-race heritage, it also spoke to a then-chubby little girl from Brooklyn who literally could not fit into most of the clothes being sold on the sales rack, and yet was still “eager to just believe” I was “good enough to be” what I really was.
Eric Frankenberg: I’m going to bend the rules and choose “Telephone” as the best song about not wanting to be bothered while out in the club (sipping that bubb). While Ed and Justin feel most at home while literally at home with their respective baby(s), Gaga and Beyoncé choose the freeing euphoria of the dance floor.
Jason Lipshutz: When the 2010s are over (which isn’t too far away!) and we’re looking back at the defining songs of the decade, the go-to out-of-place-at-the-party song has to be Alessia Cara’s “Here,” its anxieties and misgivings about what should be “cool” beautifully developed and still impactful years later. Cara may not have dressed up as an ear of corn in its music video, but “Here” one-ups “I Don’t Care” by best defining that feeling.
Andrew Unterberger: Here, I bow to the (once, relatively) infinite wisdom of Morrissey in summarizing the entirety of the clubgoing experience for roughly half the world’s population: “So you go and you stand on your own/ And you leave on your own/ And you go home and you cry and you want to die.”
Taylor Weatherby: Radiohead’s “Creep.” Not so much a song about not wanting to be at a party, but the “What the hell am I doing here?/ I don’t belong here” line of the chorus certainly sends the same message as an anti-party tune. And I love how flawlessly the eerie verses and reverberating electric guitar fits the vibe of the unsociable lyrics (“When you were here before/ Couldn’t look you in the eye…”). Certainly more straightforward than the contrast of the “F this party” lyrics and bubbly vibe of “I Don’t Care,” even though “I Don’t Care” is definitely more my style.