After most of a solid week of buildup since Justin Bieber tweeted “REMIX” and the pop sleuths figured out the rest, here it is: the Justin Bieber remix of the current No. 2 song in the country, Billie Eilish‘s “Bad Guy.”
Of course, the foundation for this pairing was laid well before Bieber’s tweet. Eilish made no secret of her Belieber past in countless interviews proclaiming him not just an early musical inspiration but also her first love. Ellen DeGeneres played on her Justin Bieber fandom on April Fools Day by teasing her with a surprise Bieb appearance — on the day she said he finally followed her on Twitter — even though he never actually materialized on the show. Eilish later revealed to Billboard that Bieber had DM’d her to set up a future collaboration, and two pop stars finally had an IRL meeting during Ariana Grande’s headlining set at this year’s Coachella festival, hugging it out in front of a whooping crowd.
So it’s fair to say that the duo’s first collab was much-anticipated at this point. But does the Bieber-starring version of “Bad Guy” live up to the hype?
Well, first let’s make sure to note the “Bad Guy” remix is already a triumph for both artists in concept alone. For Bieber, it’s a victory lap in which he gets to essentially puff his chest as the decade’s reigning Top 40 heartthrob, so pervasive in his early-decade popularity and so continually relevant at decade’s close that an artist like Eilish — the biggest breakout star of 2019 — would not only continually profess her early-life fandom, but still seem just as geeked to work with him today. (The remix even uses a goofy picture of a young Billie in her Bieber poster-covered bedroom for its YouTube background.) And for Eilish, getting a co-sign from a mainstream idol like Bieber smooths out whatever remaining rough edges might remain on her pop resumé. It allows fans to see the idiosyncratically dressing badass obsessed with death and creepy crawlies as, well, also just a teenage girl, making her more relatable without even seeming off-brand. It’s pretty much the definition of a win-win.
But how do their disparate personalities mesh on the song? Well enough, though maybe not quite as well as fans might have hoped. Bieber’s clearly having fun with his guest verse and ad-libs — the remix’s high point might come with his mid-verse “skrrt!” exclamation — but he never seems to totally find his way into the song’s manic-spooky energy, instead opting for rap-crooned clunkers like “I got more ice than, than the snow” and “Cause I don’t sleep, please don’t wake me.” The fact that Bieber had something of a Bad Guy rep of his own not all that long ago might’ve made for a fun opportunity for Bieber to acknowledge his prior image while still making it clear how different 2019 Bieber is from 2014 Bieber. He doesn’t even let his voice get chopped up during his turn on the song’s already near-iconic “I’m the b-a-a-a-a-a-d guy” hook, which seems like easy money.
Bieber’s most interesting line on the song might be his last one: “It ain’t political.” Not that anyone ever confused Bieber for Zack de la Rocha — and maybe he just wanted to make sure that no one read anything related to Taylor Swift or Scooter Braun into any of his verse lyrics — but Bieber’s timing with his appearance on the “Bad Guy” remix could actually be seen as a kind of chart-world gerrymandering.
As previously mentioned, Billie’s “Bad Guy” is currently sitting at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and as most of the pop world knows at this point, a different remix — Lil Nas X’s Billy Ray Cyrus-featuring “Old Town Road” — is currently enjoying a run at history one spot above it. “Bad Guy” is just one of a whopping six songs that have pulled up short at No. 2 during OTR’s 14-week run to date — including entries by superstars Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes, Post Malone, Ed Sheeran, and (via a guest appearance on Sheeran’s “I Don’t Care”) Bieber himself. It was starting to look like no artist would be able to unseat “Old Town Road” from riding high atop the Hot 100 before it reached those record-making 16th and 17th weeks on top.
And of course, Bieber has more reason than most to be particularly invested in interrupting Lil Nas X’s run before it gets to those historic numbers, because of a different remix he hopped on two years ago: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito.” The Bieb-featuring version of that song spent 16 weeks atop the Hot 100 in 2017, tying the mark previously set by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” two decades earlier. So if Justin can drop in here on the “Bad Guy” remix — whose performance will be combined with the original’s for “Bad Guy” totals in Hot 100 calculations — to help Eilish get her first Hot 100 No. 1, and defend his place in Billboard lore in the process? Again, certainly sounds like a win-win.
Will it actually happen, though? It won’t be easy. As the current Hot 100 No. 2, “Bad Guy” by definition has the shortest distance of any song in the universe to travel to No. 1, but it’s still not an insignificant gap — as of last week, “Old Town Road” still had a nearly 2 to 1 points advantage over Eilish’s hit. Being released near the tail end of the Billboard tracking week (Friday-Thursday) also might have the effect of splitting its impact over two tracking weeks, potentially without helping quite enough in either to get it over the top.
That said, the novelty of Eilish and Bieber’s first-ever collaboration is immense, as are the fanbases for both stars. The “Bad Guy” remix will no doubt spike a huge surge of immediate interest, but to really pose a threat to “Old Town Road” at No. 1, it’ll have to do more than pique curiosity — it’ll have to inspire heavy sales and repeat streams. In other words, the chances for “Bad Guy” to get to No. 1 might depend on how good fans think Justin Bieber is at being Bad.