Song: ‘I Don’t Care’
Artist: Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber
US chart peak: 2
Release date: May 10, 2019
Writers: Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Max Martin, Shellback, Poo Bear, Fred Gibson
Producers: Max Martin, Shellback, FRED
Quintessential Max moment: The lovely melodic lilt that elevates the “I can deal with the bad nights” line.
Video synopsis: ‘Kooky’.
Ed Sheeran, ie the biggest-selling popstar in the world who isn’t Adele, teaming up with Max Martin was inevitable wasn’t it. In fact, unfortunately, a lot of ‘I Don’t Care’ feels inevitable. It’s not that it’s 100% a letdown – depending on my mood I can veer from ‘this is an above average bop’ to ‘god, imagine what this could have been’ – it’s just that it feels like Max’s first really obvious concession to ‘sounding like everything else on Spotify’, ie just a bit muted and afraid to step outside of a comfort zone that screams ‘multi-playlist sound-bed music’. Obviously he’s a pop songwriter and producer, so ‘shifting’ ‘units’ is part of his ‘raison d’etre’, but for it to sound so craven is slightly disappointing.
Perhaps it’s not helped by the fact that both Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber‘s default vocal style isn’t exactly what you’d call eventful, and often Max’s best songs are spurred on by little shifts in vocal tone or slight WTF moments that still make your ears prick up even when it is just blending into the background via repeated plays (the middle eight bit that includes the line, “I don’t like nobody but you, it’s like you’re the only one here”, complete with hand-claps and background chatter does get really close to a proper moment).
It was last September when news filtered out that Sheeran had popped over to Sweden to work with Max and Shellback on songs for his fourth album (‘≠’?). “I was in Sweden for a bit and worked with Max Martin and Shellback, who worked with Taylor [Swift],” he mused to someone (it’s a screenshot of an interview posted by Pop Crave via Perez Hilton, I’m sorry). (Yes the “who worked with Taylor” bit sticks in the throat doesn’t it but what can you do, perhaps that is Sheeran’s frame of reference for all pop). He went on: “They really take the time to make the song great – whereas I’ll just do five in a day and choose the best one”. Okay. So, yes, there’s a little humblebrag in there isn’t there, see if you can spot it, but the quote also reiterates that perhaps a little too much time has been spent polishing ‘I Don’t Care’ until it’s just this frictionless, smooth-as-a-button bop that doesn’t really emote anything more taxing than the equivalent of a shoulder shrug emoji, even when dealing with fairly big emotional moments such as infatuation, love and a hatred of parties.
BUT it has its moments. I mean, it’s a Max Martin co-creation, there will always, always be moments. There’s the aforementioned middle eight, where the distant chants and clinks of champagne glasses steadily create a sinister, claustrophobic rhythm, and the “I can deal with the bad nights” part of the chorus is a really pure melodic pocket that sounds like a classic boyband line and delivery. I was a bit ‘oh god they’ve run out of ideas so they’ve chucked in a few “ooh ooh oohs”‘, but they work don’t they. Quite nice really. Also, it’s fun to imagine that all the songwriting talent involved might have actually wanted the start of the chorus to sound very very similar to Just Cheryl’s 2014 anti-hater anthem, ‘I Don’t Care‘ (#zerofucksgiven).
Is this a one-off Sheeran collabo? Or, more likely, is this the start of something more given that Sheeran’s label Atlantic are involved in the jukebox musical & Juliet, including releasing the compilation album of old – and new??? – hits?