DJ Khaled’s new song, “No Brainer,” is like “I’m the One” in an alternate colorway; it recycles a used pop-rap model and calls it new. Which is to say that the song is gratuitous fun that’s derivative and shiftless and capitalistic—an obvious attempt to repurpose a hit while drumming up more fodder for the Khaled propaganda machine. “I’m the One” was the biggest success in a gaudy career solely defined by market success, and so Khaled has decided to simply run it back with the same team, banking on seeing similar results without having to do any more legwork. Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Quavo, Nic Nac, and DaviDior all reprise their roles from the first installment.
The song is structurally the same, just with a Bieber verse replacing the Lil Wayne one, and it’s thematically similar, too. But this sequel only brings diminishing returns from its stars.
What Khaled knows is that the star power here is undeniable; that Bieber’s hugely catchy hook will burrow its way into the collective conscious; that if something isn’t broken, you don’t fix it. “No Brainer” has a bit more sway than its predecessor, largely propelled by the serviceable Bieber performance, but the production is too reliant on its pitchy vocal sampling to be anything but mind-numbing.
Quavo has been on auto-pilot for well over a year now, and here, he merely shows up for his name on the marquee. The verses are all short and mostly devoid of perspective, but Chance slips in some of his easygoing cleverness—“I just want you and your bestie/Y’all don’t gotta answer for whenever you text me/It’s multiple choice and they all wanna test me,” he snickers. That is, until he proposes that a grown woman can’t decide between him, his collaborators, or a toddler, Khaled’s son Asahd. “No Brainer” seems set on living down to its title.
On some level, Bieber is “on trend” with his “No Brainer” aesthetic, as well as with his streetwear looks this summer. Pete Davidson, Jonah Hill, and others have similarly received accolades and Instagram double-taps for their “scumbro ‘fits.” But Bieber seems to be trying even less hard than those guys. Whereas it seems clear that Davidson and Hill are extremely knowledgable and well-studied about what they’re choosing to wear, for Bieber, well, it just seems like he wants to be comfortable?
Correspondingly, his physicality and demeanor come off as more at ease and unmannered in this video, too, don’t they? You could easily imagine this Summer 2018 Bieber watching the “I’m the One” video and wincing, finding his “look” from a year ago corny. (This, of course, is the way most of us would react to footage of ourselves from our pasts, too.)
Perhaps, gallivanting with Baldwin, wearing sweats and basketball shorts, hopping on songs with his friends when he feels like it, represents a kind of Optimal Bieber. Has our Justin Bieber, after all sorts of trials, tribulations, ups and downs, figured it all out? This summer, at least, he seems to be embodying a “No Brainer” lifestyle that perhaps we all can try to learn from, a lifestyle where one tries, as best one can, to not think about anything too hard and just go with the obvious choice.