2020 has been the year of a lot of things — including the year of powerhouse pop collaborations. This year, we’ve gotten chart-busting collaborations from Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa, and now, Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber. Canada has exported four of the biggest male pop stars of the past decade (Bieber, Mendes, The Weeknd, and Drake), so it was only a matter of time before some combination of the four united for a song. We’ve already gotten Drake/Bieber and The Weeknd/Drake records, and this week we were treated to an excellent duet from Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber titled “Monster.”
Off the heels of his terrific “Wonder,” the title track and lead single from his fourth studio album, Shawn has recruited Bieber for a smooth midtempo about the crippling pressures of fame. Featuring Frank Dukes on production and songwriting credits from Daniel Caesar, the two Grammy-nominated pop stars sing about having “big dreams of doin’ shows and making memories” and being “put on a pedestal” by a world that always wanted to see them fail. In line with “Wonder,” Shawn continues his trend of introspective lyricism. “Monster” is also reminiscent of Justin’s most recent collaboration, “lonely” with benny blanco. That song had similar themes of finding peace with his turbulent past and coming to terms with the world’s fickleness when it comes to celebrity. Musically, Shawn shifts away from his penchant for acoustic guitar and relies more heavily on synths on “Monster.” There’s also a sexy electric guitar, kick drum, and bass that recalls “Ruin” from Shawn’s sophomore album while also pushing him into a more mature sound. In addition, The backing vocal arrangements and the vocalizations in the last half-minute or so are straight out of Daniel Caesar’s CASE STUDY 01 playbook.
The most interesting thing about “Monster” is the two stars’ approach to singing. Both opt for vulnerable falsetto instead of the rock-inspired belts that characterized “Wonder.” “Monster” takes a soulful groove and instrumentation and combines that with a straightforward pop melody to create something truly special. Bieber attempted a foray into R&B earlier this year on his Changes album which yielded more misses than hits. One of the high points, however, was a guitar-anchored track called “E.T.A.” Between “E.T.A.” and “Monster,” it’s clear that Justin sounds most comfortable accessing elements of R&B though guitar as opposed to generic trap&b beats. His cadence on the track is also slightly reminiscent of his more hip-hop-inspired days, but, again, he sounds far more comfortable here. “Monster” is a step in the right direction for both artists. Although it may lack the bombastic feel that a collaboration of this caliber should have, the quiet strength and determination of “Monster” feels more real than any of that.