There are many ways in which someone can be a cultural innovator or trendsetter, and strangely enough I often find myself puzzled by the way that Justin Bieber serves in that role as a musician despite the fact that at this point he seems to barely care about his music career. Even so, this is now the second time at least  that Justin Bieber has managed to capture a more common mood in his music that is worthy of my attention. I find this somewhat remarkable, not because I hate all Justin Bieber songs, but because it suggests that someone, either Bieber himself or one of his songwriters, manages to have a pulse on the larger culture that is itself quite remarkable and something that should be considered for its importance.
The particularly portentous aspect of Bieber’s more recent material comes at the beginning of the chorus for his #1 hit “Love Yourself,” where Bieber says to someone (presumably Selena Gomez), “My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone.” The song itself was written by Ed Sheeran along with Benny Blanco and Justin Bieber has a co-write on the song, although it is by no means clear how much involvement Justin Bieber had in writing the song or in the framing of the song. Certainly Sheeran himself could write rather acerbic songs about his exes, and so the framing of the song is somewhat ambivalent, depending on whether one views it as being written about someone that the main songwriter was having a bad history with (perhaps Ellie Goulding?). Of course, whoever Ed Sheeran wrote the song about, it is entirely possible that Justin Bieber identified with the sour message of the song from his own life, as happens pretty readily for listeners of music.
The most important part of this song, though, at least in the way that it indicated something striking about contemporary cultural framing, though, was the way that Justin Bieber commented on the matter from the point of view of his mother not liking someone given the fact that she likes everyone else. So long as this was isolated to the Bieber song, it was not widely noted, but it did not remain an isolated sentiment for long. Last year, in one of his many underwhelming hit songs, Drake expressed a similar sentiment when he sang in God’s Plan: “She say, “Do you love me?” I tell her, “Only partly” / I only love my bed and my momma, I’m sorry.” From the beginning, this line drew some amusement from listeners, but only later in the year did it become obvious just how serious of a problem this was when Drake’s personal life including a hitherto unknown son was revealed to the world thanks to his beef with Pusha T. And here the sentiment appears to be very similar to that of the Bieber song, where Drake appears to be pitting his baby mama and his mama against each other.
In general, this is not something I would consider a positive trend. Admittedly, the rivalry between a wife (or girlfriend) and a mother is by no means a new phenomenon. A mother, especially a single mother (as both Justin Bieber and Drake had), is frequently prone to feel ambivalent about the ties that a beloved son makes with other women, and is not likely to be shy about making her criticism of such women known if she thinks them to be unworthy of her son, as she may very well do. Likewise, a girlfriend or wife can deeply resent having to compete for respect and regard with someone’s mother. And no one can envy the position of a man caught in between two feuding women, trying to mediate between the duties of honor and respect to one’s parents as well as the desire to start a family and have a loving relationship with someone in the present to help provide for the future. While this has no doubt been a frequent phenomenon in lives, it has not been a frequent phenomenon in music, and the fact that two of the most popular male vocalists of the decade have vocalized this divide is a significant problem.
How is such a problem to be resolved? Such things depend to a great degree on a case by case basis. Sometimes it is not true that a mama likes everyone, and sometimes a mama can be sensitive to aspects of a woman’s life and character that an enamored man may not be well-equipped to notice in the midst of infatuation. I speak with some experience in the matter, as my own mother is a particularly sharp-eyed and critical observer of the women who I spend time with, and someone who is pretty blunt and direct with her criticism in such circumstances. And speaking as someone with such experience, I have to say that I much prefer a world where the past and the present/future can coexist and get along and, even better, recognize that there is something worthwhile to work towards together in harmony. For there will always be ties of blood, and hopefully affection, between present generations and the past as well as present generations and the future ones that we hope to make in love. And life is so much more enjoyable when one can respect parents and honor one’s partners without there being division and infighting present. Life has enough conflict already without such drama.