When I first heard Justin Bieber’s new single, “Boyfriend,” I disliked the song primarily because of the lyrics. For the record, no one, and I mean no one, should ever use the phrase: “If I was your boyfriend.” In case the song has tricked you into beliebing that is actually a legitimate statement, allow me to enlighten you: it’s not. The correct wording would be: “If I were your boyfriend.” And yes, it is a serious mistake.
Despite my obsession with grammar, I will be the first to admit there are plenty of times when lyricists can bend the rules. The most obvious reason is for meter; leaving out words and syllables to preserve rhythm is almost always okay. However, there are some rules that should never be broken. If you’re going to break a rule, you have to have a reason, and some rules, like the conditional, are almost never broken intentionally. If a song doesn’t come from a distinct, developed point-of-view (like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or “Creep”) or have an inherent colloquial integrity (like country music), chances are incorrect use of the conditional is a sign the lyricist and the singer just don’t know how to speak English. I don’t care how high Bieber’s falsetto is, there’s nothing cute about illiteracy.
I didn’t think I could dislike the song any more than I already did… until I saw the music video. Before, I had assumed Bieber had maxed out the creep factor (and his number of grammatical errors) with “One Less Lonely Girl.” In case you don’t remember, that was the one that went: “I’m coming for you… / And when you’re mine, in the world / There’s gonna be one less lonely girl / (I’m coming for you) / One less lonely girl,” and had an accompanying music video that featured Bieber stalking an older-looking girl and stealing her clothes.
“Boyfriend” proved me wrong. It opens with a series of dimly-lit shots of Bieber and his baby-smooth skin whispering pseudo-seductively about fondue and caressing the faces of several scantily-clad models. It then switches to a scene with lots of cars and a crowd of people doing incongruously ghetto, risqué dance moves, while Bieber alternates between grinding with a girl wearing shorts made of more holes than fabric, and playing a guitar like he’s sitting by a campfire at a summer camp for middle schoolers. Bieber is stuck between adolescence and babyhood like never before, and his egregious misuse of the conditional isn’t helping make it any less disgusting.