It's rare that an awards show performance is ever any good. They're normally over the top renditions of last year's biggest hits, played out in front of the super-rich and less-than-interested, while any section of actually interested members of the general public are usually kept screaming in a pen somewhere off to one side. All too often it comes off like high-budget karaoke at a funeral.
That is unless the artists can think outside of the box. If you're going to play a song that's most likely been number one for 15 weeks and everybody already knows inside and out, why not spice things up a little? Sure, we like the old "Uptown Funk," but why not try a reggaeton version? Yes, we're "All About That Bass" as well, but why not go Basinski on that shit, and loop a disintegrating couple of seconds of Meghan Trainor's voice for a seemingly unending hour. Of course we love "Where Are Ü Now?" but hey Diplo, Skrillex, Bieber—why not perform it like it's a soft-core emo track?
For the record, I do love "Where Are Ü Now?" I've said before that it's a track deserving of essays, constant attention and dissection. I believe it to be an anthem for "the children of a post-war, post-internet, post-ironic world." I do, I honestly do. In a way, I'm excited to be able to write about the song again, I just wish it was under better circumstances. I hear that dolphin-flute-noise in my dreams even now. I do, I honestly do.
Which is why, it's more than a little disappointing to hear it reduced to this. Well, not reduced, because it's technically bigger, but in the way that a double decker bus is bigger than a motorbike, or how Eric Pickles is bigger than Brad Pitt. You can listen for yourself in the video above, but be prepared. For after a, let's face it, transcendental, performance of "Love Yourself," young Justin bolts to the back of the gargantuan stage to join Diplo and Skrillex. Yet something isn't right, something's different. Diplo is, yes that's right, Diplo is stood behind some timpanis and Skrillex is wielding an electric guitar, like the nu-metal band-member you assumed he was when you first saw a photo of him.
They begin, and tear into the saddest, most overwrought version of the song imaginable. It sounds like the music played in the season finale of some One Tree Hill-esque E4 fodder. It has all optimism and youthful vitality of a stoned tattoo artist talking about his ex girlfriend. It sounds like a bunch of Fall Out Boy fans on a Church camp performing a "modern hymn" they've written together. It doesn't sound anything like "Where Are Ü Now?"
So what can we learn from this? Well I believe this "I write angsty poetry and have a Jack Daniels poster in my bedroom" version of the song can teach us a huge amount about the value of production. To anyone who doesn't believe the talents of producers like Diplo and Skrillex are worthy, feast your eyes on this. Justin Bieber is an incredible vocalist, and the melody of "Where Are Ü Now?" is unrivalled, of course, but replace the other-worldly dolphin-fucking-a-flute vibe with a hard-rock-room-at-a-student-indie-night vibe, and the song of the year becomes a bad smell.
Make no mistakes, Jack Ü deserved that Grammy last night. Even if it you only judged their entire record on that one song, and if anything, this sub-par rendition proves exactly why. They don't need to do some Muse meets Major Lazer live version. "Where Are Ü Now?" is living proof that organic instruments are not the be all and end all. It is a song that shits over every self-righteous music meme about "real instruments" and "real musicians" by creating a whole sonic world using technology and basically nothing else. This comes from a place of love, honestly. Jack Ü deserved their Grammy, but in all honesty, there is nothing we did to deserve that version of "Where Are Ü Now?"