You only have to look at the charts to see that the public don’t pay huge attention to what critics think about a song or album before committing to a purchase. But some songs make a critic feel more useless than others. So it is with the appropriately titled I Don’t Care, a track so obviously destined to be a nailed-on, utterly inescapable smash that expressing an opinion about it seems almost besides the point.
It is a collaboration between a singer-songwriter who earned more money last year than any other artist has ever earned in 12 months – Ed Sheeran’s 94-gig world tour brought in $432m – and a pop star who has shifted more than 150m albums and, at 25, has survived enough scandal to fell a lesser figure several times over. Moreover, the partnership has what the police would call form. Justin Bieber turned a Sheeran cast-off called Fuck Yourself into Love Yourself, the biggest-selling US single of 2016. Its success followed that of Cold Water, a Bieber collaboration with Major Lazer that went to No 1 in 18 countries, despite Sheeran claiming to have forgotten he’d written it.
It also showcases Sheeran’s knack for an impermeable hook. If you weren’t hugely keen on his fiddle-bedecked excursion into the world of Irish folk, Galway Girl, the really maddening thing about it was the way that its descending melody took up residence in your brain and refused to leave. It’s the same with I Don’t Care, a far better song but one that has the same melodic stickiness: a breezily infectious chorus arrives 42 seconds in, and after that, there seems no way to get it out of your head without recourse to surgery.
The lyrics touch lightly on the social anxiety that Sheeran has discussed in interviews, although it’s hard to assuage the feeling that they may not warrant the line-by-line examination afforded them in the Evening Standard. One lyric singled out for special attention was “You know I love ya – did I ever tell ya?” which, with the best will in the world, is hardly a thing of allusion-packed complexity that demands delicate unpicking to ferret out its manifold potential meanings.
But that’s not the song’s fault: it sets itself up as piece of bulletproof mainstream pop, not 2019’s answer to Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. And as a piece of bulletproof mainstream pop, a kind of victory lap around the charts, it fulfils its brief perfectly.