I’m only 24, but even as I cover pop culture extensively there have been a rapid increase in moments where I just feel impossibly old recently. With some pretty impressive sales numbers on this latest effort, apparently boy band Why Don’t We have had a massive fanbase for a couple years at this point – mostly accumulating them through their association with various YouTubers and TikTok stars popular with the Gen-Z crowd. Yes, this is the kind of band that can have some mainstream hits but also hop on a track with a struggle-rapper and shameless walking clickbait like Logan Paul. Not only that, the band have recruited some surprisingly big names (especially if you’re a time traveler from the early goings of last decade) to do some production work here, such as Timbaland and Skrillex. Unsurprisingly, my first experience with their music didn’t go over so positively, but I almost feel bad criticizing the group because they are clearly striving to make music that’s essentially for children. Still, with some painfully derivative moments, less-than-stellar singing and lyrics both questionable and laughably surface-level, The Good Times and The Bad Ones can’t be recommended as much more than an exercise in unintentional comedy.
Imagine this Kanye fan’s confusion when hitting the play button with trepidation and being greeted by the opening bars of “Black Skinhead.” Imagine that confusion deepening even further when reading an interview with the band he has never heard of as they confirm that Kanye himself cleared the sample for them. Still, the fact that both of the first two tracks on this album contain some very heavy samples is a bit of a strange move for a band trying to establish themselves as an act to take seriously – in a musical or creative sense, that is. There’s nothing wrong with a well-placed sample, of course, but making them the most intriguing elements of the first couple tracks, where the most notable or strong songs are meant to be placed, makes these tracks come off more like an attention-grabbing headline with a completely insubstantial article to follow. “Fallin’ (Adrenaline)” uses the industrial West instrumental to give the track a bit of a pop-rock edge, a weak falsetto from former American Idol contestant Daniel Seavey lurching into a percussion-heavy chorus obviously aiming for the driving, somewhat heavy yet universally accessible sound of fellow boy band 5 Seconds of Summer. The central melody honestly does stand out among the pack here, but the pastiche of other elements makes it extremely difficult to enjoy the song as an achievement for Why Don’t We themselves – even the music video sees them replicating the done-to-death iconic pose from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Of course, for the fans, it’s likely more about the handsome faces delivering it anyway. “Slow Down” lifts the guitar pattern from the Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” throughout, a completely bland and breathy pop-rock melody on top as the five vocalists trade lines and try out their best Billy Corgan impression. The comments on Genius below are littered with heart-adorned “OHMYGEEs,” “HOLY FRICKs” and melodramatic anecdotes about fighting with siblings who just don’t understand.
To fully put in perspective just how much I’m outside this band’s target audience, the track “Lotus Inn” is genuinely about smash hit tween book series Percy Jackson. In the book series, the Lotus Inn, inspired by the Greek myth of the Lotus-eaters, represents a lavish tourist attraction that lulls its visitors into a trancelike, terrifying state of happiness that traps them there forever. Of course, even Percy Jackson has a little too much depth for the lyrics of a Why Don’t We song, as the band remove the horror and reduce the concept to a stellar date night that they never want to end. The track’s shift from an up-tempo skittering drumbeat into a chorus with more of a half-time feel is somewhat jarring, but also quite literally the only truly ambitious musical moment on the entire album, so it certainly grew on me by the track’s end. The band ticking off the boxes on an auditory checklist for the average pre-teen girl only becomes all the more evident as the album’s first half progresses. “Be Myself,” in a sea of similar tracks, just might be the most surface-level track about anxiety since Logic’s “1-800-273-8255.” Over a raw acoustic pattern complete with the campfire-side guitar squeaks as the hand moves over the frets, Why Don’t We come to the stunning conclusion that the solution is – get this – ignoring others’ opinions and being yourself. The track “Love Song” is the obligatory teen-pop self-referential track where the singer describes a song he wrote, heard, or what have you – how it goes, of course, being a hook full of “las” or “ohs”. Seavey’s falsetto strikes again in the track, as he hilariously sounds like he’s overcompensating for a difficult jump as he switches registers by becoming needlessly operatic out of nowhere.
A back-to-back section of tracks near the album’s end offer up another puzzling dichotomy. In a truly side-splitting move, Why Don’t We reveal themselves to be the kind of band who will send their fanbase into a frenzy by releasing their first-ever explicit track on “I’ll Be Okay,” but on the same song, opt to self-censor the word “sex” in order to protect the sensibilities of their young listeners. The decision to do so is made even more confusing when it leads into “Look at Me,” which doesn’t actually contain any “naughty” words but ends up being jarringly graphic lyrically as the singers sing about their sensual late-night adventures in every way possible over a suggestive bassline. The awkward juxtaposition reminds me of the controversies YouTubers that make generic content and “comedy” sketches catered to children often find themselves in when they begin making some overtly adult jokes. Who in the world is this music for?
For all the ridiculousness here, the track “Grey” is legitimately pretty fantastic. From what I can judge from comments on these tracks, apparently singer Jack Avery is one of the most under-utilized in the group. It’s difficult to see why, because he completely sells an emotional chorus here on an album full of tracks that just feel like going through the motions. A sparse piano ballad that sees an orchestral swell later on in the track to really bring home that somber feeling, it’s another formula here but it’s one that obviously works better than most. Avery’s tear-streaked vocals reach up into a vulnerable falsetto as he pleads for his departed lover to return, but the most stunning part of the track is the crisp harmonies from the group’s other singers, especially when the music cuts out for a second at the track’s climax – it’s truly baffling that they don’t use this more when they have it right there in their toolkit. As the album winds to a close, “For You” once again sees the band trend-hopping with a Skrillex-produced sanitized EDM number that the band have explicitly stated was inspired by The Chainsmokers. Chopping up their vocals in the chorus and Googling what exact vocal effect blackbear uses, it’s another faceless moment. The album ends with “Stay,” another trap-flavoured pop tune that fails to leave any kind of impression.
Regardless of what I say, there’s going to be scores of people who absolutely adore this. If this was about how perfectly a band was able to capitalize on marketing trends in order to appeal to just about every single person in their target audience, this would be about as perfect of a score as you can get. There’s not much that’s genuinely bad here, but this is one of the most stunningly identity-devoid albums I’ve heard in a long time.
Favourite Tracks: Grey, Lotus Inn
Least Favourite Track: For You