There's not much that prompts me to utter "uh oh!" faster than a song that starts with guest singer Justin Bieber observing, "Everybody gets high sometimes, you know?" and following it up with the rationalization, "What else can we do when we're feeling low?"
Well, here we go, I thought. After all, if this collaboration between Bieber and the electronic dance music group Major Lazer starts with a sympathetic nod to getting high when we're down, where's it going to go from there?
Much to my surprise, however, this low-key electro jam featuring Bieber and Danish singer MØ morphs into a pretty encouraging song after that admittedly weedy intro.
A Lifeline in the Water
Turns out "Cold Water" isn't primarily an ode to depressive dependence on marijuana. Instead, it's mostly about helping those we love when they're in trouble. Specifically, according to this song's overarching extended metaphor, when they're drowning.
"You shouldn't be drowning on your own," Bieber tells us at the end of the first verse. But if you are, he vows that he's coming to the rescue. "And if you feel you're sinking/I will jump right over into cold, cold water for you." Then we hear these additional vows: "And though time may take us into different places/I will still be patient with you/ … I won't let you go/I'll be your lifeline tonight."
Bieber then identifies another universal experience—this one definitely more universal than getting stoned—after the chorus. "'Cause we all get lost sometimes, you know?/It's how we learn and grow." Those philosophical ruminations feel pretty authentic here, as Bieber has certainly wandered into dangerous territory more than once himself.
That's followed by a sentimental (if slightly suggestive) desire to spend the rest of his life with one special person: "And I wanna lay with you 'til I'm old," he says, "And you shouldn't be fighting on your own." While there's no explicit mention of marriage here, a desire for permanent commitment seems to be implied in a line where sharing a bed with someone stands in for sharing a life with them as well.
A Home for Her Soul
MØ's contribution comes near the end of the track. She seems to be playing the part of someone struggling to keep from going under. "Come on, come on," she sings, "Save me from my rocking boat/I just want to stay afloat."
As the Danish singer continues, it becomes apparent how lonely, how desperate this person is: "I'm all alone/And I hope, I hope/Someone's gonna take me home/Somewhere I can rest my soul/I need to know." And as the song closes, Bieber again responds, "I won't let you go."
MØ articulates one of the deepest longings of the human heart here: to know that no matter what happens, there's someone who'll be there for us, someone we can trust to pull us up when we fall down. That's an infinitely better option than depending instead on a temporary drug-induced high to help us when we feel lost and low.
As for the song's two videos, one is a simple lyric video while the other features four sometimes scantily clad dancers undulating and twerking suggestively in a song that isn't about undulating and twerking suggestively at all.