Justin Love Releases “No Friends”

A sad fact widely known by pop and hip-hop artists is: success creates as many problems as it solves. Once you’ve gotten money and shown you’re willing to spend it, you might find that the people in your orbit are drawn there by your cash rather than your personality. Are your friends there because of your status — and where will they be if that status decreases? What sort of friends does that make them, anyway?

You might conclude, as Justin Love does on his gorgeous, affecting new single, that they aren’t friends at all. The New Jersey native has achieved plenty in a very short time: he co-wrote “Focus” for H.E.R., and scored a hit of his own with “Runaway” in 2019. He developed a singular singing style that felt simultaneously smooth and heartbroken, sultry and excitable, ruminative and charismatic. An artist so appealing is bound to draw supporters and adherents, and Justin Love has found himself surrounded by those who want a piece of the action. In “No Friends,” Love doesn’t sound angry about it or even determined to do anything to change his predicament. He’s accepted it as part of the cost of doing business, and as dispiriting as it is, he won’t let the bad behavior of those around him get in his way.

Along with producer ATG, he’s come up with a track that matches his feelings perfectly. It’s glossy, sleek, and quietly swaggering like a hip-hop-influenced pop song ought to be. But there’s a mournful undercurrent to the synthesizers, an artful, decorative gloom to the atmosphere, and genuine pain audible in the vocals. If good fortune has made Justin Love more exploitable than he used to be, he’ll let those in his orbit know he’s on to their game.

Justin Love carries those feelings of loneliness and suspicion into the beautifully shot clip for “No Friends.” Though the star’s visual collaborator Few Oliveira filmed and edited the video — and did so masterfully — Justin Love directed it himself. We’re shown a day in the singer’s life: we watch him select his clothing carefully and prepare to be in the public eye. Once he’s out at the Mandrake club in Miami Beach, he’s surrounded by beautiful people. Everybody’s having fun and looking terrific for the cameras. But when the music stops, he’s left by himself in the leather booth, looking around and wondering whether he’s made a real connection with anybody. Then, just to twist the knife, he’s presented with the check for the night. He’ll be picking that up, naturally. After all, he’s the star.

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