Chris Brown’s back with another single from his 2015 album Royalty, and it’s a decidedly divisive choice. Back to Sleep was a bold song even with just Brown himself on top of it, but with the help of Usher and ex-One Direction member Zayn, the song presents a different image; still raunchy, but also overcrowded and shallow.
The song hasn’t changed musically since its appearance on Royalty; the synth R&B arrangement is as smooth as ever, and the chorus still delivers the same risqué yet comically oversold sex appeal that it always has—Just let me rock / Fuck you back to sleep, girl / Don’t say a word, no / Don’t you talk / Just hold on tight to me girl. The upside of its many features is that the voices of Brown, Usher and Zayn meld together well, with complimentary tones offering differing yet consistent sides to the song. It’s hard to avoid the fact that Zayn’s feature comes across as an attempt to shed his perky boy band image, and it feels somewhat strange on a song as explicit as this, but he does earn his place.
Back to Sleep is almost impossible to take seriously; it’s a catchy tune with some impressive vocals, but it’s also handled in some really strange ways, from Zayn’s feature appearing at all to the song’s outro where all three vocalists fight over each other’s higher registers to take centre stage. It’s a standard Chris Brown track in many ways, but an exaggeration of his character in others, and the full package ultimately falls flat.