Our ongoing love affair with FX's Atlanta hit a new high last week with the show's fifth episode, "Nobody Beats the Biebs." Actor Austin Crute—from Atlanta originally, currently a student at NYU—stole every scene he appeared in as "Black Justin Bieber," expertly skewering our willingness to forgive a white Canadian pop star for his bad behavior.
Crute's a musician himself, though he didn't have a hand in writing the song performed at the end of this week's episode. He did, however, share the story of how he ended up on the show, what it took to be Justin Bieber, and whether Atlanta is doing a good job of representing his hometown.
How did you land the role on Atlanta? What was the audition process like?
My then-agent sent me an audition for the show as he would any other audition. The sides got sent to my email and I recognized the name from whisperings of a Donald Glover show based on the city, so I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got to be on this.” I was in NYC, so I went to tape my audition in the designated casting office. They had me sing for the audition, but looking back, I don’t really know why. It was a pretty standard process.
Were you a Childish Gambino fan before the show?
I was and am an admirer. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say I was out here with every album, bumping every song in my car on the way to school. But as far as artistic vision and execution is concerned, I can say I’ve always admired him. Community had me in tears for months of my freshman year of college. And his music videos have always been so iconic. As a duo, he and Hiro are a problem. That "Oakland" video? That mug gave me chills. And I really hopped on the music wagon when the STN MTN/Kauai tape came out.
What was your reaction when you found out you were playing Justin Bieber?
I was in the middle of my “Morality in Childhood” class, and I get a call from my agent, so I stepped out as if I was going to the bathroom. After the pleasantries, he said, “Pack your bags. You’re going to Atlanta. You got the gig.” Bruh, when I tell you I teared up like…the happiness I felt in that moment was overwhelming. It’s my first ever TV gig so I was elated. Then I had to go back into class and act like nothing had happened.
What kind of direction did you get to act like Bieber?
So at first, I’m here thinking that I’ve really got to be good. Like, a pop star would. I learned choreography and everything for the press conference scene where Justin performs his apology song. But after seeing me dance on stage, Hiro literally runs up to me and goes, “You’re almost too good. When you dance, we should almost think, ‘Why is he a star again?’” And as for my line delivery, their direction to me was to basically be an obnoxious, childish brat. So, I turned up the ignorance and there it was.
Where did you record PLAY? What's your songwriting process like?
I recorded and produced most of the tape in my bedroom in Atlanta. The rest was in NYC. Usually when I start a record, I start with the beat or a sound from the synth library. One good synth can create a whole song for me. One sample can set the tone for the rest of the song. Sometimes I think of melodies or syllables or hooks apart from the beat, but rarely do I ever think of them without an idea of the accompaniment beneath them.
Then comes the writing. It depends on the song. Concept almost ALWAYS comes first for me. Then one of two kinds of songs are made: Vibe to Story or Story from Vibe. If I create a beat that gets my face is scrunched up like I smelt somethin’ heinous, and I’m rocking with it, I get so overwhelmed with inspiration that I just have to get it out. So I’ll set up the mic in front of the workstation (I rarely ever go in booths) and just go from the brain. I’ll record one line. Then another. Then another. Until before I know it, I have a full verse and/or chorus. I catch the vibe, then it just so happens to become a story or a full song.
Then there’s Story to Vibe. For songs like “M I A,” it’s harder to do the quick-record thing because much more metaphorical thought goes into the story telling. In this case, I’ll take the story that I want to tell and funnel it into the context of the vibe. In both processes, though, the vibe and the story become married in a beautiful way, and that’s my favorite part about songwriting. Melodies and lyrics together are so magical man.
How did the "Justice" song come about? Were you involved in the songwriting with Donald?
Okay so the line originally was something like “…that’s why I wanna sing this song…” or something. Then at the end of one of the takes, Hiro runs up to me and says, “Say it’s from your upcoming album Justice.” And as for the song, I didn’t help with that at all. They sent it to me to learn, so I was over here thinking I was gonna have to sing it on stage. But the gag is lil nigga just lip-synced to the track. Hilarious. It was stuck in my head for days after that.
Do you think Atlanta is doing a good job of representing Atlanta, the city?
Oh yes. The accuracy is so spot on. Even to how the white people are with the low key racist remarks. I didn’t truly realize how racism-laced the vocabulary in suburban Atlanta was until I came to NYC. It’s so funny. The white dude in the pilot who said “nigga” because he thought he and Earn were cool like that? Then switched it up around other people? I was rolling. They represent Atlanta and its respective conversation so well, especially within the broader context of America as whole. They have the dopest writing team, and I feel so honored to be a part of this. #ATLHOE