Justin Timberlake is an Onion
Let’s get a few things out of the way: I was born in the 80s, came of age in the Boy Band Heyday of the 90s, and was one of the 2.1 million teenage girls who put *NSYNC’s sophomore album into near infallible records (infallible until, basically, Adele). So it makes quite a bit of sense, I suppose, that I’m here singing Justin Timberlake’s praises. Yet I feel caricatures are unfair, and would like to also point out that I knew the words to Aerosmith before I mastered Richard Marx, and my parents and grandparents made sure I was exposed to literally every genre and era of music available on tape, compact disc or radio. I never listened to Aaron Carter, but I sang along to Aaron Neville before I could practice long division. My teenage heart won over by five-part harmonies has matured, as I’m no longer young enough to believe everything cute boys in coordinated outfits tell me. Other than a pretentious indie phase in my early-mid twenties, my ears have only discriminated for quality rather than type of music. And JT is no stranger to the types.
Whether its the salsa-laced homage to the King of Pop in “Let the Groove Get In,” the ambient undercurrent running through the foundations of “Blue Ocean Floor,” or the masterful collision between doo-wop, EDM and southern hip-hop in “Don’t Hold the Wall”—these are just examples from his last record, The 20/20 Experience—there’s no telling what we’ll get from him in his next full-length endeavor. We could well hear an album full of Memphis-fused, acoustic-based ballads like “Drink You Away” (who would’ve thought a pop/R&B artist would do modern country better than most modern country artists?). This is the same guy who got a little ditty stuck in his head and turned it into a multimillion-dollar theme song for a fast food chain. The guy who, just a couple months ago, released 2016’s version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” (YouTube is already flooded with covers and commoners dancing along). Justin Timberlake is an onion, and he’s peeling back layers one well-written, perfectly arranged and irresistibly engaging track at a time. We are but fortunate spectators.
Every generation has one or two entertainers who were just born for the platform; Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince—all their names and catalogues have stood the test of time. Our own contemporaries (Timberlake included) still look to these examples, and still learn from these legends. I believe time will vindicate Timberlake as our generation’s addition to cultural influence and history. In the meantime, we can thank him for being one of the few modern songwriters (and fewer still of his calibre) committed to the dignity of an album, weaving a dozen or more songs, medleys and beats throughout the duration of an LP. Our age of singles, streaming and selective downloads needs to be reminded of music’s craftsmanship, and Justin Timberlake is a master at it.