I tend to focus on smaller bands on this site. A lot of DIY and bedroom musicians who toil away day after day making music that they know isn’t going to be heard by the masses. That’s what I like to write about-discovering new music and sharing it with the world. However, as a human who came up soaking up all the endless pop culture constantly thrown at me, I also consider it my duty to at least listen to more radio-friendly fare. For the most part it’s terrible. One spin is usually more than enough for the latest Hot 100 top song. There has been one exception over the last decade, and that is Justin Timberlake.
I’m not sure how it started, this ridiculous amount of respect I feel for the man. It certainly wasn’t when he was in N’Sync (although his appearance on The Simpsons didn’t hurt). Like most people my age, I pretended to hate every N’Sync song while secretly singing along to every word of “Dirty Pop” as I drove in my car alone. I didn’t buy their records, but definitely knew more than I should have about their music. When they called it quits I didn’t really care, but for some reason when I hear Justin Timberlake was coming out with a solo record, I was intrigued.
Maybe it was because the lead single featured Clipse and was co-written by Pharell Williams (as is most of the record). Or maybe it was that instant in time where the chorus hits and you can’t help but try to hit that note on “I just wanna love you, baby!” Whatever it was, it ended in a nanosecond and I became an honest to goodness Timberlake fan. Justified was one of the first NEW vinyl records I bought after purchasing a hi-fi from the local goodwill store. It gets almost as many spins today as it did a decade ago.
Four years passed between Justified and Timberlake’s second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. In that time he ascended the ranks of pop star royalty. The popular artists at the time: Usher, Eminem, Missy Elliot, all took a backseat to JT’s unheralded popularity. During this time he hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time, and at that point he became not only a pop star but a media mogul who could literally do whatever he wanted. Usually I hate people like that-people who are amazing at every single thing they do. But I gave Timberlake a pass because he’s so freakin’ entertaining.
When FutureSex/LoveSounds did finally come out in 2006, it was a critical and commercial force of nature. It sold something like a gazillion copies and was/is considered the best R&B record of the modern era by many (myself included). He switched things up a bit, working with Timbaland instead of Pharrell as producer. He also brought in Rick Rubin to produce the final track “(Another Song) All Over Again.” Even the usually spiteful Pitchfork couldn’t help but praise the album, giving it an uncharacteristically high 8.1. Today it sits at number 114 on their reader’s list of the best albums since 2000.
That album provided a solid two years of singles to dominate the radio airwaves, and I still think it’s a great record to listen to at any moment. But now it’s 2013. It’s been over six years and we haven’t really heard a peep from Timberlake in a long, long time. In fact, last summer he did a Q&A on twitter that I followed and I asked him this question: “If you never make another album, would you be ok with that?” And his reply, paraphrased, was “If nothing moves me to make another record, I’ll be happy with what I’ve done.” So I completely wrote off the possibility of getting another album any time soon.
Then last week he put up a counter on his website, along with a video. It’s a dark clip, following him while he walks and talks about how important music is to him. It ends with him walking into a studio, standing next to a mic and saying “I’m ready.” Well, the countdown ended last night. Now his new single, “Suit & Tie,” is all over the internet. It’s a decent track, not mindblowing. It features Jay-Z, which is almost a cliche at this point. I like it but I don’t love it, and that’s the same way I felt about the first single from FutureSex/LoveSounds, so I have high hopes that something amazing is coming out.
Now here’s why I’m excited: Justin Timberlake is as close as we are ever going to come to another Michael Jackson. Say what you want about Jackson, but when it came to making records he knew exactly what he was doing. I think Timberlake has a lot of the same musical acumen that Jackson had, and I hope that he narrows the window between records considerably. Two albums every ten years isn’t enough to satiate his fans. I’m not saying he needs to go Rihanna and put out five records in seven years, but maybe one every two or three years would be an achievable goal.