Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience-2 of 2
At the beginning of 2013, we needed new music from Justin Timberlake. It had been over six years since his seminal album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, and outside of some appearances with The Lonely Island, we hadn’t heard much music from the former boybander since then. So it’s funny to think then, that in October of the same year, how little we want another 74 minutes of Justin Timberlake music. But since the release of The 20/20 Experience‘s lead single, “Suit and Tie,” Timberlake has been practically ubiquitous. In addition to his well-charting singles, he performed for an entire week on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, took the stage on Saturday Night Live, went on a sold-out tour with Jay-Z, and performed a 15-minute set at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, briefly reuniting *NSYNC for good measure. The general feeling going around is that one album was enough.
Unfortunately, the music presented doesn’t convince us we were wrong to not want another JT album this year. Where the first 20/20 Experience was a triumph of late ’70s-inflected dance music, complete with Quincy Jones-style arrangements, infectious grooves, and a cohesive sonic focus, 2 of 2 is an exhausting, overstretched mess of styles, gimmicks, and less than half-hearted lyrics. It’s true that Part 1 wasn’t devoid of lyrical missteps, such as the awkward “Spaceship Coupe” or the overly-obvious drug/sex metaphors of “Pusher Love Girl,” but the music in those cases was strong enough to overlook these faults. Here, the flaws are too common. On “Gimmie What I Don’t Know (I Want),” Timberlake wants to have sex with you like a jungle animal. On “True Blood,” he wants to have sex with you like a vampire. On “Cabaret,” he wants to have sex with you like you’re at a burlesque show. On “TKO,” he wants to have sex with you like a boxing match. Basically, Justin Timberlake wants to have sex, and he’s gonna find the most uninteresting ways to tell you about it. Gone is the sense of class found on Part 1 and with it goes any real justification for these songs to be as long or as poorly developed as they are. It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the strongest song on the album is the one that sounds most like Part 1, the unfortunately-titled single “Take Back The Night.”
Introducing Timberlake’s performance at the VMAs this year, Jimmy Fallon referred to him as “The President of Pop.” It’s not a bad title, but it also raises some interesting, perhaps unintentional, points. Unlike The King Of Pop, a President has to be elected. A President is chosen by the people and is held accountable by those people. There’s no doubt that Timberlake won the election fair and square, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stay in office forever. To be reelected, he has to continue to please the people and do what’s best for the United States of Pop. What I’m saying with this unnecessarily drawn-out metaphor (fitting, really, for a review of this album filled with unnecessarily drawn-out metaphors), is that Timberlake’s approval rating may start to slip as a result of this album.
This is the album we feared we may have gotten when Timberlake first announced his return. It feels like bad outtakes from the FutureSex/LoveSounds sessions. The ego of both Timberlake and Timbaland is far too apparent. The tracks are indulgent, but aren’t good enough to be worthwhile. It’s unfocused, sloppy, and almost entirely forgettable. Ultimately, it’s an embarrassing release that actually makes the original 20/20 Experience worse by association. It’s unlikely that The 20/20 Experience-2 of 2 will actually have too much of a negative effect on Timberlake’s career, but it may be advisable for the President of Pop to lay low for a bit. It’s hard to miss you if you don’t leave.