Let's Get All Internet-y on Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience
Oh, what's up JT? Nice of you to join us over here in the music world again. You abandoned us in 2006 after Future Sex/Love Sounds--quick note: that was seven years ago, and seven years is roughly the age of a first grader, so we are now a first grader's life away from the previous JT record--but that's okay, because you're back. You told us a few months ago that you felt "inspired" (or, maybe, a contract you signed obligated you) to make new music. Some people were stoked. Others weren't. But regardless, here we are, and your third studio album The 20/20 Experience--currently streaming on iTunes--is set to hit shelves on Tuesday. It's a hodgepodge of sonic trends over the past few years, and will probably take some time to fully absorb, process, and understand. But, because this is the year 2013 and this is the Internet, let's prematurely evaluate the hell out of it, shall we?
Earlier this week, BuzzFeed's Matthew Perpetua wrote how JT is packaging himself as a luxury brand, and questioned whether or not that type of product could be sold to a batch of consumers who would rather listen to Macklemore tell them that money doesn't matter and how being yourself is okay--all you gotta do is just wave those lighters in the air and feel great about everything, man. (Quick sidenote: Fuck that song.) To a certain degree, Perpetua is right. Even before 20/20's lead single existed, just thinking about JT brought the words "suit" and "tie" to mind. The aesthetic he's created over the past decade is one built upon coolness. JT's badassness is based upon years of seeing him in the news not only as a musician, but as a celebrity who's constantly setting trends, popping up on TV, starring in movies, getting photographed for GQ--or, in short, acting as a leader of the culture. And herein lays the problem with 20/20: It doesn't come from a progressive cultural leader, but rather a stenographer of the past five years.
Take, for example, "Blue Ocean Floor," the album's closer. It's a smooth, syrupy, and fuzzed out love song about escaping metaphorically into the ocean together. It's a beautiful song, really, and shows off JT's soaring range as a vocalist. But as Jon Caramanica wrote in the Times earlier this week, it sounds like a chillwave song from about three years ago. There's nothing brave or forward thinking about this track, and it's tacked on to the end of the record like an afterthought, almost like JT was going down a list of to-dos in order to create a critically acclaimed record: "Ballad with subtle electronic undertones, heartfelt lyrics, and one that people could compare to Frank Ocean? Check!"