The Year Of Justin Timberlake: Another Blog Falls Victim To The Hype Machine

There’s this scene in High Fidelity where Rob Gordon (Nick Horby) says, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” There’s no need to explain to you that millions of songs are about heartbreak and loss. It’s just common knowledge. Holding your hand eight days a week hasn’t lasted forever. And even though not all pop music is miserable, I’ve always gotten that feeling from it. Even if the music was upbeat. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never listened to pop music because I’ve always seen it as a wishy-washy, flavor-of-the-week inducing mindlessness. It never challenged me: it’s just something I’ve never wanted to listen to. I never liked boy bands (I did like the Spice Girls in junior high school, so I guess that counts.) But my favorite pop music was always of the past: Elton John, Michael Jackson and sorts. New pop music used to fit into the same place new rock did for me. That it was meaningless and frothy, something I had no need for. Even now as I look back to the pop music from the 90s, my childhood, it still feels fake.

I’m thinking about pop music from the 90s because I’m listening to Justin Timberlake. The 20/20 Experience is a beast to listen to because of the nature of its’ long songs and interludes. Every time you go to see what song is playing, you realize it’s still the same song from three minutes ago. But it’s the strings and orchestrations that has kept me going back. And for the first time in a LONG while, it got me to read an entire record review from The Fork. They gave “JT” – if you will –  a Best New Music label, also known as the second coming of titles. It’s well written review and brings up a lot of solid points.

But then again, the whole internet is a buzz with JT news. And there are two other articles that come to mind that do JT even better than The Fork – gasp! (And with that being said, be sure to get your eyes on his SNL clips from a couple weeks ago. No need to tell you that he’s the funniest non-cast member in decades.) The first is a piece over at Grantland that our good internet friend Rusty introduced us (me) to: Steven Hyden tells us that The 20/20 Experience may or may not be shit (siting Griel Marcus’ famous review of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait from Rolling Stone). Hyden talks about Timberlake’s past, his marriage and his ability to act, “He now seems like an actor dabbling in music rather than a musician dabbling in acting.” This list seems like a consistent explanation of why, as a non pop music admirer and non pop music listener, I am drawn to the record. Do I need a reason? Is it just…good music? And who the fuck cares that it’s “popular” “music”? Because it’s the talk of the internet? Because it’s inevitable? Or because “Pusher Love Girl” [below] is such a great opening track that it just sets the tone for the record and you can’t stop listening to it.

I don’t remember where I read this, or if I did, and where it’s regurgitated from. But The 20/20 Experience seems to be a hit record, WITH singles. (Five and eight minute singles, at that.) And even as the conversation centers around him making music for the first time in seven years, about him being married and about all the work he’s done in between his musical releases – and those musical releases – it doesn’t really need to be said that he’s part of the R&B revival going on (see Frank Ocean, Miguel, The Weeknd) because he isn’t reviving anything. Picking up where he left off, it seems, from FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake is holding his bar higher and doing exactly what he wants to do. Being an artist like this is nearly unheard of (wait, is it? Do people do what they want to do?) in our “era” of music. I can’t decide if people are just excited about his new record or surprised how good it is.

The New York Times is the second article that does us a great job at chronicling the life span of what it takes to make a Justin Timberlake. And a Justin Timberlake album. Note: there’s a lot that goes into it. May I suggest, that if you are having trouble making it through the six, seven and eight minute long tracks, skip down to “That Girl”. The staged big band introduction, with southern love and the underground club intro to JT and the Tennessee Kids feels so right. [Below]. As does the rhythm guitar and ensemble of snaps.

There are parts of this record that I don’t like as much as the rest. The tribal sounds on “Let The Groove Get In” kind of leave me feeling uneasy. The song does bump and sway, but most of it is just a bizarre fusion of dance, electro and vocal percussion. BUT, it precedes “Mirrors”, which is a near-perfect eight minute love song. It makes me want to, uncomfortably, sing along to it – if I knew the words – and dance around my bedroom like the tween girl I never was before. Music that does this to me makes me terrified. I have no idea what I’m even thinking about this right now. And as the record plays on, “Blue Ocean Floor” sounds like nothing I expected. JT is showing us all that he can do with the versatility on this record. And it’s quite the spectrum.

I told myself that I would make it through listening to this whole album before going in to work late today. I still have a few more seven and eight minute tracks to make it through (that, plus, I keep going back for repeats). And I have a feeling it will soundtrack the rest of my day, and week. But then there’s this piece of news – that JT is releasing a sequel to 20/20 later this year that it will be the record’s other half. If 2013 isn’t the year of Justin Timberlake, it’s about to be.