The Talented Mr. Timberlake.
My birthday is in a few days and in my spare time reminiscing, I’ve come to realize a very real truth. In middle school, which I believe is the age when you start the formative process of forming your musical taste, I lived through the golden age of bubblegum pop.
To put this in perspective, I understand the 80’s had Michael Jackson, the early 90’s, well, I don’t know what they had, but the late 90’s and early 00’s had a veritable smorgasbord of manufactured pop idols directed specifically for us. I don’t think I’m underselling it when I say that Britney Spears singlehandedly brought an entire generation of boys through puberty.
She was 16 at the time, and unlike the other hordes of males chasing after her, she was age appropriate. I mean, seriously, c’mon.
Now the counter-force to the dueling bubblegum pop divas of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera was the boy band. N*SYNC, Backstreet Boys, and a distant third of 98 Degrees were all at the height of their powers. TRL (the most amazing product placement scheme of its time) would have Times Square packed and squealing for a glance of any of these acts.
Coming completely clean, I was/am a huge fan of N*SYNC (N*SYNC > Backstreet Boys, not even an argument). This was something that you did not advertise in middle school as a boy, as being called “gay”, “homo”, or “fag” was not to your benefit in navigating the minefield that is pubescent social networking. I will say that my sister owned all the CD’s, but I listened to them as much as she did. Instead, the music that you were allowed to like as a middle school boy were some combination of Blink-182, Linkin Park, and whatever censored rap song was getting the most airtime on the radio. I liked some of that stuff (I can recite Nelly’s Ride Wit Me word for word) but none of it really touched my love of bubblegum pop.
Now, once you get out of middle school, you realize that there is more music than what they play on Z100 and MTV. You start feeling out your own musical tastes, “discover” bands that have been around forever, and start learning about yourself through music. Back then, iPods weren’t huge yet, so we still burned CD’s to establish our own musical identities to profess to others (which was, and probably will always be the cheapest way to insinuate that you had feelings for a girl). But, in spite of all that, I, and probably most of us, always keep a special touchstone for the music that started you off, for me, bubblegum pop.
Along the way, a funny thing happened. Justin Timberlake, easily the most marketable boy band member, broke off and started doing his own thing. I think the world proper was not incredibly wow-ed. At this point, I was “discovering” bands like Oasis, so obviously I was too cool to listen to a former boy-bander. But at a certain point, I broke down a listened to a track or two.
It was different. Simple acoustic guitar riff, add a drum kit, bam. It was clean, smooth, slick. Whereas the boy band stuff wore on you with its banality, this new Justin Timberlake didn’t make you ashamed to listen to it, well, at least less ashamed. It verged on cool, but it still seemed a bit contrived, trying to hard to be cool.
At a certain point, Justin Timberlake became genuinely funny. If you take a look at his turns hosting Saturday Night Live, you see a progression from him simply being a gimmick, to someone who turns his talents into making an audience laugh. Obviously, there’s ‘Dick in a Box’, but even the Barry Gibbs stuff showed you how funny he could be. He’s likeable, and you can’t deny that he’s an entertainer.
And then came FutureSex/Love Sounds.
First off, ‘FutureSex/Love Sounds’ has to be one of my favorite album titles. You have no earthly idea what the fuck it means, but it makes you interested. And then, once you listen to the album, for some reason, it starts to make sense. I will point out that FutureSex/Love Sounds, and especially SexyBack, for better or worse, was the forerunner of pop the way it is today. SexyBack is produced for no other reason than that it provides a beat, and it is eminently danceable. The lyrics make little to no sense, but it promotes a general sense of euphoria and party mentality. SexyBack is the mold of which Rihanna and David Guetta make their living from. ‘We Found Love’, ‘Let Me Love You’, etc. is all in that vein, it’s not music as art, but music as feeling. What SexyBack does better though, is that it conveys subtle cool, and as evidence in the title, it’s sexy. However, FutureSex/Love Sounds also had gems like this:
All great pop songs have a hook. One solid amazing hook. You hear it in the pre-chorus, and by the time the chorus hits, it’s already worked its way into your head. Some songs ooze style. This is one of the them. FutureSex/Love Sounds made Justin Timberlake universally cool. Women were always in love with him, but for the first time, it became acceptable for men to like him too. He became A-list.
After a long hiatus, Mr. Timberlake just released “Suit and Tie”, featuring, of course, Jay-Z. Hova is just another magnate of cool and with these two titans you’d expect brilliance. I’m not going to link the song, because frankly, it’s not that good. The thing is though, I wanted so badly for it to be good. At best, it’s a B-Track on his new album, and that’s the change, even his B-Tracks are fairly solid, and not only that, but its release was a minor cultural event with countdown and all. Crazy, but what can you say? Kid’s got game.
Not to go all hipster, but all I’m saying is that I always liked him, yeah, from his N*SYNC stuff.
Put on ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’ and try not to get into it.
See, you can’t.