Justin Timberlake - “Mirrors”
Let’s start with the obvious complaint: the lover-as-mirror concept is some truly hackneyed fromage, the sort of lyrical motif even Kellz would dismiss as too much. The blown-out power ballad sonic maneuvers of the first half are like hot air balloons, giant but ultimately empty; the beat-boxed rhythmic bed is recycled from 2006, when it was already recycled from 2002; as someone mentioned on Twitter, the first half definitely has a whiff of peak Chris Brown about it, like “Forever” or “No Air”. I’ve digested all of these points and yet I still really enjoy the first five minutes of this song, because there is a genuine sweetness motivating the bombast. Timberlake might be serving fresh cheese, but he’s selling it so hard that I’m won over.
It doesn’t really matter anyway, because the first five minutes of “Mirrors” are ultimately completely justified by the brilliant final three. Timberlake strips away the foofy orchestration and focuses on tiny, meaningful flourishes: a sprinkle of piano, a quickly ascending synth bubble, a simple clicking beat. He focuses on his vocals. There’s a repeated phrase where he ascends into a fluttering falsetto and runs through a grainy patch on his way up before finding a smooth spot, and it captivates me every single time. It’s like getting rattled around a plane by some turbulence before steering into clear skies. I want to stand up and applaud the pilot. The spine of this section is a single line of lyric, repeated again and again, warped and transformed and chanted: “You are the love of my life.”
I went for a run yesterday afternoon and that sentence rattled in my head the entire time. “You are, you are, the love of my life.” It was broken up into little pieces with each footstep - “You are / you are / the love / of my life” - and then looped for forty minutes. It was an anchor, a mantra. It’s the sort of sentence you turn towards when grand gestures fail to convey your depth of feeling for someone, and that’s how I think of “Mirrors”: the first five minutes are Timberlake trying to show you the world, and the last three are the realization that no goofy analogy can ever do that feeling justice. He settles on something simple, brief, and clear. I’m thinking about it on Valentine’s Day and soaking in that sentiment.