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.
When I was 14, I wrote a rap song to the tune of “SexyBack” called “I’m Bringing Islam Back” with my friend Giroux for our world religions class. We also crafted a take on “Fergalicious” called “Jesuslicious”. We rapped these songs in front of the entire school at the Christmas assembly, an annual talent extravaganza/casual pre-holiday event. A DVD copy of this performance exists in my house, and my teacher recommended that I highlight the project in my portfolio. (On the evaluation sheet, she wrote that it was “da bomb”.) I’m never going to watch that DVD. This anecdote is fairly pointless; I guess it illustrates that at one point in my life, I really loved ”SexyBack”.
I listened to “SexyBack” tonight for the first time in what feels like years, and I was struck by how “freaky” it sounds. There’s been lots of “freaky” pop music since 2006 when FutureSex/LoveSounds was released, but 99% of the time the freakiness is contrived: think of Rihanna’s “Disturbia” and accompanying video, or Gaga’s art-house pastiche. “SexyBack” is anchored by a louche, creepy Timberlake vocal turn and nervy bursts of synth and guitar; it feels like it’s teetering on the edge of something, about to slip into total disarray. The skanky vibe is enhanced by the mystery woman who pants out “yes” when Timberlake asks, “You ready?” (Wouldn’t it be fun if this woman was the cousin or aunt of Rick Ross’s “Maybach music” girl?) It’s striking when everything melts away but that stuttering, spastic-funk guitar line. I wish Justin was still making music and not playing third leads in mediocre comedies. Bring sexy back, Justin!
the Justin Timberlake Playboy interview - a few thoughts
1. Imagine that you could warp back a decade or so, to the release date and first week of No Strings Attached. I think that album sold 2.4 million copies during that first week (something like that). Questions:
a) Did anyone alive think that Justin Timberlake would still be relevant a decade later? Perhaps the question can be refined to read, did anyone alive think that Timberlake would, in 2011, be considered a respected, multidimensional, trend-setting figure? I feel like very few people were tagging him as someone with longevity.
b) Do children growing up now in the completely digital age have any sense of what it means to sell 2.4 million records? I’m 18, which gives me the slightest sense/memory of what a phenomenon the boy bands were. I suppose that it’s not very different from the Born This Way/Speak Now hype of recent years. The obvious major difference is that 2001 hype was expressed through Billboard charts and record sales, whereas 2011 hype is composed of Internet think pieces and social media conversations. 2011 hype = a lot less money (for the time being).
2. Justin Timberlake, unabashed pot smoker. He didn’t even respond with a simple “yes” to the pot question. He went with the strong “absolutely”. Young pot smokers everywhere should file that tidbit away for any potential parental confrontations, especially if their parents remember the N*Sync Christmas songs and JT’s old cornrows.
3. I found it interesting that the young man tabbed as the “Prince of Pop” ever since the commencement of his solo career unequivocally named Prince as the greatest musician who has ever lived. I don’t know if he can be named definitively as the greatest, but it appears he’s winning/has won the battle with MJ for long-term cultural relevance and reputation. They chose wildly different methods of self-sabotage: MJ went with the whole child molestation/facial reconstruction angle, whereas Prince merely released a glorious string of albums in the “mediocre-to-godawful” range from about 1992-now. I am interested to see if public consensus will continue to shift towards Prince over time.
4. Justin Timberlake likes Radiohead! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In 2011, loudly proclaiming your love for Radiohead is about as subversive/controversial as telling people you like Nutella or puppies.
Bonus non-JT thought: I read today that Katy Perry’s first four singles from Teenage Dream have all become #1 singles. I heard “Last Friday Night” for the first time today and couldn’t help but think, “this is going to be the song of the summer for a lot of people”. (Also: remove the corny internet lyrics, and that backing track could be an especially glossy Phoenix song. Thomas Mars: write some new lyrics and get in the studio!) Is five consecutive #1 singles from the same album some sort of crazy record? I know Michael’s Bad accomplished a similar-sounding feat but I can’t remember what exactly it was. The point: Katy Perry is dominating everyone right now on a purely commercial basis, I guess.
Thoughts? Perhaps you like posts about indie music and you’re mad I spilled all these words on Timberlake and Katy Perry?