There are no bounds to Justin Timberlake’s celebrity. Musician, movie star, and all around charismatic figure, JT (as I’ll affectionately call him) had fans running around Austin last week at SXSW with the mere suggestion that he MIGHT make a surprise appearance.
While his star has certainly risen over the last several years, it has been despite the fact that his last album of original music is almost seven years old. We’ve had SexyBack for quite a while now and, to the relief of fans, JT is back this week his new album, The 20/20 Experience.
I chose to write about the album with a sense of irony. I’m anything but “up” on the latest music. I usually only hear the latest and most popular tracks when my kids hear a new song during P.E. at school and make me search (almost hopelessly) to find it on Spotify so they can have a small family dance party in our living room. Despite my lack of cool, I waded into the waters of JT’s album with a certain eagerness to, at least, be more pop-culturally literate.
So, what did I think?
It’s important for me to say that I didn’t hate it. There are some tracks that I’d prefer never to hear again. One in particular, “Suit and Tie,” led my seven year old daughter to ask, “What’s that noise?” All of this is to say that The 20/20 Experience is an imperfect album, but one that is sure to have some breakout hits.
As I made my way through the album, I realized why I’m such a dunce when it comes to most pop music. JT (and many pop artists, for that matter) makes music for people who don’t care about lyrics. Most of the lyrics on The 20/20 Experience sound like they’re derived from the Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” meme (which, by the way, would make a pretty amazing album), but without the wit. Others, like “Strawberry Bubblegum” and “Spaceship Coupe” stand apart as two of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, lyrically speaking (e.g. Hop into my spaceship coupe, There’s only room for two [Me and you] And with the top down, We’ll cruise around, Land and make love on the moon, Would you like that?).
There are some bright spots along the way. When I heard “Tunnel Vision,” I got very sad that seventh graders no longer make mix tapes. With lyrics like “I look around and everything I see is beautiful cause all I see is you,” this track is mix tape gold. If I had had that song in my arsenal in 1995, I’d have been holding hands like a mad man. But, alas, I digress.
Another track, “Let the Groove Get In,” with its primal beats, seems to scream for a cultural dance movement a la the Macarena. It’s redefines catchy. “Mirrors” sounds like it was pre-ordained as a Billboard #1 hit.
Even at the highpoints of The 20/20 Experience, the album has a fatal flaw – the length of each track. Three tracks clock in at over eight minutes. Four cross the seven minute threshold. Don McClean’s “American Pie” spans eight minutes and thirty six seconds, but there are over 600 words in that song, not counting the chorus. When Timberlake repeats the same 50-100 words over the same time span the tracks seem indulgent and unnecessarily long.
I’ll step out there and venture a guess – if you liked Justin Timberlake before, you’ll probably enjoy his latest effort, though I suspect that even the most ardent JT fan will grow tired at the length of some tracks. I won’t throw any stones when it comes to musical choice, I certainly have my guilty pleasures. But, if you were curious what a 31 year old father of four living in the Austin suburbs thinks about the new JT album… wonder no more.