Man of the field

Justin Timberlake evokes mixed reviews after a 'predictable' Super Bowl performance

By on February 6, 2018

Photo courtesy of RCA Records Press
“All my haters gon’ say it’s fake,” Timberlake croons in his famous falsetto range on his latest single, “Filthy.” “I guess I got my swagger back.”

The pop veteran’s latest works, an album titled “Man of the Woods” and his halftime show performance at Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, have thrust him into the spotlight, but this time to a harsher, more volatile audience.

The aforementioned album, released Friday, is Timberlake’s fourth full length studio album, and his first since 2013’s “The 20/20 Experience.”

“Man of the Woods,” as the title suggests, represents a vast departure of image for the pop star. The Timberlake who got his start recording Michael Jackson reject tracks, and would eventually bring “Sexy Back,” is officially out. Instead, JT opts for a revivalist country theme over his usual, post disco vibe.

Songs like “Breeze off the Pond” and “Say Something,” which features verses by Chris Stapleton, interpolate laid back melodies, thoughtful vocals and rugged guitar riffs to create that backwoods sense that the album fashions.

That’s not to say that “Man of the Woods” lacks the bouncy punch Timberlake is known for. The lead single “Filthy” perfectly encapsulates what has kept JT in the game for over two decades. A thumping bass line, steady beat and bizarre lyrics propel the funk track forward- and make it extremely susceptible to endless Prince comparisons.

Timberlake worked with producers Timbaland and Pharrell Williams to bring the track to fruition- longtime collaborators who have made a habit of pushing the envelope with their production. “Filthy” has seen mixed reviews, to say the least- some of absolute acclaim and others of disdain. This is not at all unlike his classic hit “Sexy Back,” which was panned by professional music critics for its futuristic acoustics and filters.

“Man of the Woods,” if nothing else, represents an artistic and personal turning point for Timberlake. Whether you like the music or not, it would be challenging to claim that the singer lacks a certain level of emotional depth at this point. After all, a lot has happened for Timberlake since the release of “The 20/20 Experience.” Although somewhat odd to ponder, that swaging teenager convincing girls to ‘rock their bodies’ is quickly approaching the age of 40, is married and is a father.

That emotional depth comes in handy for one of the album’s standouts. “Morning Light,” a soothing and soulful duet with R&B songbird Alicia Keys.

A song like that, juxtaposed to something like “Higher, Higher,” an homage to Timberlake’s bass heavy past, perfectly illustrates the interesting contrast the singer has created on his latest record, and even more so, in his persona.

To many viewers, watching an almost forty-year-old father break it down to some cerca 2002 dance moves during the Super Bowl felt a little odd. But that’s exactly what 103 million people did this past Sunday.

A lot was at stake for Timberlake building up to this performance. The Super Bowl halftime show is the most widely viewed televised event of the entire year, according to Nielson ratings. On top of that, Timberlake has quite the history when it comes to halftime shows, including that one time in 2004 when he ripped off Janet Jackson’s bra, exposing her nipple to the entire country- single handedly blacklisting Michael Jackson’s little sister on all major networks and launching YouTube, all in one fell swoop.

Couple that with some burning fan questions like, “Will Janet come back,” and “What about an NSYNC reunion,” and it’s safe to say Timberlake had quite a bit of pressure to live up to.

Whether or not he lived up to the hype depends on who you ask.

“Justin is so talented, I’ve loved him forever,” senior nursing major Dayna Moylan said. “He has the voice of an angel and I thought the performance was so good.”

Sophomore physical therapy major Mairead O’Sullivan painted another picture of the music event of the year.

“I thought it was very predictable,” O’Sullivan said. “Same old songs he always does, same old dance moves and everything. I wasn’t impressed.”

Despite wildly differing opinions, some things were certain. The “Cry Me A River” hitmaker certainly pulled out all of the slinky dance moves and stage transitions anyone could ask for.

While those aspects of the performance were widely acclaimed, other parts faced quite a bit of backlash, including his lack of guest performers- a tradition well established in past halftime performances.

“I sat there waiting in anticipation for NSYNC, Britney, Janet, anyone,” sophomore English major Gaby D’Annunzio said. “I got nothing- no surprise guest, which is always my favorite part.”

And while D’Annunzio is right in that there were no co-headliners, Timberlake made references to some of his fellow musicians, some much more obvious than others.

The less obvious of the references was to none other than Janet Jackson. During Timberlake’s performance of “Rock Your Body,” the popstar abruptly ended the number with a spoken “Stop!” just before the point in the song where he ripped off Jackson’s bra, 14 years ago. Subtle, but some fans are taking it as somewhat of an apology to for all the heat Miss Jackson garnered for the head-turning moment.

Towards the conclusion of the show, a massive bedsheet looking garment descended from the top of the stage to reveal a glowing video representation none other than Prince. Timberlake performed a piano driven duet of “I Would Die 4 U” with the audio of the late Minneapolis native- something that many were sure made the funk legend turn in his grave.

“That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be,” Prince said in a 2007 interview with “Guitar World.” “ If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… it really is demonic. And I am not a demon.”

Although riddled with debate and controversy, Timberlake emerged unscathed from any horrible incidents. Unfortunately for him, it seems that the most memorable performances are the ones with horrible incidents, a trend that he himself has contributed to.

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About Matthew Fortin

Associate Arts and Life Editor