The 20/20 Hindsight Bias


Although he was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised as a Baptist (his grandfather was a minister), Justin Timberlake is not a country singer. In fact, Timberlake’s career went an entirely different direction when he became an actor and met other future stars, such as Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling, appearing on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” and when his musical career had a promising start on the television show “Star Search.” Timberlake’s first band of notability, ‘N Sync, lasted from 1995-2004. After Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, in which he had a great part, Timberlake put his music career on hold to further pursue his acting. In March of 2013, Timberlake returned to the music scene with the release of his latest album, “The 20/20 Experience,” which topped the charts as the best selling record of the year.

The first track on the album, “Pusher Love Girl,” opens with a digitally created string part, seemingly taken from the soundtrack of a romance movie. This holds my attention for the first fifteen seconds of the song, until the digital layers are added. From then on, the rhythm and lyrics of this track are unnecessarily repetitive. Drug references are constantly featured in the song, over emphasizing the point that Timberlake is “addicted to love.” Boring. Next.

“Suit and Tie,” featuring Jay-Z, is just as repetitive as “Pusher Love Girl.” If you’re looking for Jay-Z singing a duet with Timberlake, keep looking. Jay-Z only sings one verse. Of course, with Jay-Z comes foul-mouthedness, and not even a variety of it. “I be on my suit and tie, s**t tie, s**t tie…” over and over again. Excessive use of swear words is alleged to be an indicator of limited vocabulary, so one must question the intelligence of a singer who uses the same curse words this repetitively. Boring. Next.

The Acappella-like introduction of “Don’t Hold the Wall” gets my hopes up until the fifteen seconds of creative bliss ends, entering the over-autotuned voice of Timbaland. This particular track seems slightly less repetitive, though only subliminally so. Throughout the track, the percussion line is virtually unchanged, and a barely audible voice sings sans lyrics, so distorted that the gender of the singer is a mystery. Still boring. Moving on.

Track four, “Strawberry Bubblegum,” opens with the deepest, creepiest voice imaginable. Anyone in their right mind would run away from a man singing, “Hey pretty lady, this goes out to you. Every day feels like the first day. This is dedicated to you.” This voice, singing these lyrics brings images of sexual predators to mind. Kudos to Timberlake, though, for bringing up the over-used cliche of strawberries as sexual metaphors. That one’s been around longer than Shakespeare. Throughout the rest of the song, Timberlake’s innuendos are less subtle. Lyrics such as, “And if you ask me where I wanna go, I say all the way,” and “Don’t ever change your flavor cause I love the taste,” are obvious and distasteful references to sex. On the other hand, Timberlake makes no effort to mask his obsession with intercourse in the line, “So tell why, we’re making love like professionals on the first time?” Not to mention, at nearly eight minutes, the track is overly drawn out. Timberlake simply lacks the creativity to write a decent song and make it this lengthy.

“Tunnel Vision” is one of the most repetitive tracks on “The 20/20 Experience.” Did the line “I know you like it” really need to be repeated sixteen times in the introduction, ten times midway through, as well as twelve times in the closing? Nope. No further elaboration is needed; this track makes me nauseous.

The sixth track (halfway through this garbage), “Spaceship Coupe,” is another over-romanticized, over-sexed piece of “song writing.” The line, “But I just want to fly, fly away with you,” is yet another tasteless cliché, and “…with the top down/ We’ll cruise around/ Land and make love and make love on the moon” are simply impractical notions. For a start, space exposure most often results in ebullism, the formation of bubbles in body fluids. To cut it short, space exposure is one of the most unpleasant deaths imaginable. Of course, the moon is a very desolate place for love making. It’s a moonscape. Another bit of romantic for the ladies: if he calls you an alien, it may be time to reconsider things, especially if he’s singing, “Now everybody knows that you’re from outer space.” Really, Timberlake?

I almost like “That Girl.” A southern accent introduces the band as “J.T. and the Tennessee kids.” There’s something comforting in this quiet tribute to Timberlake’s origins. The lyrics remind me of more traditional, and somewhat jazzy songs, coupled with Timberlakes’ extensive use of rhythm guitar, horns, and synthesized organ. Yet, the rhythm remains static and disappoints me. “That Girl,” unlike the other tracks, could have been a decent song.

I prefer to dwell on the eighth track as little as possible. The lack of artistic creativity Timberlake displays in this track baffles me. “Let the Groove Get In” is precisely no more than “Are you comfortable, right there right there/ Let the groove get in, feel it there” on repeat for over seven minutes. So dull.

In short, the most popular song on the album, “Mirrors,” is a sugarless dough clumsily pushed into the cookie-cutter of pop songs. The track features overly digitized everything, from the verses to the chorus, from the guitar intro to the “strings” in the latter part of the song. Even the theme of separation anxiety can be found in most other pop songs of this day.

“Blue Ocean Floor” is another track with a lot of unused potential. The computer-created music to the song reminds me of Radiohead, especially when accompanied by the opening lines “Frequency’s so low/ Heart on a String/ A string that only plays solos/ Rain made of echoes/ Tidal waves rushing on and on,” which echo in me as a toned down version of “Paranoid,” ripe with seemingly random lyric placement. Unfortunately, the chanted bridge verse creates a disharmony in the song which ruins it.

Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” is perhaps the grandest failure of an album I have ever listened to. It seems that Timberlake has nearly abandoned his roots in the Bluegrass capital of the nation, as well as the religious morality he was raised with. Timberlake should have stuck with acting – he can’t quite pull off songwriting as well as he did Janet Jackson’s dress.