"4 Minutes" is so fucking meta (and its creators so egomaniacal) that I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Madonna and Justin Timberlake actually sat down with the specific intention of writing a song that could literally save the world and, instead, wound up writing a song about the hassle of writing a song that could literally save the world. Put simply, the song's lyrics—which at first seemed confusing and muddled to those of us who expected it to be about, you know, saving the world from climate change, or the AIDS pandemic in Africa, or George W. Bush—attempt to illustrate what it's like to write and/or perform a pop song that could actually succeed at doing one of those things, or making the bourgeoisie and the rebel come together in every nation. Or maybe it's not even that deep. Madonna wants to get into the groove. Justin is willing and able. Madonna wants it fast. No, she wants it slow. Wait, both! Justin can handle that, but Madonna needs to make up her damn mind first. "Tick, tock, tick, tock," she nags. "Don't be a prima donna," Justin says. This is what it must be like to work for the notoriously impatient superstar. Thank God for that colossal, ridiculously infectious horn riff. Without it, "4 Minutes" would be nothing but a busy assemblage of dubious clichés, mediocre vocals, and Timbaland's heard-it-all-before marching band beats and irksome "ick-y ick-y" banter. And then there's the video, helmed by the team who brought us Justice's "D.A.N.C.E." Madonna, freshly tightened by her surgeon and looking better than Justin's ex, does her usual pelvis-thrusting flexi-combat dance moves (when in doubt—or in lack of a choreographer—strike a yoga pose, right?), but hey, she makes pushing a car look sexy. And what little concept there is—encroaching, flesh-devouring black glass represents the battle against time, or something like that—actually helps solidify "4 Minutes" as the quintessential statement on the crushing pressures of being a Kabbalist pop star at 49.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.