A mere glimpse of Justin Timberlake dressed as a rural woodsman in the trailer for his forthcoming album, Man of the Woods, prompted accusations of “[w]hite colonialist fantasies” and pandering to Trump’s America. The Memphis-born artist’s foray into what his record label describes as “the sounds of traditional American rock,” however, could be interpreted as a return to his roots. He’s been setting the stage for it since at least 2015, when he performed with Nashville crooner Chris Stapleton and even cracked the country radio charts with his single “Drink You Away.”
“All my haters gon’ say it’s fake,” Timberlake quips early on the album’s lead single, “Filthy,” whose electric guitar-driven prelude promptly gives way to a squelchy funk riff that’s vaguely reminiscent of George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” and “Freeek.” Produced by longtime collaborator Timbaland and reuniting Timberlake with Danja, who co-produced his blockbuster 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds, the track is busy, crammed with meme-generating slogans and a lot of heavy breathing. It’s more of a mood than an actual song.
The futuristic music video, directed by Mark Romanek, finds Timberlake playing a Steve Jobs-style inventor who unveils his latest creation, a robot who busts some smooth moves for a rapt audience at what’s billed as a “Pan-Asian Deep Learning Conference.” The clip’s abrupt ending suggests a commentary on automation and an A.I. takeover, but not before the bot gets uncomfortably down and dirty with its Asian backup dancers.
Timberlake’s fifth album, Man of the Woods, drops February 2.