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.”
Timbaland (#1–10 of 7)
Toronto International Film Festival
To witness Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, which captures the final performance of Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience World Tour at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, is to be in pure bliss. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with Jonathan Demme’s history as one of the premier documenters of musical performance, though his previous subjects, like the Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense), Neil Young (Neil Young: Heart of Gold), and Robyn Hitchcock (Storefront Hitchcock), often tended toward niche more than mainstream embrace. So what happens when the director trains his uniquely empathetic eye on a bona-fide megastar? He finds, happily, the potent heart and soul underneath all the rehearsed glitz and glamor.
1. “A Small Batch from Life’s Work.” J. Hoberman on Aleksei German.
“Befitting a movie its maker strove to realize his entire professional life, Hard to Be a God evokes an imagined past. Its setting is the kingdom of Arkanar on an Earthlike planet where society has evolved only as far as the Middle Ages or, perhaps, skipping the Renaissance, gone directly from feudal barbarism to barbaric fascism. Literacy is a capital crime. Russians are dispatched in a team from their achieved Utopia. Discreetly employing advanced technology, they live among the Arkanarians, observing their primitive ways, including coups and executions, while doing their ineffectual best to nurture positive human developments.”
Following the disappointing performance of “Take Back the Night,” Justin Timberlake has dropped another underwhelming single from his upcoming album, The 20/20 Experience (2 of 2). Like several of the songs on The 20/20 Experience, “TKO” is largely a retread of Timberlake’s past work with longtime collaborator Timbaland, opening with a tired hype-man routine that finds the producer idiotically chanting, “She kill me with that coo-coochie-coochie-coo,” over a familiar midtempo shuffle circa 2006. The second half of the seven-minute track ventures into slightly more sonically interesting territory, filled out with the beatboxing and plucky strings we’ve come to expect from the two Tims. The song’s lyrics add little to an already massive pantheon of pop songs built around a love-as-boxing metaphor: “I’m out for the count/Yeah, girl, you knock me out/With a TKO.” Here’s hoping the rest of the album’s got some hidden punches.
It’s like 2002 all over again. Or, judging by the Lyn Collins loop in Destiny’s Child’s “Nuclear” and the What’s Going On-style filtered woodblock in Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” more like 1972. A smooth homage to the old-school R&B records Timberlake reportedly grew up listening to, the singer turned thespian’s new single ignores current trends and bounces along to, if not its own groove, at least one we haven’t heard in a few decades. Aside from some drawled-out hyping during the song’s sluggish intro, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the track is even a Timbaland production.
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“4 Minutes” is so 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.