Do you remember when Justin Timberlake was last considered actually cool? During the 00s he was one of the biggest stars on the planet. He sang and could actually dance, and the songs! Oh the songs! Banger after banger. But time has been a cruel mistress to the artist formerly known as The Trousersnake. Since he shaved off his pseudo-jheri curl and grew it out into an Essex lad’s side parting, his cool factor has become a lost relic of the past. Since he announced his return with a short teaser (above) for upcoming album Man of the Woods, he seems fully ready to ascend to 'super sincere and not at all into being considered whatever cool even is now.'
He once said he’d have us “nekkid by the end of this song” and it was believable. But he’s now a corny cheeseball who’s in on the joke when everyone tweets a video still of N*Sync’s “It’s Gonna Be Me” on May 1. The Mickey Mouse Club alumni has now suggested he’ll be pivoting to country in that new album teaser, moodily walking through a cornfield (not usually found in the woods) and talking about the project being his most personal. It was like his very own Lemonade, just the Asda Smart Price version… and white.
Today he’s released the first single from that record, “Filthy” (which we’ll get to later), but first: what made the “Cry Me A River” crooner become so uncool? Here’s a step-by-step guide for those wondering.
He never did apologize to Janet
Perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to Justin’s cred is that his fanbase became woke and aware of the social and structural advantages he’s enjoyed throughout his career as a straight white man in America. It’s been almost 14 years since Justin famously exposed Janet Jackson’s breast (and himself, as a little weasel??) during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. While Janet, a black woman, and her glittering career took an almighty bashing, Justin’s star shone brighter. People Magazine even dubbed him the ‘Teflon Man’ because none of the fallout from “Nipplegate” actually stuck to him. Gotta love privilege!
After all this time he still hasn’t mustered the courage to apologise to Janet for essentially throwing her under the bus and running her over with it repeatedly. Even Twitter is routinely on his ass ordering him to apologize. The closest he ever came to doing so was during an interview with MTV in 2006 where he admitted to bearing only 10 percent of the blame for what happened, concluding: ‘I think that America's harsher on women. And I think that America is, you know, unfairly harsh on ethnic people.’
JUST SAY YOU’RE SORRY, DAMMIT!
He was initially cool by proxy
Justin’s blatant adoption of all things black has been documented well throughout his career, thanks in large part to the internet refusing to let any of his former fashion choices die. How can we forget the cornrows during his N*Sync days or when he wore a Tommy Gear durag and ill-fitting tracksuit for this photoshoot? He’s said he massively regrets his cornrows and wishes he never wore them, which is just as well.
It’s also worth mentioning that when it comes to his music, Justin has largely benefited from cosying up to artists like Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, JAY-Z, Beyoncé, getting that first co-sign from Clipse on “Like I Love You.” Do you see a pattern here? It’s led to people suggesting Justin is dead weight, being carried by the talents of others.
That time he said “We’re all part of the human race”
For an artist who has piggybacked off the likes of Pharrell and Timbaland’s talent for pretty much his solo career, Justin has shown himself to be scarily unaware of the struggles black men and women face every day in the US as a result of structural racism.
None of us would’ve known this if Justin hadn’t popped off an ill-advised and since-deleted tweet in 2016, following Jesse Williams emotional speech at that year’s BET Awards. Jesse spoke about the importance of protecting black culture and not letting others steal or sanitise it. And just like clockwork, Justin showed his ass after a person on Twitter accused him directly of stealing from black culture when he initially tweeted his appreciation for Jesse’s speech. Instead of doing the sensible thing, which would have been to stay quiet, Justin clapped back suggesting the person “realise that we are the same.” Yep!
*Rolls eyes into another galaxy*
Obviously, ethnicity is a social construct that’s been used to oppress, divide and spout pseudoscientific stereotypes. It does create the impression that there are separations between groups based purely on melanin, when those don't exist. But practically speaking, racial profiling still happens subconsciously and people have to deal with it every day. Justin then quickly tweeted an apology… only to say exactly the same thing again.
He gave up bringing Sexy Back
Justin is always best when he just sings and does very little else. There’s no denying that he’s given us megabangers in his time as the smooth R&B of his debut Justified quickly evolved into grittier hip-hop and dance beats on Future Sex/Love Sounds. The dude can hold a note. We’ve all been in a club or house party at some point in time and heard the opening guitar strings to “Like I Love You” or the bass kick in of “SexyBack” and taken our asses to the floor. Which is why it hurts my soul that his last proper hit was for the children’s film Trolls.
“Can’t Stop The Feeling!” is a song no one wanted or needed in their lives. Yet there it was, played to death on mainstream radio and ready to soundtrack children’s parties for that whole year. What happened to the slick dance routines? The killer visuals? It wasn’t all bad though. Justin performed the song on the biggest stage in the world at, er, Eurovision.
This new song
And now, we come to this New Music Friday’s delivery: the long awaited (is it really long awaited if he only announced it earlier in the week?) release of his new single “Filthy." While the album teaser from earlier in the week suggested a complete overhaul of the singer’s usual sound and image, the song itself is pretty much the same thing he’s been giving listeners for over a decade now – R&B melodies with dance and funk-fusion production. It sort of sounds like dubstep only just happened? And, with its womp-womping beat it honestly goes on forever. I know the guy loves to make songs seem like they last for almost ten minutes, but listening to “Filthy” I feel myself age considerably from start to finish. There is one part in the song that grabbed me though: the line “What you gonna do with all that meat?” It’s sung with such conviction, he even uses a hard "t" on the word "meat." It’s like his Lonely Island “Dick in a Box” piss-take feature all over again, but this time I think he’s actually serious.
Produced by the singer, his longtime collaborator Timbaland and Danja Hills, “Filthy” reeks of something left over from the Future Sex/Love Sounds sessions of 2006, or at least an attempt to recapture the magic. How he marries this with the promise of a more “authentic” and grassroots sound is anybody’s guess but we'll all have to wait to hear more for proof of that.
As for the music video, released at the same time as the single, Justin does his best Steve Jobs impression while a robot glides, croons and dry humps (I know!) the dancers on stage. It feels like the 2018 version of Robbie Williams’ “Rock DJ”, which is not a compliment no matter what way you look at it.
Oh Justin, what happened?
You can find Yusuf going back to the 2002 glory days on Twitter.