In Defense Of Justin Timberlake, ‘Man Of The Woods,’ And Corny Centrist Pop Music

Cultural Critic
02.05.18 6 Comments

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“Haters gon’ say it’s fake,” spat Justin Timberlake at the start of Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show, turning the hook of his recent single, “Filthy,” into a subtweet.

Unlike Timberlake’s first Super Bowl gig 14 years ago, which infuriated millions of people after it aired, this year’s show managed to tick people off more than 24 hours before it aired. Somewhere in there is a metaphor for how lovably silly pop music has come to be as intensely overanalyzed as political discourse.

But there was not, as rumored, an unwanted Prince hologram — just a video tribute to the purple one and a snazzy synchronized light show that illuminated the frigid Minneapolis landscape. JT also didn’t break up Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis or shatter Morris Day’s mirror. All legacies were left intact.

Plus: There were a lot of very good Timberlake hits! How amazing it was after the punishing album campaign for Man Of The Woods to be reminded of how many jams this guy has: “Señorita,” “Cry Me A River,” “My Love,” “SexyBack,” “Mirrors.” Even the brief rendition of “Rock Your Body” — which revived memories of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” and the gendered punishments that unfairly benefitted Timberlake at Jackson’s expense — couldn’t completely sully the veneer of adequate professionalism that JT carefully cultivated.

Really, what else can be said about Timberlake’s performance other than “it was totally fine?” And what more can you possibly ask for? How many of these things do people remember, anyway? Prince, Michael Jackson, U2 after 9/11 — set those aside, and the job doesn’t call for more than “it was totally fine” most years. Timberlake certainly didn’t pull off “totally fine” the first time around.

It’s a halftime show, for crying out loud, not art or national security. Give the guy a “W” and move on.

I’m sure if you check Twitter — actually, let’s not do that. The conversation about Timberlake and Man Of The Woods is already exhausting enough. And, to be fair, Timberlake deserves at least 80 percent of the blame for that. Because Justin Timberlake is a ginormous pop star, and the surest sign of a ginormous pop star right now is a curious inability to sell your music without stepping in it repeatedly.

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