There’s a difference between being remembered and being revered.
Though it can be pretty hard to make out over the din of the ever-grinding nostalgia content mill that gives us 3,000-word slap bracelet memorials and “Only Early Spring 2015 Kids Will Remember This” timewasters, being memorable isn’t the same as being classic.
There are plenty of recent pop hits that made more of an impact on the charts than they’ll ever make on music history. These are the acts that are destined to pull people out onto the floor in countless decade-themed club nights, only to realize that this song’s a lot longer than they remember when it’s not just the chorus being played ad infinitum over VH1-style reminiscence programming. And what may be even harder than distinguishing between songs that stood the test of time and tracks that merely remained is remembering that Justin Timberlake‘s discography was on pace to slot in to the “‘memba him?” jukebox before he dropped FutureSex/LoveSounds.
Before the release, more than 10 years ago, of what is still Timberlake’s greatest work, Timberlake was successful (selling approximately 17 quintillion records will do that) but had nowhere near the cred and critical goodwill that he enjoys now. Justified — his first solo album — did little to distinguish him from late-stage NSYNC beyond leaving them off the cover. And two years later, he didn’t seem to have much in the way of a follow-up.
But then Justin Timberlake hooked up with Timbaland and challenged the producer to create four more songs like “Cry Me A River.” That Timbaland-produced standout from Justified, with it’s instantly recognizable Eastern riffs and Gregorian chanting, was one of the oddest things on pop radio in the first half of the decade. And since it’s release, Timberlake felt like pop had gone stale and lost its artistic verve. He told Rolling Stone that he and Timbo intentionally avoided anything that sounded like the musical mainstream at the time, shooting instead for his idols and rock bands like The Strokes and Arcade Fire that he was into at the time.
“I said to myself, ‘I don’t want anything I do to sound like that.’ I just didn’t think it was that good,” he said in a 2006 interview. “I said, ‘Let’s take a stab at Bowie or David Byrne and see what we come up with.’ ”
Much of the resulting album sounds a lot more like Timberlake’s take on Prince than either of those two legends. “Sexy Ladies” could be a direct rip from For You-era Purple One tracks and Timberlake’s flitting between deadpan delivery and falsetto is a familiar Prince move from any era.