Justin Timberlake goes back to his roots with ‘Man of the Woods’

By Stacy Marie-Luce

It is often said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Hopefully for Justin Timberlake, this statement will reveal itself accurate. The former NSYNC superstar had a rough start this year, from the release of his single “Filthy” in Jan., to his Super Bowl halftime show performance last Sunday.

In Mar. 2016, Timberlake drove the Internet crazy by posting a picture of him and Pharrell Williams in studio. All true Timberlake fans had been hoping that the two would finally reunite to create a new album.

This dream came true when he announced the future  release of “Man of the Woods,” with a teasing video staged like a movie trailer. As always, the pop star collaborated with Timbaland, but also delighted us by working again with the Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad  Hugo) and including amazing voices such as the R&B/Soul icon, Alicia Keys, and country singer-songwriter, Chris Stapleton.

This album, described as rustic and folk by Timberlake, was incredibly expected since the artist did not release a body of work since his groovy pop hit album, “The 20/20 Experience,” that blew everyone away in 2013.

The first song of the singer’s fifth studio album released in January, is probably the less representative of the whole album. “Filthy” is, as its names suggests, an unfiltered, uncensored futuristic song. It is the only song of the album that starts off with a rock introduction to evolve towards a completely electronic style dotted with funk notes.

This one song stands out from the rest of the album by reminding us of the young Futuresex/Lovesound Justin with his sexy lyrics. Ben Beaumont-Thomas, journalist at “The Guardian,” described it as a “grownup funk masterpiece,” and added “the chorus, which modulates into a sweeter, smoother key, is signature Timberlake.” With “Filthy,” the artist proved that he is not done with innovating and that he cannot be categorized anymore as a pop singer.

However, Timberlake’s newest album was not received with many positive critics. “Man of The Woods,” which could be depicted as a country electro-funk fusion, had many divergent reviews.

“‘Man of the Woods’ is a misstep large enough to merit relitigating Justin Timberlake’s status as a pop superstar,” said Pitchfork’s journalist, Jamieson Cox. It is true that Timberlake’s attempt to rebrand from sex symbol to a cozy woodsman can be extremely confusing, especially with an album juxtaposing country with electro or trap music.

The song “Supplies” definitely pulls Timberlake away from his original pop style. Indeed, the trap-style song was interpreted more as a poor attempt to attract millennials than as the beautiful picture of an apocalyptic world – in which love will be the “emergency supplies” – that it is supposed to be.

The unsettling alliance of funky bass guitar, electro rhythms and acoustic harmonies resulted in a controversial album considered incoherent. But that is not everyone’s point of view. Since most of the songs are a chill mix of acoustic country vibes and electro-folk sounds, Justin Timberlake’s mission is accomplished. As he said himself, he wanted to go back to his roots, to his childhood influences.

The Tennessee-born man grew up surrounded by blues, country, and folk music and wanted to explore this part of him. “This has been the most introspective album of my career,” he said. “I talk about everything before ‘Man of the Woods’ as aspiration.” “Man of the Woods” is inspiration.” By saying so, Timberlake emphasizes the fact that this album was an experiment that he conducted with the Neptunes to find himself as a husband and father.

In “Higher Higher,” Timberlake denies money and fame to confess his love to his wife and toddler on a beautiful 1970s inspired soundtrack. His featuring with Alicia Keys, “Morning Light,” emits a perfume of domestic bliss and homeostasis and “Livin’ off the Land” speaks for itself.

In spite of all those lukewarm reviews, Justin Timberlake still provided a mildly appreciated performance at the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday. It goes without saying that this show reopened old wounds. Indeed, Janet Jackson fans still have a bittersweet taste of her performance at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in which she suffered an accidental wardrobe malfunction caused (or not?) by Timberlake.

Jackson’s fans decided to come up with the hashtags #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay and #JusticeForJanet in order to encourage people to boycott the show. Timberlake gracefully avoided to sing the part of Rock Your Body in which he managed to undress Jackson in the past, but the fact that she wasn’t part of the show this time infuriated the web.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the drama for Justin Timberlake. During his Super Bowl performance, he disappointed part of his fans by going against Prince’s will. Indeed, the recently deceased singer once said in an interview that he was completely against holograms since he considered them “demonic.”

Timberlake did not use a hologram during his tribute to Prince as rumor had it, but close enough. As Timberlake was performing “I will die 4 u,” a video of Prince singing was projected on a huge rectangular screen. Many fans considered this a post-mortem duo and accused Timberlake of invalidating Prince’s values. What was supposed to be a tribute to the flamboyant artist became a polemic that might alienate Timberlake’s new album?

Still, Timberlake’s performance at the Super Bowl was a reminder of what he used to be, with his “Rock Your Body” and “SexyBack” medley, but also showed us the new Justin with the kickoff song of his new album, “Filthy.” Dressed in a very rustic style, the singer was asserting his new brand and proving to the world that he can do it.

Whether we like it or not, our beloved pop icon is now moving towards a whole different style, and this album might be a significant turning point in his career.

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