While I’d hardly call myself a Beleiber, I have grown quite fond of that cute little Canadian with his apple-cheeked charm and lilting falsetto. In fact, the release of Justin Beiber’s 2012 album, Believe, even had me grooving to it’s more grown-up sound. Eschewing the pop thing for a grittier- hip/R&B- vibe, the album is his declaration that he’s not a little kid anymore. And it works… for the most part.
I must say however, that listening to him croon floor burners like “As Long As You Love Me” which, though sonically arresting, contain lyrics and a sound that seems quite beyond his years, have just made me miss the true Prince of Pop, Justin Timberlake, even more. Absent from the music scene since 2006, in order to famously beef up his film resume, we’ve been desperate for someone to fill his shoes, but it just never happened.
Since breaking out as a solo artist with 2002’s Justified, there really hasn’t been any male besides Timberlake to emerge as a contender for Michael Jackson’s thrown as the King of Pop. Some might argue that Usher is the best candidate, but lately it seems as if his personal drama might overshadow everything. Amidst a messy divorce peppered with crazy gossip and a quite unlikeable Oprah interview it just feels like Usher truly needs a Timberlake- style sabbatical. I personally don’t think The Voice judging stint is the best idea. And forget about Chris Brown who even before the beating just never had the same crossover appeal. Which leads me to my man, JT. Thank God he’s finally decided to make new music!
The brilliance of Timberlake is best observed when compared to that of the myriad of others who have tried to accomplish what he has. Just like Beiber, Timberlake started as a fresh faced teenybopper with great hair and a non-threatening image perfect for tween girls. Yet unlike Beiber, Justin knew when it was time to make that all-important crossover adult record. He didn’t rush from N’Sync to R. Kelly style singing but rather slowly transitioned N’Sync, not to mention we, the audience as well, from pop gems like Bye Bye Bye to more urban-tinged hits like Girlfriend (sorry Beibs, between Nelly’s guest appearance and the Neptune beat, this one out-swaggers you). By the time Justified was released, we had not only been given a glimpse of the direction that Justin was heading in, but he also had matured a bit, finally looking and more importantly actually sounding like a man.
Produced mainly by Timbaland and The Neptunes, Justified is a gem of pop-R&B. Top 40 hits like Cry Me a River and Rock Your Body blend seamlessly with sexy rhythm and blues jams like Last Night and Right For Me to make the genre-busting record that no men seem to make any more. Adele and Taylor Swift might have some large cojones to reach the levels of success that they have, but no one could accuse them of being men. Even Lady Gaga’s has spent years now making it clear that there is no Shanghai Surprise there. In fact, one could argue that aside George Michael, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and of course Michael Jackson throughout his career, have had the level of success that Timberlake has. In fact, his first solo record truly was an Off The Wall for the new millennium- an album of undeniable hooks and grooves that still stands as a confident declaration of adulthood.
Yet if 2002’s Justified established Timberlake as a grown-up stud with a bedroom voice, 2006 Futersex/LoveSounds established his dominance as the true heir to Jackson, and the only male artist making unabashed pop. Once again working primarily with producer, Timbaland, Justin created a game-changing album, loaded with hit. Bringing Sexy Back with a bold new sound and a confidence in which he was as a performer, Justin had truly hit his stride.
YetIt had always seemed like Justin was running form the pop image that he was saddled with as the lead singer N’Sync. Even while promoting Justified, he was clear to describe the album as R&B admonishing anyone that dared refer to it in the same vein as anything his former band did.. Viewing pop as a dirty word, he could not fully embrace his destiny. With Future Sex, though, all doubt and insecurity were gone. Timberlake was in charge and he was ready to rock the house. The release of that album truly had be convinced that he was about to reach his peak circa 80’s Michael Jackson. As groundbreaking and iconic solidifying as Thriller was for Jackson, this album seemed to do the same for him. Everything seemed right for him to keep making great records well into the next decade.
Who’d have thought it would take that long for us to even get a follow up. Over the past few years, despite some awesome forays into the music scene (Love and Sex and Magic with Ciara, Dead and Gone with T.I., even 4 Minutes with Madonna) he has focused solely on acting. While he certainly demonstrated a skill for it to varying degrees- Social Network-awesome, Friends With Benefits- surprisingly good, In Time-WTF?, it doesn’t nearly compare to the jy that his music career brings us. Even Andy Samburg famously asked him during one o=f his many awesome SNL gigs when he was going to put acting on hold and go back to music!
Well, we got our answer the first week of the New Year! In a cryptic pist he spoke of needing to be inspired before he can do anything. Mentioning the odd fact that he’s only made two albums in a decade (1 less than N’Sync made in a 4 year period) it seemed like even he realized it was time. Less then a week later we get the delicious slow burn that is his new Timbaland produced single featuring Jay-Z. Sexy and fritty with a bit of a 90’s R&R vibe, continues the tension filled grooves that make Rihanna’s Unapologetic the best repeat listening album of the Fall. And that’s just the beginning of what JT has in store for us! We missed you!