This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Pop (Not Country)
Favorite tracks: “Supplies,” “Filthy,” “Morning Light”
Listen: There’s a lot of proof that we’re in the darkest timeline, but there’s nothing more damning than Justin Timberlake putting out a truly boring album. We’re talking about the man who released the seminal bop of the 2000’s, “Cry Me A River.” We’re talking about “My Love!” “Señorita!!!!”
Once again for the people in the back: MAN OF THE WOODS is just boring. On THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE, J.T. inexplicably made every song seven or eight minutes, carrying on LONG after their natural ends. For example: the radio cut of “Mirrors” is a solid 4:37, but the album version is a full EIGHT MINUTES AND FOUR SECONDS. Why? The extra four minutes include J.T. riffing and whispering about how amazing Jessica Biel is (same), but it’s next to useless. The radio edit is surely enough. Every song on MAN OF THE WOODS sounds like the extra four minutes. Not necessary! Despite the overlong track lengths, THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE had some real fun tunes like “Don’t Hold The Wall” and “Pusher Love Girl.” Conversely, there’s so little fun to be found on MAN OF THE WOODS.
Well, except for “Filthy,” I guess, but that’s the closest we get to the old J.T. here. That said, it’s just as repetitive and unrevolutionary as the rest of the album. And God, what is with pop stars referencing memes in their music and media?? Timberlake repeats “haters gonna say it’s fake” in “Filthy,” Taylor Swift’s REPUTATION was littered with 2012 Tumblr. lingo like “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and “King Of My Heart,” and don’t even get me started on the bizarre use of memes in Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” video. It’s such a tragic plea to remain relevant. The best thing Timberlake does on this album is bring in Alicia Keys for “Morning Light” and Chris Stapleton for “Say Something.” The vibe of “Morning Light” is reminiscent of “That Girl” from THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE, but it mostly makes you wish you were listening to the same. “Say Something” captures how the entire album should have sounded—R&B with a country influence. It seems like it shouldn’t work, but it sure as Hell works better than the rest of the album.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the worst song on this unrepentant snoozer, but my call is for “Higher Higher,” in which Grammy winning millionaire Justin Timberlake talks about how dope it is to be rich and famous AND married to Jessica Biel. At least he was wise enough to let Jessica monologue on this album (everyone knows the best part of J.T. is Jessica Biel), but even that interlude is so . . . fake deep. Everything here is fake deep. But the fake deepest of all is the “Supplies” music video. Oh my god. The song “Supplies” is another one that tiptoes around “fun,” but the music video is this bizarre post-apocalyptic mess of fake progressiveness. It’s on par with the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, except J.T. isn’t even REALLY fake protesting—Eiza Gonzalez is the leader of the movement and he, I guess, supplies her with support? I like every single one of her damn instagram posts and Justin Timberlake gets the credit? The devil works.
Everything about Justin Timberlake’s persona right now is MESSY. He was in the newest W**dy All*n, movie yet wore a Time’s Up pin to the Golden Globes. He heard Beyoncé singing about being raised in the South on LEMONADE and was like hey . . . I should talk about the South too (he repeats, “y’all can’t do better than this, act like the South ain’t the shit” on “Midnight Summer Jam”). But Beyoncé was discussing the complexities of being a black woman from the South, J.T. picked up an axe, popped on some ill-fitting camo he found at the Cracker Barrel, and was like “I’M A MAN . . . OF THE WOODS.”
And about that: J.T. is OBSESSED by performative masculinity. That’s his ENTIRE MO. He’s trapped in this 2000’s idea that a Real Man wears suits and a Real Man can be a good dancer but is also A Man Of The Woods and smokes cigars and hangs out with Jay-Z. In the title track he insists that bragging about his lady is “his pride” because he’s “a Southern Man.” I don’t want to talk about Harry Styles again, but the comparison between the two former boy-banders is unavoidable. Timberlake was clearly so deeply affected by being classified as a member of a boy band that he’s crafted this hyper-masculine persona who’s “Livin Off The Land” (just read the lyrics, it’s so embarrassing), a personification of “no homo.” And then there’s the 2010 manifestation of the boy-bander, Harry Styles, in his floral suits and his pink album cover and his passion for rainbows. In an era where the boundaries of gender are constantly being torn down it’s a surprising choice for J.T. to lean harder into his “manliness.”
In THE SOCIAL NETWORK commentary track, David Fincher recounts a scene in which Justin Timberlake has to flinch away from Andrew Garfield’s punch and how difficult it was to get Timberlake to make a real, ugly face. He attributes it to years of Timberlake’s flawless boy-band image and never wanting to appear anything less than that. MAN OF THE WOODS feels like Justin Timberlake trying to access whatever allowed him to make that face in THE SOCIAL NETWORK. It feels like he’s trying too hard to be “real,” and not the former boy-bander, the trim “Suit and Tie”-wearing Justin Timberlake we all know and, if i’m honest, loved.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend