Justin Timberlake released his new song, Filthy, on Friday…and it’s not good. No, we’re not saying that this is the worst song we’ve heard in the past year or that it made us turn off our phones in disgust; it is perfectly serviceable…and that is 99% of the problem.
Listening to this track is stepping into a time machine that takes you back to a slightly warped version of 2006 where they have access to music from 2013. The track is extremely dated in delivery and tone. The sound effects sound like something you would hear in the FutureSex/LoveSound era but with the heavily bloated runtime with autotuned vocals shoved to the background like you would hear in a lot of tracks from The 20/20 Experience. This combination can sometimes come off well, as it did with Pose, but this time it lacks charisma.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that Timberlake sounds absolutely bored with the song. With the exception of the intro (Hater’s gonna say it’s fake/So real), his tone is one of going through the motions. He sounds like he would rather be anywhere else than in the booth and that mood translates to the listener like an airborne virus. The other reason is that, unlike Pose, there isn’t a Snoop Dogg to break up the monotony. Songs like this have worked for the singer in the past because he brings in someone else to add life to the track when his vocals slip into overly predictable patterns. The fact that there is no one here to throw out a life preserver and save both him and us from drowning in “meh” kills this track, but it could be made to work if it were ever remixed with a feature.
There also isn’t enough content for the 4:53 progression (another holdover from 20/20) as it literally begin to repeat itself at the at the 2:45 mark (we’re using the album version of the track for our time estimates, not the video). The two verses meld right into each other and the overall theme of “give me that good lovin'” is pretty warmed over. Between the lackluster vocals and the repetitive production with not enough discernible underlying variation, you will be checking out mentally before the song ends.
But where the song ends is where things get interesting.
While both end differently, there is no mistaking the similar meanings between the last thirty seconds of the audio track and the singer’s disappearance at the end of the video. Both begin with a slowdown of the track and end with an odd transition, as if the singer (and, by proxy, the listener) are being transported into something very different and there really is no easy way to join what follows with what precedes.
It’s more than likely that Filthy is going to be the first track on the upcoming album and that everything that follows it is not going to be even close to the same vein of sound as this track. Timberlake is giving you a taste of him in his electronic world before he pulls back the covers and reveals his country heart. There is an opportunity for the song that comes after to be a clean break from the one comes before it while dulling the shock for the audience and preventing some of that musical whiplash effect.
If you think there’s no precedent for this, then you’ve forgotten Suit & Tie.
Unlike the transition between SexyBack and Justified, there was no hint of this style in his previous songs. If you think back the release of this track, fans were split about how they felt about it. It was completely different that anything that had been on the banger of an album that was FS/LS thanks to its Robin Thicke-esque vocals and throwback production. Those who were looking for an evolution of the previous release listened nervously for the hype drop and found themselves pretty disappointed when never really came. What did this mean? Was Timberlake going to do some mellow, doo-wop thing and leave all the bops behind?
The 20/20 Experience was a lot different in totality than FS/LS, but it didn’t escape its influence entirely. For every Pusher Love Girl on the album there were was a Don’t Hold The Wall that was seeped in electro-pop and a Let The Groove Get In that married the two. The final product managed to bring in new listeners who weren’t into what he offered before, keep a large segment of the previous fanbase, and let him evolve as an artist at the same time. While some people found the watered-down nature of the album dull, it appealed to enough people to be extremely successful.
For his new album, we think he’s attempting the same thing. There is going to be a lot more of the marriage of his signature, pop sound and the country elements that show so prominently in his announcement. The teaser trailer for the new project very clearly has a mix of bro-country, bluegrass, gospel, R&B, and electronic sounds. And don’t say that because Timbaland, Pharrell, and Danja(Hands) have prominent production credit it means that things will still tilt to the pop&B direction. Suggesting that Black artists in any aspect of music can’t do anything other than R&B or hip-hop isn’t only insulting, it’s blatantly not true. This is a chance for them to do something that is out of their comfort zone that will get enough exposure to the masses to impress while still offering the safety of a large paycheck.
So why release Filthy instead of something more indicative of the overall tone of the album? Because audiences have to be warmed up.
Can’t Stop This Feeling, despite sitting atop the charts for a minute, was a dud of a song. Yes, the stans loved it (stans love everything), but it left a large swath of the more discerning fanbase feeling like, “What the hell?” The song was serviceable (sound familiar?) but didn’t have anything that made it interesting and almost seemed to teleport the singer back to his NSYNC days when he had to be concerned about the age of his audience…because he did. But the people who made that track a number one are the ones he’s trying to keep on the hook.
Timberlake wants to use this track as a bridge from that song to this album. As much as it may surprise the ones who have been with him since the beginning, he has been releasing music for twenty years. There are legitimately people out there who know nothing more about him than his appearances on Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, his last album, and his The Lonely Island features (it should be noted that a quality version Dick In A Box is impossible to find on YouTube despite being the most popular collab). He’s family friendly with a slightly off-color sense of humor to those people. He needs to change that image for them without pushing them too far all while maintaining a core that his longtime fans can still cling to. It’s a hard road to hoe…and not one we’re sure he’s capable of traveling.
Timberlake’s fourth studio album, Man Of The Woods, is due for release on February 2. We’ll see if our prediction comes true or if he surprises us with something completely different.