The 20/20 Experience: A Cynical Review of Pop by Millennials

 In earnest, Timberlake’s falsetto sounds better than I remember.  There’s a certain mellow and inoffensive quality to it. Like the rest of The 20/20 Experience, it seems automated, mechanical, and surprisingly than annoying. It is familiar, predictable, and even sometimes boring. Timberlake and his veteran producer Timbaland have this particular brand of America’s Top 40 millennial synth pop down to easy arithmetic. The finished product is pointless, but undeniably polished and well-together. Timberlake is a well-together man, apparently. You can’t take the cataloging of illicit drugs in “Pusher Love Girl” seriously; that was just for style.

Compositions on The 20/20 Experience are surprisingly long-winded, with several songs meeting or exceeding the 7 minute mark. In some cases, like the haunting “Blue Ocean Floor” finale, longevity works. In most cases, though, songs are just bloated and stretch the album to unnecessary length. The weakest links are in the lyrics.  Explicit sex and drug metaphors, once serving as a liberating edge in previous times strangled by constricting societal norms, now avalanche from The 20/20 Experience with blunt disregard, bludgeoning this listener with their callousness.  Contrasting the profane, pure egotism wins out: when we’re not following Timberlake around on whichever woman he’s pursuing, we’re constantly reminded of what he is wearing, driving, or drinking.

While listening to The 20/20 Experience, I was confronted with the idea that maybe mainstream pop and hip-hop has finally reached a point of indiscernible over-stimulation, where what was once edgy or experimental is now exalted in industrial-sized strength beyond any value on uniqueness. Here’s the thing about The 20/20 Experience: its producers and writers could have handed the album off to any male pop star—even the “other” Justin (Beiber)—and gotten the same album back. Though Justin Timberlake is an undeniable cultural hero, millennial cultural heroes pale in comparison to the spiritual leaders who graced music of previous decades—Lennon, Cash, Dylan, Bono, Madonna, etc.— people who always amounted to more than the sum of popular music at the time.  Timberlake does not.  He is a talented singer and dancer, but he lacks creative vision and his music is full of shallowness and glitzy, fake glamour. He is rarely cool or edgy, no matter how hard he tries.


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