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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Justin Timberlake’s ‘Egocentric’ Comeback Is Lacking One thing Specific Instances

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As soon as upon a time, a brand new Justin Timberlake track would’ve been thought-about a capital-E Occasion that may’ve stopped the pop world in its tracks. In 2024, it’s simply one other Thursday.

Whether or not that claims extra a few monoculture-less world or about Timberlake’s teetering relevance in popular culture is up for debate—as is, apparently, the caliber of the track in query, “Egocentric.” After weeks of teases, the mid-tempo ballad arrived on Thursday as the primary style of Timberlake’s upcoming sixth album, All the things I Thought I Was. The accompanying video is meta and self-deprecating, as a peppered-bearded Timberlake grows more and more annoyed whereas rehearsing for a video shoot. After a number of takes and some surreal turns, he provides up and leaves the soundstage, just for him to complete the clip by acting on stage carrying a swimsuit and flaunting some smooth dance strikes.

About these strikes: Timberlake positively appears to be like like he’s again in performance-ready form (which is perhaps a response to these brutal “dad dancing” memes final 12 months). Whether or not he’s again in preventing form musically talking is one other query, although, as followers debate whether or not “Egocentric” is “a certified bop” or “boring.”

The track—which has shades of Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” as Timberlake croons, “I would like each little bit of you, guess I’m egocentric”—is surprisingly laid-back and subdued, particularly for a lead single. The tepidness makes extra sense, although, when you think about the previous few years in Timberlake-land; his solo profession has largely been in hibernation following the lukewarm response to his 2018 album Man of the Woods. He’s crammed the meantime with a few Trolls soundtrack songs: “The Different Facet” with SZA and final 12 months’s “Higher Place,” which reunited him along with his NSYNC bandmates. There was additionally final 12 months’s “Preserve Going Up!” alongside Timbaland and Nelly Furtado, a sprightly nostalgia rush that appeared to recommend Timberlake was going again to his hip-hop-borrowing bag.

As a substitute, “Egocentric” is a return to R&B-tinged pop that’s sonically extra consistent with his debut album Justified than Man of the Woods, however that’s frankly fairly secure—a phrase you positively wouldn’t have used to explain Justified-era JT. At the moment, when he was first trying to distance himself from his boy band roots, Timberlake shrewdly linked up with Timbaland and the Neptunes, producers who have been thrillingly guiding hip-hop into playful, experimental territory. That ambition solely compounded with 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, elements of which nonetheless sound prefer it was beamed in from the longer term, and 2013’s acclaimed double-album behemoth The 20/20 Expertise.

It’s robust for a pop artist to stage a comeback after an extended break, particularly one who’s of their 40s, has been well-known for greater than half his life, and possibly needs to make fresh-sounding music that doesn’t sound prefer it’s ripping off their youthful, nimbler self. Then once more, Timberlake doesn’t want to be the most important factor in pop anymore, so making an attempt to recreate the zealous magic of FutureSex or 20/20 doesn’t actually make sense. Now 42, he’s greater than earned the power to make no matter type of music he needs—which, when listening to “Egocentric,” appears to be mature, radio-friendly, well-produced, and, sure, ambitionless pop.

Then once more, “Egocentric” might simply be a pink herring of a lead single, à la “Swimsuit and Tie” as the primary style of the surprisingly sprawling The 20/20 Expertise. Timberlake debuted “Egocentric” stay at a live performance in his hometown of Memphis final week, the place he additionally performed one other unreleased monitor that has been making the rounds on social media and that sounds way more disco- and dance-forward; in different phrases, Timbaland’s promise that we’ll hear “enjoyable Justin” on his impending sixth album sounds prefer it’ll come by means of in any case.

As for what the remainder of the album holds, the title, All the things I Thought I Was, hints that we’re in for some introspection and self-reflection from Timberlake. That could possibly be a superb factor, contemplating his wobbly public picture up to now couple years. Notably, that is his first solo launch since his ex Britney Spears’ explosive 2023 memoir The Girl in Me, through which she wrote that he cheated on her, dumped her by means of a textual content message, and that she had an abortion as a result of he didn’t wish to be a father. (There was additionally that cringey anecdote involving Timberlake and Ginuwine which may simply hang-out him eternally.)

The re-interrogation of Timberlake’s early profession has additionally included renewed dialogue over his function in “Nipplegate”; this 12 months marks 20 years since his and Janet Jackson’s notorious Tremendous Bowl halftime present efficiency, after which she was blacklisted and he carried on his charmed present biz life. Timberlake addressed each Jackson and Spears in a 2021 Instagram apology through which he owned as much as “profit[ting] from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”

Whereas the remainder of us is perhaps searching for these sorts of self-reflective narrative threads, Timberlake has his eyes set firmly forward. He’s hit all of the marks of a up to date slate-clearing, era-launching pop star: he wiped his Instagram clear, he’s been stepping up his TikTok sport, and he’s filling the subsequent few days with promo appearances on The Tonight Present and Saturday Evening Dwell.

These are two of his most comfy and dependable turfs, and you may guess he’ll dial up the allure on each. Swagger, in any case, has by no means been Timberlake’s sore spot—he’s all the time been remarkably charismatic. It’s what made him a pop famous person within the first place. Whether or not anybody nonetheless buys into that swag sufficient to revive him to his prince-of-pop pedestal in 2024 stays to be seen.

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