So, Justin Timberlake has written a book; Hindsight & All the Things I Can’t See In Front of Me.
Wow! Yet another celebrity kiss and tell featuring ruminations of a spoiled brat’s cash, girls and party-soaked life. Taking time out to read this epistle is going straight onto my “To Do” list – somewhere between finally fixing that kitchen cupboard hinge and smacking away those pesky spider webs from our front porch security light – *Chortle*
Maybe I’m being too hasty in dismissing Juzza’s literary offering out of hand. Remember this is a dude who has had some impressive career – and who has somehow managed to stay RELEVANT for an awfully long time. And not just to his own generation either. Who’s to say there isn’t a lot to learn about limelight longevity at the very least within those pages?
To recap: Juzza started way back with the All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1993; wended through his boy band years with N-SYNC; launched an unexpectedly credible solo R&B career; had a decent crack at movies; generated comedy skits on SNL; mega hits for DreamWorks; a country album and still hasn’t needed to “retire” yet. This all means he’s been bang smack in the public eye more-or-less continuously for 25 years (the celebrity equivalent of about 164 human years!) An astonishing achievement in any era let alone the attention-deficient, 140-character tweet limit times we live in now.
To put this in context; Napolean Bonaparte had about 15 years at the top, Alexander the Great 13 and even Adolf Hitler was a bit of a novelty one-hit wonder at 12 years. Admittedly, the Timbernator’s still got a bit to go before he can match Stalin’s 31 years but – even if you’re not a fan – I’m pretty confident you’ll look back on Juzza’s career with more fondness than the Soviets ever did on Josef’s.
Even his predecessor for pop culture durability; the late, great David Bowie, couldn’t match Timberlake’s relevancy rate – despite his mismatched eye colours, general weirdness, drug-fuelled lyrics and character-creating genius. The Thin White Duke also suffered through long periods – including most of ’85 to ’16 – where he largely slipped from the general consciousness. Causing us to occasionally utter the words dreaded by any celebrity: “Oh yeah, whatever happened to him?!”
A tiny bit more of a man’s man than Juzza, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been around for much longer – but when was the last time you watched one of his movies? Or not laughed out loud at the very mention of his name? And when did Arnie ever motivate women the way that Juzza seems to be able to do, so effortlessly? I remember when Timberlake first came here, probably at his peak, in 2007. Every female between the ages of 20 and 29 from every office in Auckland was dressed up – and FIRED up! – for his concert. Happy times for all that night, thanks Juz!
So just how is it that Justin Timberlake has succeeded where virtually everyone else has failed?
To my mind, it’s because Justin Timberlake has always just tried to be Justin Timberlake, no one else. Look at him back in the day vs today – take away the middle-aged spread – and he pretty much looks like the same guy. He’s always been a natty, somewhat conservative dresser – he’d fit right in on any page of this august publication – at home with smart/casual but equally content to be seen in a snappy suit. Even a (pre-Southgate) vest! Juzza can also seriously rock a hat. Well, a wide range of fedoras at least – cheese cutters are always a stretch for anyone who earns more than the minimum wage, lives further south than Wolverhampton and actually exists after 1937.
But whatever Juzza wears, the impression he always gives off is that he was just out clothes shopping, saw something he liked and said; “Hey, that looks cool, I’ll buy it.” Rather than have a team of number-crunching image consultants pick his ensemble out from a PR strategy spreadsheet.
And he doesn’t seem to try too hard to stay in the public eye – a crime that smoked so many of his contemporaries. For example; Jennifer Lopez started out as a dancer, then successfully negotiated a move into acting. But, rather than quit while she was ahead, she then busted out a singing career; adopted the hypocorism: “J-Lo”; started hanging out with Puff Daddy; THEN got engaged to Ben Affleck. Crash! Burn!
In contrast Timberlake has limited himself to what he’s good at; just pop, R&B and a little bit of country, (lest we forget he is from Tennessee after all!) He hasn’t been tempted to chase the latest trend and don the coloured dreads and face tattoos of the SoundCloud rapper.
“I’m like a satellite.
That’s it. All I do is receive something.
And then my only job is to translate it, to turn a feeling into a physical expression or a sound wave
so I can transmit that same feeling.”
Whenever he’s worked with other people, he’s usually picked out people who are at the top of their game (Timbaland, Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams, Andy Samberg, et al) and worked WITH them rather than in spite of them. As a consequence, these collaborations have largely turned out better than their individual parts. Contrast this with Michael Jackson who actually had Slash(!) playing for him once – not that you could ever tell.
To best illustrate Juzza’s diva-free attitude – his partnerships with Lonely Island for Saturday Night Live; Dick in a Box and Motherlover are STILL on my longest Spotify playlist. Pretty good going for comedy songs – and certainly longer-lasting than any of those by the so-called professionals (Weird Al, I’m looking at you!). Sure, Andy Samberg and company were largely responsible for the lyrical content – but Timberlake’s influence in the music and composition is undeniable. Just listen to any non-Juzza Lonely Island tracks for confirmation of this.
Of course, his career hasn’t been completely blemish-free. His dancing in the video for Can’t Stop the Feeling has more than a little feeling of a suburban-dad-having-had-one-too-many-craft-brews-at-a-mate’s-barbeque about it. He hasn’t always played the perfect gentleman either as attested by his ducking responsibility for the 2004 Superbowl Halftime Show nipple flash by Janet Jackson. And, irrespective of whichever camp (“He dumped HER!” or “She dumped HIM!”) you fall into, the Juzmeister STILL moping about his breakup with Britney 16 years later must surely qualify as “whiny” in anyone’s book.
But the one thing no one can deny Justin Timberlake is his talent. The Disney producers spotted that early on when they snapped him up for their singing/dancing/wisecracking family show back in the day. And in an era that so wholeheartedly embraces mumbling rappers and autotuned clowns, his vocal range and feel for a song surely ranks right up there alongside those other superb craftsmen of our time; Pharrell Williams and Bruno Mars. And the guy can write his own songs too, including the R&B “classic” much covered and oft-quoted Cry Me A River – and my personal favourite; Rock Your Body.
Then, when he is touring, despite his background in comedy, he doesn’t crack jokes or act the fool onstage. He is the consummate professional, giving his all to every song. Making the audience feel like he’s delivering it to each and every one of them individually. Maybe that’s why he’s lasted 25 years and counting. Inspiring really.
Actually, screw the cupboard and the spiders – I might just earmark an hour or two this weekend for some light reading…
Thankfully Juzza hasn’t mined every passing trend in order to stay relevant.