OP-ED: It's Time To Talk About Justin Timberlake, Mediocrity And Disrespect

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Michael Arceneaux Feb, 05, 2018

Justin Timberlake is a self-important jackass with a high reserve of self-importance.

An egotistical pop star is not a foreign concept. However, there’s always been something impressively annoying about the manner in which Timberlake has managed to consistently disrespect artists far more influential and inventive than he. Yes, he has two good albums under his belt, and sure, once upon a time, he seemed like he would be a leader in that pop-soul hybrid he ever so shrewdly capitalized off of in the early aughts, but those days are long gone. It’s most evident in his underwhelming release, Man of the Woods, and most assuredly, his blasé Super Bowl LII Halftime Show.

Mere weeks ago, in an interview with Beats 1, Timberlake was asked about the prospects of him doing a Las Vegas residency. In response, he told anchor Zane Lowe: “I wouldn’t rule it out; if it was something that was different.” After that remark, he laughed and quipped, “It feels like you’re planning your retirement, you know?” Timberlake claimed the thought of a Vegas residency “scared him.” Many rightly took that as shade towards his ex-girlfriend — the legendary Ms. Britney Spears, whom he’s long mocked throughout his solo career — as well as performers now there, including Jennifer Lopez, Shania Twain and Lady Gaga, who recently signed on to perform in the market.

Timberlake is seemingly scared because in his mind, to do a Vegas residency is to admit that one is a “legacy act” i.e. an act whose best days are behind him. Well, Spears already reinvented Vegas as a venue that could welcome younger audiences without necessarily acknowledging that it’s only downhill from there. Moreover, even if one were to buy into Timberlake’s rationale, his new album all but confirms his best days are behind him. 

Meanwhile, regardless of what you have to say about her, Spears’ Vegas show offers far more theatrics, spectacle, and overall effort than Timberlake’s show at the Super Bowl. The same goes for Lady Gaga’s far more entertaining Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2017. And then there is Jennifer Lopez, who should have been this year’s performer, who is out here dancing harder and singing with more effort than Timberlake — and she is 48 to his 37.

None of these women would get away with the half-assed efforts Timberlake displayed on Sunday night, so it takes a lot of nerve for Timberlake to take swipes at them weeks before he decided to once again skate by offering the bare minimum of his talents. There have been reports of technical issues, but that sounds like another excuse for a man who has long given too many. In fact, nerve was the only thing he offered last night. In the same interview with Lowe, while Timberlake claimed to have “made peace” with Janet Jackson (which many of us rightly doubt), in recalling his conversation with her about the Super Bowl 2004 Halftime Show controversy, he said,  “To be honest, it wasn’t too much of a conversation. It’s just one of those things where you go, like, ‘Yeah, what do you want me to say? We’re not going to do that again!’”

Yet, he had the gall to perform the very tune that led to the scrutiny of Jackson’s career under the duress from invented controversy, sexism and racism. As he danced to and barely sang along with “Rock Your Body,” he smiled directly into the camera. Some called this a “homage” to Janet, but I suggest anyone who believes this pour bleach on their keyboards and start over. After that song, he performed, “Señorita,” aka a song clearly intended for Michael Jackson. That is no tribute, but once again gouging the eyes of those he’s stepped over in pursuit of solo stardom.

As for the aforementioned two good albums Timberlake can lay claim to, the former is largely influenced by the King of Pop while the other owes much of itself to Prince’s genius. That Prince hologram did not appear as advertised, but we did see the image of the iconic artist projected onto a large screen. In that moment, we heard vocals from “I Would Die 4 U” blended into Timberlake’s on “Until The End of Time.” It wasn’t so much a duet as it was a reminder that for all the solo time Timberlake clearly sought (he featured no guests), he either blended in with his dancers in those tacky clothes that recalled a painting from Bob Ross, or he was overshadowed by much more towering presences. That, too, took a lot of nerve given Timberlake mocked Prince’s height once at the Golden Globes and dissed him on Timbaland’s “Give It To Me.”

Unfortunately, attitude doesn’t mean much if you don’t accomplish a damn thing doing your duty. If Timberlake would have delivered something momentous, I would have no problem giving him his due. But that was not the case on Sunday.

If you found yourself impressed by Timberlake’s show, good for you. However, I live in a world in which the two greatest living entertainers, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars, have not only delivered far more impressive efforts when bestowed the honor of performing at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, but have always behaved with the sort of graciousness and tact Timberlake after all this time, continues to lack.