Justin Timberlake's talent continues to evolve
How long will Justin Timblerlake continue to reign as the King of Pop? The singer was dubbed as such by Rolling Stone in December 2003, and returned to the top spot on the album charts for the fourth time when his latest album Man of the Woods debuted at No. 1 in February. Singles “Filthy” and “Say Something” cracked the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Timberlake launched his lengthy Man of the Woods Tour last month with two concerts at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. With competition in recent years from potential successors such as Bruno Mars and Drake, Timberlake has some campaigning to do this year if he is to hold on to the title.
To that end, Timberlake has evolved his image. After cultivating a dapper look for his 20/20 Experience Tour, captured by the late director Jonathan Demme in 2016 concert documentary Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids, he looked back to his Tennessee roots for inspiration. Man of the Woods merges Americana with rhythm and blues loops, finding a pop middle ground between the Neptunes and Timbaland (who co-produced), and Chris Stapleton (who performs on two of the record’s songs and co-wrote “Say Something”). Timberlake donned denim and flannel and let his beard grow to complete his downhome image.
Critics were divided, as were audiences after Timberlake’s performance at Super Bowl LII (complete with duet alongside a video projection of Prince) two days after the release of Man of the Woods. The Washington Post wrote that the album “may be Timberlake’s riskiest musical venture to date,” but it’s also perhaps the new family man’s most personal. “Montana” was inspired by the western state where Timberlake proposed to wife Jessica Biel, whose voice can be heard on “Filthy.” The album is titled after his son Silas, whose name means “man of the woods” and who made his recording debut on album closer “Young Man.”
Timberlake bounced back with the help of Stapleton at the Brit Awards (the two performed “Say Something”), then launched his tour on March 13 before 16,500 fans in Toronto. Backed by five singers, seven dancers and 10 musicians, Timberlake opened the show with “Filthy” and “Midnight Summer Jam” before reaching back into his catalog for “Lovestoned” and Sexy Back,” confidently switching back and forth between familiar crowd-hyping hits and a generous selection of Man of the Woods material. An onstage campfire set the mood when Timberlake grabbed his acoustic guitar.
Whether Timberlake can approach or top the success of his previous 14-month, 128-performance, worldwide tour remains to be seen. Supplies of his new Nike shoe sold out shortly after he sported them at the halftime show. Timberlake received a fresh supply of his Air Jordan III JTH design, which reportedly has had a resale value of more than $1,000, to distribute to selected retailers during tour stops. He is undoubtedly the king of celebrity Air Jordan designs, but chart-topping challengers are always prepared to contest the crown.
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