While Beyoncé captivated our attention and manipulated all our senses there was other music to be heard in New Orleans over the weekend. Justin Timberlake was the entertainment of choice at bajillionaire Mark Cuban’s DirecTV party on Saturday night, jumping ahead of his Grammy performance by seven days because no one in this world likes to stick to previously announced dates. JT took the stage as a featured solo performer for the first time in years–excluding pop-up performances at his BBQ joint–debuting “Suit & Tie” live (with Jay-Z!) and revealing two more new songs from his upcoming album, The 20/20 Experience. Yes, the flawless, throwback wardrobe helps, but at this point it seems hard for Justin Timberlake to convey any other than an effortless cool (MySpace projects included).
First listens–live, at that–to new songs “Pusher Love Girl” and “That Girl” have us formulating a more cohesive opinion on what the first record since 2006 could sound like. Sultry and mid-tempo, the latter evokes the same kind of mood-setting pretenses as much of the second half of FutureSex/LoveSounds does (minus Bob’s cry for help). Timberlake’s vocals are enhanced by a brass section that punctuates his more honest declarations before his critics (“I’m in love with that girl, so don’t be mad at me”), and “Pusher Love Girl,” in particular, soars on his trademark falsetto.
While we wait until our current “experience” with the former *NSync star comes into clear view, here are a few thoughts swirling around our crowded but very excited brains:
1. Bigger Is Better
For Saturday’s event, Timberlake performed with a 13-piece band and four backup singers, inviting 17 people to join in on his not-so-subtle performance. Despite the crowded stage, the rich, full sound of the backing instruments raises his vocals to new heights, and makes us wonder how rumored executive producer Timbaland worked with the extensive brass ensemble in the studio.
2. There Will Be Music To Dance To
From the first listen, “Suit & Tie” didn’t at all feel like a song that demands formulaic choreography a la “Bye Bye Bye” or even an all-out dance floor assault like “Rock Your Body” or “Sexy Back.” But after watching Timberlake enjoy his own sound in public, it’s clear there are little moves one can adopt to further make the song his or her own–although he and Jay need to work out their own routine: he zigged, when Hov zagged, and so on. Just look to your horn section for inspiration! They understand the art of the subtle shoulder shimmy.
3. Prepare For Jessica Biel Shout-Outs
We knew this was coming ever since JT jumped out from his People magazine cover to confirm that yes, for better or for worse, whether contracted or not, he is now a taken man. With “Suit & Tie” being more of a love song to his increasingly dapper wardrobe, new song “That Girl” is one of the first glimpses we have into the trove of adoring odes JT has written for his wife–or Britney Spears, retroactively, depending on what you believe. Following an album that was intentionally split between the hunt for sex and the search for love, what Timberlake has shared with us thus far seems to be carefully constructed commentary on his life as part of a larger whole, and tributes to what he holds most dear. Not calling your lady by her name is one way to go this, Justin. But referencing her 7th Heaven character Mary Camden is another.