After a four-year hiatus — during which time he and wife, Jessica Biel welcomed baby Silas — Justin Timberlake is finally back with new music, but it might not be what you were expecting or what we’re used to hearing from the singer. In Man of the Woods, it looks like JT is trading in his slim-fit suits for a pashmina and several fringed jackets. Timberlake’s image certainly hasn’t been static over the years — those 20/20 Experience suits were a far cry from the over-sized t-shirts and bleached tips of the N’Sync days — but it looks like he’s done another major revamp. The image change would seem to indicate that JT is setting aside his Hip-Hop and R&B sound for something more country and folksy. And not everyone is too thrilled about it.
“This album is really inspired by my son, my wife, my family,” JT explains in a promo video posted Tuesday. “But more so than any album I’ve ever written, [it’s inspired by] where I’m from. And it’s personal.” A voiceover from Jessica Biel adds that “it feels like mountains, trees, campfires, like Wild West, but now.”
The new vibes — which The Outline critic, Ann-Derrick Gaillot calls “the white man finding himself in the empty West trope” — are new to Timberlake, but eerily familiar to anyone who has followed major pop artists in the past year and a half. Notably, both Miley Cyrus with Younger Now and Lady Gaga with Joanne made a return from the hip hop and techno-influenced music they were making previously to a more acoustic, folksy, “authentic” sound. Something music critics are pointing out as problematic.
It’s not the change in sound or image specifically that’s rubbing people the wrong way, it’s the fact that white artists are able to flip-flop between appropriation of black music and style and their own white Southern roots. It’s equally problematic when white artists suggest that country music is more “authentic” and “personal” than rap or hip hop. Maybe for you, but we’re pretty sure Kendrick Lamar, N.W.A. and Jay Z would disagree.
There’s another striking similarity here that can’t be ignored; anyone else getting intense Lemonade vibes? Some people are excited about another artist taking to the visual medium of music video to tell a story. Others are calling it a cheap knock-off version of Queen B‘s masterpiece. On that, it’s unlikely we’ll ever have a real resolution.
Anyone else getting a Joanne-meets-Lemonade vibe from these new Justin Timberlake visuals/previews? Kinda intrigued. He’s long been in need of a memorable sound/aesthetic. Maybe this is finally it? Would be hella ironic given how long he’s coasted (IMO), but better late than not!
— ThatGrapeJuice (Sam) (@thatgrapejuice) January 2, 2018
Justin Timberlake’s Man of the woods ablum just looks like a cheap knock off version of lemonade… and he even has scenes similar to beyonce’s lemonade. ALSO TBH no one is feeling him for the super bowl like really he can’t perform like Lady Gaga and Beyonce. pic.twitter.com/v00Tu0dhNF
— Samuel Lubinda (@SamuelLubinda) January 3, 2018
Lemonade is about the historical legacy of slavery and racial oppression in America on black love. The Man of the Woods is going to be about the historical legacy of how white male privilege gave Justin Timberlake more success with hip-hop/rnb than his black contemporaries right?
— Cal (@cal_erm) January 2, 2018
The album trailer is only a minute long and features only instrumental music, so we can’t be sure yet how exactly these new influences will change the sound of JT’s music. Pharrell and Timbaland are both producers on the album, so we’re still expecting some R&B and rap influences.
The first single off Man of the Woods, “Filthy” (which apparently “should be played VERY LOUD”) drops Friday and the full album is available February 2 (yes, two days before the Superbowl where JT is set to do the Half Time show).