At the Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show, artist Justin Timberlake (JT) took the stage to perform a medley of his old hits combined with his most recent single, “Filthy,” from his new album, Man of the Woods. Throughout Timberlake’s performance, the audience sang along to classics from “Rock Your Body” to “Mirrors” before the singer concluded the Halftime Show by going into the stands and dancing along with fans to “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING.”
Twenty three years after the formation of NSYNC and five years since his last album, Timberlake is still producing music. But this time the king of pop has stepped back out onto the music scene in an unexpected, “homegrown” fashion. Returning to his country roots, Timberlake’s latest album, Man of the Woods, pays homage to his birthplace of Tennessee as he channels the more rustic and authentic side of himself.
However, despite the name of the album and song titles like “Livin’ Off the Land” and “Flannel,” which perhaps suggest a more country vibe, JT ultimately does not stray far from his classic pop-influenced sound.
Tracks such as “Higher Higher” and “Filthy” fall right in line with hits like “Cry Me a River” and “Sexy Back” with their unique pop—almost techno—beats. “Montana” even features the timeless Timberlake falsetto that dates all the way back to the takeoff of his solo career.
Nonetheless, it may be hard to differentiate between Garth Brooks and Justin Timberlake when “The Hard Stuff” comes on as this rock-influenced country track does not reflect JT’s normal sound.
Timberlake even collaborates with country music icon Chris Stapleton on “Say Something” to accentuate the rustic sound he aimed to achieve through this album by harmonizing with the country stay layered with guitar-based almost folk background music.
But Stapleton is not the only guest on the album: Alicia Keys makes an appearance on “Morning Light”—one of the hidden gems of the record. While JT’s collaboration with Stapleton has debuted on the radio, his duet with Keys remains undiscovered by mainstream music. This mellow, R&B-influenced track highlights the versatility of both artists as their unexpected collaboration yields a song unique to both of their sounds.
In an effort to reach out to the younger generation that may not have grown up listening to his previous music, Timberlake incorporates a more modern sound into tracks like “Supplies” and “Sauce.” The beginning of “Sauce” features the audio from the viral video of the Best Buy employee explaining the word “sauce”—which is basically the 2018 version of “swag”—that gained popularity last summer.
“Juice is temporary…sauce is forever,” the internet sensation said to commence the track before Timberlake jumped in with the vocals.
Then there is “Man of the Woods,” which essentially combines every sound from the album onto one catchy track. From a R&B groove to a country undertone and pop melody, this is definitely the track you will walk catch yourself singing for the rest of the day.
As if the album does not have enough unique flares, “Hers (Interlude)” stands out against the other 16 tracks as a spoken verse set to soft piano music from his wife, Jessica Biel. The verse lasts just 62 seconds as Biel discusses the ways in which her relationship with Timberlake makes her feel symbolized through when she wears his shirt.
“It makes me feel like I’m his,” she says to end the track—completely contrasting the title “Hers,” which perhaps could be interpreted as Timberlake’s subtle response to his wife’s kind words.
Overall, Man of the Woods is not the powerhouse pop album one might expect from JT—but Timberlake is also not that same 22 year old pop star who wore all denim to the 2000 VMAs with Britney Spears. He is now a 37 year old father and husband, so it is only natural that his music has developed.
While he did not necessarily bring “Sexy Back,” Timberlake combined sounds from all across the board—from pop and country to R&B and rock—into one cohesive, unique record. Each track on this record delivers an individual sound, but together they successfully combine into one album.
On Sunday Feb. 11, Man of the Woods reached the number one spot on the Billboard 200—giving the singer four consecutive number one albums.
However, in the end it does not really matter whether or not his latest record goes platinum because Justin Timberlake has proven that he is much more than just one band, one song or one album. The longevity of his career is indisputably impressive, and “Man of the Woods” is another thing he can add to the long list of his achievements.