We’re just over a month away from the Coachella of 30-second television advertisements, aka the Super Bowl, and lo and behold, half-time performer Justin Timberlake has announced his new album. It’s called Man of the Woods (I know) and it comes complete with a minute-long video teaser. I’m not saying Man of the Woods is Lemonade, but it definitely seems like Timberlake’s attempt at it.
The teaser features images of Timberlake in various forms of wilderness like fields, a body of water, and a cornfield. He is also in various states of dress, like a shirt, an undershirt, no shirt, and a fringed leather jacket. A female voiceover explains that the album is “like Wild West but now,” which is confusing because Timberlake’s own voiceover mentions the album is about where he’s from and I’m not sure Tennessee is the Wild West? But before the viewer can think twice about that, Pharrell is heard calling the music “earthy” and praising it. So.
Given that Timberlake’s last single was that Trolls song, I imagine the album will give us some extremely, almost painfully catchy tunes, but this teaser seems to indicate that Timberlake is retreating from his usual R&B sound into something with a bit more twang. He’s in effect pulling a Miley, going back to his “roots” (at least geographically) and serving up prairie pop.
Man of the Woods marks a quite a pivot for Timberlake, who already “rebranded” with 2013’s The 20/20 Experience, in which he straightened his hair. We’ll have to just wait and hear if the sound works for him but so help me god, if he somehow completes his Super Bowl performance without a single apology to Janet Jackson, then what’s the point of all this anyway?
It’s definitely an interesting move coming at a time when white supremacy is on the march and when black artists like Beyoncé, Jay Z, SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Solange are pushing R&B and hip hop forward with immense transparency and rawness. Maybe Timberlake and Cyrus are staying in their lanes, or maybe radical transparency for white pop artists really is the sound of frolicking in a meadow.