We've all felt it: a deep-rooted, visceral pain in our collective soul, one which grows evermore present with each passing day and with no sign of relief in sight. These days, the emotions (confusion, anger, sadness, impending doom, et al) wash over us while dancing with our friends in the club or while simply scrolling through various iTunes music charts. It stems from the one question that weighs heavy on all our minds but which we are deeply afraid to ask as it is perhaps the most troubling conundrum of our age: Is Justin Timberlake really finished with his pop career?
There, I said it. I'll give you a moment to let that sink in, catch your breath and grab a kleenex / Xanax.
For years, Justin was our Most Beloved Pop Star. Of course in the *NSync days, when every girl under 15 could love Justin out in the open, many others (like my 10-year-old closeted self) had to love him from afar for fear of playground retribution. But by the time his solo career was in full swing, JT was the pop star for all people. He had it all: looks, talent, charm, cool factor, style, humor and great songs to boot. He pushed the envelope, proved himself to be a credible musician, all while still giving us just enough of the pop fructose necessary for dancing / sex / gym / car radio sing-a-along purposes. Girls wanted him, guys wanted to be him. I, of course, both wanted him AND wanted to be him which is a very odd feeling, but being gay is odd in general. Oh! And the dancing. Gosh, how I miss the dancing!
But ever since the smash success of his second solo album FutureSex / LoveSounds in 2006, the music world has heard nary a peep out of our dear, dear JT (I feel like we'd all rather forget "Carry Out" and "4 Minutes"). Worse still, Justin has made it pretty clear to us over the past few years that beyond having no intention of giving us another "Rock Your Body" or "My Love" anytime soon, we now also have to take our favorite ex-boybander seriously as an actor. Which, you know what? Fine, Justin. You do the whole silver screen thing and we'll all come see it (especially if you're naked). But why does it have to be one or the other? More importantly, why have you left us out here all alone in the male-pop-star wilderness with nothing but a Chris Brown (yuck) and a Justin Bieber (meh) to keep us warm?
I decided to confront my own struggle with Justin's career choices and attempt to reach personal catharsis by listing four possible reasons that JT has decided to desert us, musically. I hope this process is helpful to all of us in this time of universal suffering:
Possible Reason #1: Justin Timberlake Hates Us
I know this is extreme but I thought I'd start with the worst case scenario -- and we all have to admit that this our greatest fear. But hey, hey! Don't cry a river over there, 27-year-old girl reflecting on your glorious youth while reading this alone in your cubicle! I honestly don't think this is true. If Justin hated us, would he have shown us so much butt in Friends with Benefits? Would he have put his considerable comedic talents through yet another, otherwise lackluster episode of SNL? No, he wouldn't. Hating us cannot possibly be the reason Justin Timberlake is no longer making music so let's just drop it, okay? Justin loves each and every one of us deeply and this has nothing to do with why he can't just get on the damn phone with Timbo and make this thing happen.
Possible Reason #2: Justin Timberlake Is Over It
Reason number 2 is equally as horrifying, but unfortunately seems way more plausible. Here's the thing: Justin may just be super-duper over making pop songs. We all have to accept that he is not the same JT of 2002. As his career progressed, one thing that became increasingly clear was that Justin really wanted to be taken seriously as a musician. He began to play instruments in his live shows rather than do choreographed dances. He cowrote and produced all his own material and spent tons of time crafting music behind the scenes for other artists. Heck, the only serious musical endeavor Justin has announced of late is is a film score, for Christ's sake! There is a definite possibility that even if the JT of today did buck up and make a proper new album, it wouldn't be anything like the high-end dance-pop churned out by the JT of yore. Could there possibly be a Justin Timberlake folk album on the horizon? A rockabilly album? A Neil Young collabo? The Timberlake String Quartet?
Possible Reason #3: Justin Timberlake Is a Little Lost Right Now and Doesn't Know Where He Fits in Anymore
Pop music is like high school: One second you're the queen bee and the next, no one cares about you and everyone is calling you gay just cuz your mom took you to cop the new Diesel skinny jeans from the Westchester Mall. Justin is coming up on 32, and while that doesn't make him OLD by any means, even I can admit that it would seem a little funny for him all the sudden to be competing with the Trey Songz and Beibers of the world for radio play. Look at Justin's closest contemporary, Usher. In the mid 2000s, Usher and Justin were considered neck-and-neck in the race to the summit of definitive male-pop-stardom (Let's call it "The Battle for the MJ Cup"). However, whereas Justin ducked out while still on top, Usher, now 33, has continued to make Pop music on a consistent basis to highly diminished results. Sure, Usher has had massive hits over the past 5 years, but instead of setting the tone for Pop music as he and Justin did in the mid 2000s, Usher has seemingly shifted his focus to blatent trend riding in order to stay relevant, something which has caused a massive hit to his credibility. Perhaps Justin's absence from Pop is actually rooted in a reasonable fear of succumbing to the same fate, in which case, maybe it's for the best? (*GASP*). Even the great Michael Jackson released his last truly great album, Bad, at 29. JUST SAYING.
Possible Reason #4: Pretending to Be in Love / Fornicate With Mila Kunis on Screen for Two Hours Is WAAAAY Easier for Justin Timberlake Than Writing Another "Cry Me A River"
This is an important realization that we all might just have to ride with. The truth is, writing music is HARD and writing a universally adored song is near impossible. Think about how hard it would be for any new Pop song Justin could come up with to top 'Like I Love You" or "What Goes Around / Comes Around." Honestly, If the mediocrity of his Ciara duet, "Love Sex Magic," is any indication, he may honestly be better off sticking to Omlette-ville skits on SNL and avoid ruining our memories of the better times (Lookin' at you, Madonna). And also, let's just be honest with ourselves here. If someone came to you and said, "You can toil away in the recording studio for two years trying to make a classic album, OR you can traipse around naked on screen with Mila Kunis and pretend to sex her for two hours. Oh, and well pay you $10 million for it" what would you do? Stop lying to yourself. Justin may just be damn tired of trying to make music and the general demands of pop star life, what with album cycles, touring, the responsibility of singlehandedly bringing SexyBack, etc. Playing the same "handsome bro-dude-Justin Timberlake-ishy guy" in a movie for a month a year might be the equivalent of retirement for JT. I mean the man has obviously earned it, he's been working since before he had chest hair.
Look, the bottom line is this is like the ultimate crushing breakup: just as we began to fully love and trust Justin with full abandon, giving ourselves over to him emotionally with the promise of years of future happiness and fulfillment, he rudely abandoned us without so much as a Post-it note explaining his actions. But like any good breakup, I feel that the time has for us to finally rip that Band-aid off, forget our dreams of more Justin Timberlake, the pop star and perhaps even try and embrace this Bieber kid to the best of our abilities (Hey, "Baby" wasn't half bad!). Then, at least if Justin does come out of nowhere with some great new jams, it'll feel more like pleasant make-up sex then the crushing disappointment of waiting by the phone each day for the next "Senorita."
The only problem here of course is that pop could use a guy like JT. Right now, while filthy with huge female stars, the pop music landscape is severely lacking on the male side. Furthermore, it's lacking artists with the skill, musical scope and vision of an artist like Timberlake. Regardless, things are what they are and since we can't get on a plane to LA and physically drag Justin off the set of whatever new goddamn Amanda Seyfried vehicle he has currently deemed worthy of his talents (although I'm sure we'd all like to), let's just take a deep breath and savor what we have: Friends with Benefits on demand and Justified loaded in our iTunes. Now excuse me while I bring SexyBack all by myself.