LACE REPLAY: "The 20/20 Experience"
In 2013, Justin Timberlake returned to the music scene after a six-year hiatus to release his third solo studio project, "The 20/20 Experience". Released in two parts, one in March and the other in September, the compilation debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 chart and went on to become the fastest selling album in iTunes Store history. '20/20' served as a follow-up to the critical and commercial beast that is "FutureSex/LoveSounds", an album that spawned three #1 singles and propelled JT as a powerhouse solo act, no longer just the frosty-haired lead singer of *NSYNC.
So, the pressure was on to deliver on his follow-up album. However, the music industry was a very different place when JT returned from his hiatus. Physical album sales and traditional album rollouts were becoming a thing of the past. The sounds in pop music had utterly shifted from the smooth and ballad-heavy sounds of 2006/2007 to booming electric hooks in 2012. How would he adapt to these new directions? In true JT fashion, he paved his own road.
Much like "FS/LS", Timberlake used this album to free himself from pop’s limitations. Alongside frequent collaborator, Timbaland, and R&B hitmakers: J-Roc & James Fauntleroy, “The 20/20 Experience” explored sounds of soul’s past and molded them with the hip-hop beats of both present and future. Take, for example, the album’s opener, “Pusher Love Girl”.
The song opens with a gorgeous orchestral arrangement and later blossoms into a funk-inspired groove in which Justin coos of the high his lover’s love gives him. However, instead of ending at what sounds like the track’s closing, the song, clocking in at 8 minutes and 2 seconds, moves forward into a choppy hip-hop jig in which he salutes his “hydroponic candy jelly bean”.
The trend of abnormally long tracks didn’t end there. This arguably turned out to be one the album’s greatest strengths and greatest hindrances. On the one hand, the freedom brought highlights like the Afro-Latin instrumental breakdown on “Let the Groove Get In” and catchy vamps like the outro of his Top 40 chart-topper, “Mirrors” But on the other, it made some of the album’s best potential drone on with no hope of recovery. For example, the two minutes of pitched moaning at the end of “Spaceship Coupe” or the unnecessary four-minute finale to Part 2’s “True Blood".
However, the compilation’s triumphs overshadowed its shortcomings. Justin Timberlake ironed out clear-cut visions of black tie affairs and 1940s big bands shined in both his album packaging, live performances, and music videos. See his Grammy Award-winning music video for the Jay-Z-assisted single “Suit & Tie”, for example.
Sonically, the album proved to be standalone in his discography. Instead of trying to recreate the chart-topping success of his past, he championed the shift of R&B by visiting its history and shining a light on its future. The lasting impact of The 20/20 Experience is evident in Bruno Mars’ 2016 masterpiece, "24K Magic". Justin Timberlake’s risks proved to be once again triumphant and undoubtedly noteworthy. One can only hope that his upcoming full-length project, Man of the Woods, packs a similar punch.