Justin Timberlake has finally made his return to music. On January 13, he released “Suit & Tie,” his first single as a lead artist since 2007’s “Until the End of Time” featuring Beyoncé. His third studio album, “The 20/20 Experience,” is due for release on March 19.
“Suit” features a rapped verse by Jay-Z and merges “chopped and screwed” hip-hop production with falsetto vocal melodies and a groovy beat reminiscent of Prince. While markedly different from the dance-pop craze that has taken over pop radio since Timberlake’s departure, the song lacks the same instant-addictiveness that made “SexyBack” a smash hit seven years ago.
“Suit & Tie” shot to #1 on the iTunes Singles chart within hours of its release, but failed to meet first-week sales expectations and currently sits at #14 on the chart. While “Suit” has garnered mixed reviews – its drawn praise for its unique production, and repetitive harp flourish and simple hook, which basically features Timberlake bouncing between two notes while singing a simple lyric about a night on the town in fancy attire – it failed to get critics hooked like “SexyBack” did.
“I’ll probably never forget the moment I heard ‘SexyBack,’” said Billboard.com’s Jason Lipshutz. “In six and a half years, will you remember where you were the first time you heard ‘Suit and Tie’?”
The news of Timberlake’s return to music came as a shock earlier this month. During his time away, he starred in the Oscar-winning “The Social Network” and married long-time girlfriend Jessica Biel. Despite producing and lending vocals to two top 5 hits (“4 Minutes” with Madonna; “Dead and Gone” with T.I.), he remained adamant that he was focusing on his acting career and wasn’t sure when he would release another solo album. In 2010, he told reporters he had no plans for a follow-up to 2006’s Grammy-winning “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” stating, “Until I know, I don’t know.”
The pop music landscape has changed dramatically since 2007, and Justin will have to release something with more staying power than “Suit & Tie” to prove he is still one of pop music’s biggest stars. Despite a continued rise in radio play, the song has dropped out of the Billboard Top 10 songs after just one week, with its sales declining by 65 percent.
Being a star in the 2000s doesn’t guarantee continued success in the current decade. Britney Spears rose back from much more dire straits than Timberlake faced in his time off, but fellow pop star Christina Aguilera has yet to reach the heights of success she enjoyed nearly ten years ago.
In the mean time, a long list of new stars has emerged to take Justin’s place. Male pop music is dominated by artists like Bruno Mars, One Direction and of course, Justin Bieber. Bieber’s 2012 single “Boyfriend” saw him building a new sound for himself partly influenced by Timberlake, but ultimately its parent album, “Believe,” failed to cement his position as Timberlake’s official successor as pop’s leading male. Perhaps the release of “The 20/20 Experience” will be perfectly timed to reinstate Timberlake as pop music’s frontrunner.
Although his publicist denied that he had begun recording a new album last summer, Timberlake revealed on January 14 in an open letter that he had actually begun working on “20/20” in June of last year. The album finds him working with producer Timbaland again, responsible for the bulk of “FutureSex” and a string of hits ranging from the 1990s into the present.
Singer Keri Hilson, another frequent Timbaland collaborator, told Rap-Up.com that the pair will “[redefine] the sound of radio” after previewing the album. While “Suit & Tie” has yet to do that, Timberlake has all year to prove us wrong.
Jake Reed can be reached at email@example.com.