Jason Helveston says ‘The 20/20 Experience‘ is one worth having.
“Let the Groove Get In” shook the computer speakers behind my desk. Noise filled the room. My chair instinctively followed the beat, twisting from left to right. The suede bucks on my feet kept pace … tap, tap, tap. Not to be out done, my hands transformed the top of my desk into a drum set. Subtlety but without question my head swayed in syncopated motion … back and forth, back and forth. Suffice to say, the groove had gotten in. Justin Timberlake’s refreshed style chased down the hip-hop wannabe buried deep inside my subconscious and got him to hang out with the southern gentlemen my parents raised. This was the first time those two guys met. And it was the first time I really met Justin Timberlake.
Up until the summer release of The 20/20 Experience I easily suppressed any affection I might have had for Justin Timberlake. At the very least I was compelled to keep my interest hidden when ‘N Sync’s lead singer or the Jusitifed solo artist manipulated my musical senses, held them hostage, and forced me to move with the beat. Though he got his start on “The Mickey Mouse Club”, I knew nothing about him. My family didn’t have cable. The only place where the Disney Channel existed in my mind and in our home was on VHS cassettes my grandmother sent my siblings and me. Nana graciously kept our childhood relevant by sending us recordings of popular cartoons not suited for public television or “Feature Films for Families”. We watched and re-watched every single tape. But “The Mickey Mouse Club” was nowhere to be found. I never met the most famous Mouseketeer ever.
When ‘N Sync exploded in the mid and late nineties they were clearly off limits. Though I mimicked their moves and music at Christian summer camp open mics–going by the name ‘Syncn–this new version of JT seemed monopolized by a single demographic. And don’t get me wrong. I was happy to capitalize on the attention of this particular group of fans within my evangelical summertime subculture (at least in my mind), I couldn’t actually join them in real life. Right? I mean just the thought of sympathizing at any level with crowds of hyperventilating teenage girls perpetually tip-toping the line of an emotional breakdown was too much to bear. Regardless if the subject was sports, politics, or boy-band awesomeness … I just couldn’t do it. Justin Timberlake still wasn’t for me.
A new vibe was born in the early 2000’s and Timberlake still seemed to claim Beatles-like attention. He had clearly distinguished himself from the screaming crowds and embraced different influences. Hip-hop and R&B welled-up through his debut solo album. A club-ready, fist-pumping persona officially eclipsed a career that previously donned bleach-blonde hair and puppet strings. Timberlake was growing up. And he had new friends too–Nelly, Timbaland, Aguilera, and later Jackson. With these new associations his steady brilliance of redefinition and career maturation hit a bit of a “malfunction”. And since I didn’t really go to many clubs and my fists didn’t do much pumping, this visage of Timberlake nearly passed me by unnoticed. But I love football. The Disney star I never met and the bleach-blonde hair I constantly avoided now reemerged in my world and brought disgrace to my favorite game. Justin and I seemed destined for dysfunction.
Nevertheless he’s always been there. Whether I was aware of it or not, Justin Timberlake never went away. He’s been growing, maturing, transforming, reframing, and rethinking who he was and is, deciding who he wanted to be. Kind a like me I guess. Kind of like just about everyone. About a year ago my family and I got Directv. To the elation of every human being on the planet (whether they are aware or not) I no longer perform at summer camps open-mics. And clubs still really aren’t my thing, but hip-hop and R&B have solidified themselves on my iPhone’s playlists.
The first time I listened to The 20/20 Experience it was too soon. Seven-minute songs left too much time for me to get lost in the dysfunction and distance of my previous experiences with the now tuxedo-wearing Tennessean. But then I stumbled across the album again. I listened more closely. And you know what? He had done it again. And this time he had me. In fact, I think he has never done it quite like this. This new venture, which breaks a seven-year musical hiatus, isn’t simply Timberlake redefined and more mature–musically or otherwise. 20/20 is everything I’ve seen and avoided in this artist’s career, beautifully combined. He’s a playful Mousketeer. He’s bleach-blonde, boy-band superstar. He’s hip-hop and R&B. He’s Memphis. He’s Justin Timberlake.
Unashamed, I move with this new beat. It’s an affection, a sound, and an artist I never saw coming. I don’t think anyone did. I don’t think Timberlake did. We never do. Because hip-hop artist aren’t supposed to mix well with southern gentlemen. Unless, of course, they do.