Tag Archives: Justin Timberlake

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 12

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons here.

1. “Stuck In The Middle” – Mika, Life In Cartoon Motion

A fantastic hook is on display in this tune, one of many fantastic hooks on a really strong debut album from Freddie Mercury’s pop heir apparent, Mika. Granted, Mika hasn’t had the steadiest consistency in album qualities, but his debut is his best work; absolutely worth checking out if you need a smile in your life.

Lyrically, I’m reading this song as a dig at a strained parental relationship. Interesting how he dresses a heavy subject in such colorful clothes. There are several songs on the album where this is done, so if you don’t pay close attention, it’s just an overtly positive sounding album, but with a third or fourth listen, you start hearing the lyrical layers he’s created.

Musically, this tune is a really great representation of where Mika excels. It is built on an insanely catchy little piano riff. One of the best things about this song (and the album in general) is how well orchestrated Mika’s tunes are. Everything is added to that riff and it creates a lot of great kinetic energy.

It’s the little things like the rhythm guitar in the chorus or in the second verse, Mika’s fabulous at doing these instrumental flourishes that build the song out so well and create a very colorful tableau. The scat part at the song’s conclusion highlights this really well.

2. “Losing My Way” – Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds

Now that I’m thinking about it, this is the only solo song JT’s ever recorded that tackles an “issue,” unless you consider dressing fly and being a ladies man an issue. JT’s singing about the dangers of drug abuse from the perspective of a husband/father from a lower socioeconomic class.

Surprisingly, I like this song a lot (surprising because “issue” songs are often very trite; a four minute pop song isn’t really the best place to try and dissect a social issue). As far as song quality goes, it’s good enough that I’m surprised JT’s never attempted an issue song since.

Musically, this is a really subdued tune from Timbaland, with the usual Timbo touches gone, replaced here only with a “ba-dum-bah” refrain that underlays the entire song. Granted, the song ends with a gospel choir in the background, but in the context of the song, they fit perfectly and add a very soulful prayer-like flavor to the song. As this is a black sheep song in the Justin Timberlake catalog, it makes me think JT and Timbo could write more songs like this, especially to fill the space on the second half of The 20/20 Experience where it sounded like they were taking songs left over from *NSYNC days (I’m referring specifically to the last 11 minutes of the album, completely superfluous).

3. “Veridis Quo” – Daft Punk, Discovery

One of the things I love about writing these posts is that it forces me to give a really focused listen to songs I wouldn’t normally, or songs I’m surprised are even in my Top 1000. This is a perfect example, a song that was on an album I absolutely loved and listened to a lot, but for some reason, continually got forgotten about as I listened through it.

When I think about Daft Punk’s Discovery, “Digital Love” and “One More Time” are obviously the stand-out tracks, but there are tunes like “Veridis Quo” that are very unique and interesting in their own way.

This is an atmosphere track. No lyrics, just instrumentals of various kinds. It absolutely belongs in an outer space travel scene in an anime show (oh wait, they already did that).

What gives it this ephemeral, spacey quality is the fact that the synth upon which the whole melody is built never actually breaks. You know how with the guitar or a trumpet or a piano, to change notes you actually have to either let your finger off the fret, or take a new breath, or put your finger on a new key? With this synth melody, they’ve managed to connect it all in a way that sounds like an eternal instrumental loop. It creates a sound that just washes over you like the remnants of a supernova.

While it’s definitely not my favorite song off of Discovery, as far as the instrumentals go, it’s a very pretty song to listen to. My biggest complaint with this album in general is actually songs like this one, because with too many of them, you lose the listen-ability factor because the average music listener doesn’t want an album full of atmospheric synth instrumentals (this is the biggest problems with their albums pre- and post-Discovery, Homework and Human After All).

That’s not to say this song is bad though, especially considering it is a five minute long synth instrumental. I’d say it’s a little repetitive, but I don’t think Daft Punk care about repetition when they make their music. I’d almost say it’s one of their strong suits.

4. “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” – Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

Sufjan. Possibly the most complex and unique songwriter under the age of 40 that graces my iTunes library. This guy is incredibly intelligent, and each song off of his Illinois album sounds like it is the result of a graduate thesis. Or at least each song could be the subject of a graduate thesis.

Sufjan is hands down one of the most literary songwriters I’ve ever heard. This song can be read several different ways, with so many of his lyrics being just vague enough to encourage interpretation.

Here goes: I think the opening verse introduces us to the narrator, who is either in a lucid-dream state, not sleeping in the middle of the night, or just falling to sleep, as he sees something in his bedroom that reminds him of a childhood memory. The song then transports the narrator and the listener back to his childhood, to a time at a summer camp where he and his brother and/or friend came upon what they thought was a giant mutant wasp monster.

What I love about this song is how Sufjan takes a seemingly unrelated subject and turns it into a reflection on human nature and how we respond to the world around us. I read this song as a humble prayer to God about his Creation, the beautiful and terrible parts of it (i.e. the “great sights” of the land and the “terrible sting” of the predatory wasp). Sufjan is singing an ode to the beauty of God’s creation through the lens of the imagination and innocence of childhood.

Or he could be singing about a crush he had on a friend at summer camp. It doesn’t really matter, but it does display what depth Sufjan writes into his songs.

I haven’t even gotten to the music yet. This song starts with a very simple acoustic guitar pattern with some kind of woodwinds played on top. The finger-picked chords of the first verse are a perfect testament to how Sufjan can take something familiar and make it sound fresh.

The next addition is the very soft background vocals, which will come into play later in the song. And then we get into the first refrain, where Sufjan teases at the orchestration that’s to come. I hear a mix of accordion-sounding woodwinds (the accordion is not a woodwind but I can’t describe it any other way, maybe a glockenspiel?) over some piano chords and a tambourine. The blend is gorgeous.

Then right at 2:10, this horn comes in for a bar and is then followed up by another horn doing harmony. As gorgeous as the orchestration becomes just after these two bars and at the end of the song, this might be my favorite musical moment of the song. It’s so simple and so refined; you hear each element with so much clarity. This sound so perfectly encapsulates what Illinois sounds like as an album and why Sufjan excels as a musician. He’s able to create these sonic landscapes with a lot or a little, and he knows exactly where to add and where to abstain.

If you haven’t listened to this album, go check out this song. It’s a great representation of how dense Sufjan makes his music.

5. “Smooth Criminal” – Michael Jackson, Bad

If you are just about 30 years old, and didn’t listen to pop radio in the ‘80s, it is very likely that your first introduction to this song was a cover by a band named Alien Ant Farm in 2001. As I recall, it was a pretty huge hit (at least in Iowa, I remember hearing it on the radio all the time). And I remember thinking it was a pretty hard rockin’ tune.

Oddly enough, the main difference between it and MJ’s original is the metal-sounding guitars in the cover. Take those away, and you’ve almost got the original song.

Which is for the best, because obviously the original is the best. MJ somehow took a song about a breaking-and-entering/assault and turned it into a pretty intense club banger. It is a pretty dark tune, considering the hook that everyone knows is “Annie, are you O.K.?” when clearly she’s not.

But that doesn’t take away from how rockin’ MJ and Quincy made this tune sound. It all really comes to a head during the bridge, when a public service announcer’s voice tells everybody to “Clear the area, right now!” as a siren blares in the background. The song then launches into the bridge, which features an in-your-face mix of blazing synthesizer, a pan-flute-like rhythmic section, and of course MJ’s patented hee-hees.

The other thing that struck me as I listened to this one is how cinematic it sounds. From the beginning four-second intro before the song really hits to the atmospheric sound effects in the bridge, it’s really clear that MJ was moving toward a more cinematic expression in his music and art.

This is evident 100% in the music video, which I’ve linked above. While the song is about four minutes long, the video is a full five minutes past that, clocking in at over nine minutes. The whole thing is like a short film, and MJ uses one of the coolest effects in all of his videos, the anti-gravity lean. Be sure to check it out. The dude could dance like nobody else.

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The 20/20 Experience, Reimagined

20:20This is not, by any means, a timely post, as it’s been over a year since Justin Timberlake released Part 1 of his 7-years-in-the-making album, The 20/20 Experience. Part 2 came out six months later, and as I’ve written before, it was underwhelming.

So I’m out running errands today and “Pusher Love Girl” shuffles on the iPod. It got me thinking about both Parts of 20/20 and what changes I’d make to turn it into one, complete, doozy of a single album. So here’s my track list for the definitive 20/20 Experience.

  1. Pusher Love Girl (4:53)
  2. Suit & Tie (4:29)
  3. Cabaret (4:01)
  4. You Got It On (5:31)
  5. Strawberry Bubblegum (7:20)
  6. Only When I Walk Away (3:45)
  7. Tunnel Vision (4:03)
  8. Spaceship Coupe (5:20)
  9. That Girl (4:18)
  10. Let The Groove Get In (7:12)
  11. Mirrors (5:24)
  12. Blue Ocean Floor (6:53)

Full track list, complete with new time designations. My version is just over an hour. Yes, I adjusted not only a song’s placement, but also how long each song is. Let me explain.

The actual “Pusher Love Girl” is just over 8 minutes on the actual recording. Too long. And the song is so perfectly segmented at the 5 minute mark that leads into the back half of the song, which, in my opinion, is completely superfluous. So on my reimagined 20/20 Experience, the last three minutes of the song are removed. Next.

“Suit & Tie” no longer features Jay Z. His verse felt like a throwaway and I don’t think he adds anything to the song, so he’s cut. The intro is kept though. That’s just the sort of Timbaland/JT weirdness I like.

“Cabaret” is the first appearance of a song from the original Part 2, which, full disclosure, I thought paled in comparison to Part 1. You won’t see lots of Part 2 tunes on here. But this is a great song, minus the Drake verse. So take him out completely, but keep the song change right before the 3 minute mark where the breakdown happens. So we’re only actually cutting about half a minute from the song length, and Drake is nowhere to be seen.

“Cabaret” is followed by another Part 2 cut, “You Got It On.” This one has a very relaxed pace, and begins a nice breather period before the slightly darker phase of the record. I’d only cut a bit of the string section out at the end, like half a minute or so of strings.

“Strawberry Bubblegum” ends the big inhalation section of the record. I’d only cut out the first 40 seconds because Timbaland’s low-voiced intro is not required. I’m also keeping the second section of the song intact. In fact, if I was pressed with time or space limitations, I’d favor the last 3 minutes of the song over the first part. The song works well as a whole, but the second segment is by far the better one.

Now we launch into the heavy part of the record with “Only When I Walk Away.” I have no idea why, but I get a major Prince vibe from JT on this song. The distorted vocal maybe? I’m not sure. But I’d cut it off at 3:45, as the breakdown half isn’t really needed.

That takes us to another minor chord-based tune, the faster-tempoed “Tunnel Vision.” I’m cutting this one off right at the 4 minute mark; again, the last ~3 minutes are fine but not necessary.

The dark section ends with “Spaceship Coupe.” This one ends at 5:20, almost a full 2 minutes off the actual version. I could probably cut even more off this one but this is another great example of the JT/Timbo weirdness I want to preserve. Great tune.

“That Girl” follows, and we’re only losing the awful spoken word club intro. There is little worse in this world than when JT talks on a record instead of sings. Other than the 30 second intro, this whole song stays, including his beginning count-off.

After a full year of listening to this album, I’ve realized that, as unexpected as this might seem, “Let The Groove Get It” is my favorite song off of Part 1. I’m not cutting a single second off this tune.

And then “Mirrors” follows it up with the back half lopped off. To be honest, even a truncated version of this song should not be 5 and a half minutes long but I’d have to search for a lot more of the meat of the song to cut and I’m too lazy to do that.

I’m closing my version out with “Blue Ocean Floor,” and only cutting the 30 second breakdown that starts right about the 5 minute mark. The whole tune is a great example of JT doing something that sounds unlike anything else in his catalog and the 30 second bridge is the only thing that takes me out of it. The whole thing sounds very aquatic, otherworldly and full of shadows. I’m never thinking about chords or anything until that bridge, so I’d cut that out for sure.

And there’s my 20/20 Experience, reimagined. For the most part, I kept Part 1 intact and just sprinkled my favorites from Part 2 in where they fit. The only song I took off of Part 1 was “Don’t Hold The Wall,” which I like, but was the one I could live with losing. I also like “Drink You Away” and “Amnesia” from Part 2, but not so much that I had to find space for them on my version.

Some obvious key take-aways: Part 1 was a fantastic record, and it could’ve been a lot shorter than it was. Not to say the long songs take away from the overall execution, but JT and Timbaland could’ve trimmed here or there and not been any worse off. Also, Part 2 was almost completely unnecessary. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait until 2020 before JT gives us a new album.

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Sweeping Declarations: The Aftermath or 2013 In Music: A Review

It is with an overwhelmingly heavy heart that I must report: my Sweeping Declaration made in March of 2013 did not come true.

Let’s rewind and take a look back at it:

This Year Will Be The Best Year Of Music That I Live To See.

On paper, you’d think I was dead on. The number of good artists to release new music this year? Unparalleled. In fact, higher than any year I’ve been alive and conscious of popular music. That’s why I thought my Declaration was nearly fool-proof. Unfortunately, just because an artist I like releases a new album doesn’t mean it’s going to be a 5-star affair. Let’s first take a look at the albums I listened to this last year:

  • Night Beds – Country Sleep
  • Jim James – Regions Of Light And Sound Of God
  • Madeleine Peyroux – The Blue Room
  • Eric Clapton – Old Sock
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
  • Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz
  • The Strokes – Comedown Machine
  • Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream
  • She & Him – Volume 3
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Jamie Cullum – Momentum
  • Booker T. Jones – Sound The Alarm
  • Jay Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail
  • Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest
  • Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Lickity Split
  • Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go
  • Buddy Guy – Rhythm & Blues
  • The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
  • Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Derek Webb – I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You
  • Jack Johnson – From Here To Now To You
  • Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
  • Haim – Days Are Gone
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 2
  • Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
  • Teitur – Story Music
  • Brett Dennen – Smoke And Mirrors
  • Arcade Fire – Reflektor

If you look at the left side of that list, it’s pretty impressive to think this many awesome artists all released new music. It’s what they released that rendered my Sweeping Declaration false. Let me explain with more lists:

Top 5 Favorite Albums of 2013:

  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
  • Haim – Days Are Gone
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song

Top 5 Album Let-Downs of 2013:

  • Jamie Cullum – Momentum
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 2
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind

These lists are weird one after another, especially because two albums appear on each. But this is the essence of what made this a weird year of music for me. Some of my favorite artists released music, really good music, but not stunning music. Let’s look at a few examples.

JM’s Paradise Valley is really a great album. Smooth sounds, a nice country/western vibe, nothing too difficult or inaccessible. Just nice tunes about love and summertime. But honestly, this felt like gussied-up outtakes from the Born And Raised sessions. Born And Raised came out hardly a year ago, and it was a perfect example of how JM has managed to continually evolve musically for over 10 years now. But with Paradise Valley (and again, I really loved the album), there wasn’t that same sense of musical growth that JM’s managed to pull off with every single new studio album he’s released. As a consumer, it left me happy we had new JM, but a bit hollow.

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is maybe the most disappointing, as they had the biggest build-up and their album was plagued by the same sorts of issues they’ve had in the past. However, it’s still an awesome album. Nobody can make a electronic song like Daft Punk. With the help of Nile Rodgers, they created some of my favorite tunes of the year. The album was just so 50/50 to me. Each song was either a solid gold hit or something I skipped (with the exception of the 3:21-4:11 segment in the middle of “Touch”).

And then Justin Timberlake wowed us all with two album releases. I’ve read that his return to music was due to a contractual obligation, and if that’s the reason for two albums, then I get it. But musically? Part 2 was the most unnecessary album of the year. Especially because of how powerful Part 1 was. Part 1 was a sonic safari through the minds of JT and Timbaland, and it was better than 100% of today’s pop music. Part 2 was overkill, with a few good songs but nearly all of them too long. Did we really need the last track and hidden track? The former was like a leftover from the *NSYNC days and the latter was the fluffiest bit of mush he’s made since the Justified ballads. Again, had JT just stuck with Part 1 and called it The 20/20 Experience, it would’ve been perfect. Part 2 was just excessive.

But truly, even if all of these artists had released their best albums all in the same year, there is still one event that needed to have occurred for me to fully qualify my Sweeping Declaration as true. Whatever year D’Angelo decides to release his third album, the follow-up to 2000’s Voodoo, will be the best year of music I’ll most likely ever live to see.

Rumors have been flying about this album for nearly a decade, but since January of 2012, the rumors have turned into something more than just industry ephemera. D started playing shows again, both in Europe and the States, Questlove began promising the album was close to finished, and Russell Elevado (sound engineer on Voodoo and the follow-up) started tweeted that the album was completely mastered and ready to be released. He’s even mentioned spring/summer of 2014 as a release date.

Frankly, I’ll believe it when I’m holding the album in my hands. 2013 was pretty good as far as music goes, but without a doubt, the year of D’s return will be better.

Here’s my Best of 2013 Playlist:

  1. “Ramona” – Night Beds
  2. “Wild Child” – Brett Dennen
  3. “Waitin’ On The Day” – John Mayer
  4. “Out Of My League” – Fitz & The Tantrums
  5. “Back Seat Lover” – Mayer Hawthorne
  6. “Let The Groove Get In” – Justin Timberlake
  7. “Somewhere In America” – Jay Z
  8. “Fragments Of Time” – Daft Punk
  9. “Don’t Save Me” – Haim
  10. “Our Love” – Josh Rouse
  11. “Reflektor” – Arcade Fire
  12. “Indonesia” – Amos Lee
  13. “Take Me Out (Of Myself)” – Jamie Cullum
  14. “Manhattan” – Sara Bareilles


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…This Year Will Be The Best Year Of Music That I Live To See.

It’s a ballsy statement to make, mainly because it’s contingent on a few artists releasing their newest albums this year, when none of them have made firm commitments. However, all signs are pointing to good things.

First, let’s look at the second tier of good music coming out, because obviously the first tier is the most exciting. As of the end of February, only one album has been released that I’m excited to listen to, Jim James’ Regions of Light and Sound of God. Jim James is the frontman for My Morning Jacket, one of those bands who I never think to listen to, and then every time I do I kick myself for not listening more often. They are awesome. James’ solo debut has gotten pretty solid reviews, and especially from Questlove, upon whom I bestow the highest musical regard. If an album gets Questlove’s endorsement, it becomes a must-have for me. After Jim James’ performance with The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Questlove tweeted, “most beautiful song i ever played on @latenightjimmy. this will be the new say anything ‘in your eyes’ @jimjames” Good enough for me.

The next set of second tiers are all albums with set release dates in the next six months. Keep in mind, this is only half the year.

  • Jimi Hendrix (March 5th)
  • Eric Clapton (March 12th)
  • Josh Rouse (March 19th)
  • The Strokes (March 26th)
  • She & Him (May 7th)
  • Fitz & The Tantrums (May 7th)

Are you kidding me? HALF THE YEAR. Who knows what else will be released in the back half? Other artists that have teased new albums are Jamie Cullum (more than teased, I’m convinced he’s days away from making a confirmed album release announcement), The Bird and The Bee, and Cee-Lo.

Now to the good stuff. I have already written about how excited I am for Justin Timberlake’s return to the music scene, especially after his earth-shattering Grammy performance. “Pusher Love Girl” was so insanely unexpected, both in how awesome it was going to be (I secretly had lowered my album expectations for fear of being severely disappointed) and also just the structure of the song itself. It struck me immediately as a rhythm-heavy song, not in volume but rather in what fundamentally grounded the whole song from going off the rails. But married to that rhythmic element was the most bombastic mix of strings, voices, horns, all culminating a melodic piece of music that floored me. The minor chord in the chorus kept surprising me every single time I heard it, and seriously bore itself into my brain. All of this makes me think that JT is set to release his most musically powerful set of songs yet, but also his most fun. I am psyched out of my mind about The 20/20 Experience.

And here’s where my Sweeping Declaration might prove to be premature. The last two huge album releases have not been confirmed yet, and truly only teased.

Thirteen years ago, D’Angelo released Voodoo and the music world has been waiting for a follow up since then. We might finally see it this year. D had all but retired completely from the scene until January of 2012, when he played his first shows in Europe in over a decade. Later that year, he played his first shows in the U.S. Everyone got excited. Then we didn’t hear anything about a new album. Then Questlove started actively tweeting about studio time with D. Then Russell Elevado, the sound engineering yoda behind Voodoo, started tweeting about finishing up recording and working on mixes of songs off of the new album. THEN in an interview with Billboard just weeks ago, Questlove made a series of seriously exciting statements about the new album:

  • “Right now, we’re just tightening up the loose ends. But I still stand by, 99% of it is done.”
  • “I would not be far off by saying this is probably my generation’s version of Sly (and the Family Stone’s) ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On.’ It’s potent. It’s funky. It’s an extremely hard pill to swallow.”
  • “If this record is not turned in by February, then something is extremely wrong. Because we worked to the bone in the entire month of January just to tighten up all the loose ends.”

Considering that February is over, I can only hope and assume it’s been handed in to get bundled up for release into the real world. And after seeing this performance video from last year, there’s no way this album won’t be a groundbreaking, watershed musical moment in my life.

And while I would much rather have a new D album than any of the others on this list, I just heard about this next release this morning and am extremely excited about it. Daft Punk have begun seriously teasing a new album release this year. Now I’d heard rumors that they were working on something new, but just recently several things are in place to give those rumors some real weight. First, Nile Rodgers stated he had been working with them in the studio on some upcoming material. Even if you don’t recognize that name, you’ve heard his music everywhere. Rodgers was a co-founder of the band Chic, whose numerous ’70s hits include “Good Times” and “Le Freak” (YouTube them, you will recognize them instantly). He followed up his stint with Chic by producing loads of the most hugely successful music in the next couple decades (Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, The B-52s, to name a few). So fingers crossed, Daft Punk’s new material has a serious R&B/Disco flavor to it.

Second, in the last few weeks, Daft Punk’s website was changed to nothing but this picture:


And in the corner, the tiny little logo of the Columbia record label. This is significant because they had previously released their albums through EMI Records, and a label change means big things are in the works. And let’s be honest, how awesome is that picture?

Third, and by far the most significant, last night during SNL, this came on during one of the commercial breaks:

Oh my goodness. While it is only a 15-second snippet, this is the most blaringly obvious hint that new music is coming down the pipeline SOON. And my previous hope that this music would bear the hallmark of Nile Rodgers’ production has been overwhelmingly confirmed. This snippet sounds like a B-side off of RisquéIt is groovy and it is funky. A breath of fresh air from Human After All, which ironically sounded incredibly unhuman. Much more reminiscent of Discovery, but as if it had been released in 1977. Cannot wait.

With a fantastic line-up of second tier album releases, and the heavy-hitting triumvirate of JT/D/Daft Punk, I think my Sweeping Declaration is a winner. Now if John Mayer surprised everybody by secretly releasing an album of instrumentals he made while he’s been off the grid, there’d be no question.


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Fame doesn’t mean you’re good at everything.

Justin Timberlake’s solo musical output in the last six years:

futuresex futuresexloveshow suitandtie

Justin Timberlake’s cinematic output in the last six years:


Just a thought…here’s to The 20/20 Experience.


P.S. Technically, Edison came out in 2005, but it’s just so awful I couldn’t leave it out. And I thought The Social Network was a fantastic movie, but certainly not due to JT.

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