Review: Justin Timberlake's “Filthy”
Look what we made him do. Hindsight revealed Justin Timberlake’s last album, the lukewarm The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2, as a contractual rush job, and his last hit, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” aspired to nothing more than what it was: a cut from the soundtrack of Trolls. His previous niche as the charts’ mildly groovy songwriter was hijacked by Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes. The weight of it all, it seems, drove him into the wild. Now he’s a Man of the Woods, the sort of person who 100% would name a track “Flannel.” Except that, throughout all of this, his producers remained Timbaland and Danja, so it’s not totally surprising that Man of the Woods’ first single, “Filthy,” is just another take on his FutureSex/LoveSounds past.
“Filthy” dwells upon two things: “haters” and bringing sexy back (again, and noncommittally). Timbaland and Danja’s beat is “futuristic” as defined by the past: A few indulgent rock codas are attached, with seams showing, to the cutting-edge wubs of 2011 and the synth-funk of the 1980s. It doesn’t help that Bruno Mars has all but owned this throwback pop territory for the past two years, including just a few days ago, making Timberlake’s version come off as further cosplay. His lyrics aren’t much better: In a thin falsetto, he repeatedly references “My Humps” and promises that the FCC-compliant, barely-past-Kidz-Bop lyrics “ain’t the clean version.” The expensive music video, meanwhile, casts Timberlake as a would-be Steve Jobs presenting a gyrating android to gratuitous applause—with a sci-fi twist at the end, because this is Serious Art. “Haters gon’ say it’s fake,” Timberlake insists. When you admit failure in verse one, it’s a bad sign.