Everything I Expected and More

Justin Timberlake’s New Album
Justin Timberlake performs Higher, Higher during his world tour for Man of the Woods.
Justin Timberlake performs “Higher, Higher” during his world tour for Man of the Woods.
MELANIE WIENER

The Prince of Pop has returned. No, not Justin Bieber. The ten-time Grammy-winning, four-time Emmy-winning, ‘NSYNC veteran Justin Timberlake. His first album since 2016’s Man of the Woods has been released, and the results have been…mixed.

If you look at many of the reviews out there for Everything I Thought It Was, you’ll see a lot of negative opinions—lots of people feeling disappointed. However, I truly believe that most of the album’s poor reception is driven by the trending anti-Timberlake sentiment. Much of the backlash against him came from criticisms within Britney Spears’ tell-all memoir The Woman In Me on top of cheating rumors around Timberlake from a few years ago. His last album was also the least successful of his career.

So, you can imagine the countless amount of people waiting to bash Timberlake’s new work. Britney Spears’ fans went as far as collectively streaming Spears’ song “Selfish” in an attempt to beat Timberlake’s new single of the same name on the Hot 100 charts. Despite all that, I was eager to simply listen to the album on its own.

So, with that said…Everything I Thought It Was feels like a refreshing return to form for JT.

With producer Timbaland’s announcement from last year of the return of the “fun Justin,” my anticipation was high. And I already expected to be impressed by the album, as I don’t feel that Timberlake has ever released a bad album, given that I stand with the minority in enjoying Man of the Woods. His last album was his worst without a doubt, but by no means was it of low quality. When you produce ten-out-of-ten records like FutureSex/LoveSounds, critics will always expect near perfection with your work. And no, Timberlake’s 2024 release is not at that level, but it certainly should be welcomed with open arms to the rest of his catalog.

With that in mind, we can start by taking a look at his first two singles prior to the album’s release, “Selfish” and “Drown.” The former track is solid with a comfortable and catchy chorus. The song peaked at No. 19 on Billboard Hot 100, but didn’t exactly drive enough enthusiasm with the public to boost JT in his comeback efforts. I didn’t feel like “Selfish” was anything too special, although the song has grown on me a bit with live performances I’ve watched since its release.

Timberlake then appeared as the musical guest for Saturday Night Live, in which he dazzled the audience with his performance of a new song on the album, “Sanctified.” He tapped into a soulful sound with religious metaphors intertwined throughout the lyrics under a heavy mixture of R&B & gospel. The song feels built to be played live on his upcoming Forget Tomorrow tour with powerful background sounds that would thrive in an arena. New artist Tobe Nwigwe pitches in a smooth rap solo that fits in nicely with the rest of the tune.

Next up on the slate was “Drown,” a song that gave off a similar idea introduced with “Selfish”. Timberlake seemed to be playing it safe with his new album, as both songs relied on simple flows and clichés which resulted in decent listens that weren’t going to break the charts.

Timberlake then appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and delighted the crowd just days before the album’s release with the song that I believe should have been the #1 single: “No Angels.” The track stands out with the vibes of a classic JT hit, with an effective hook alongside captivating verses. Then on March 15, the album dropped at midnight (for which I sacrificed sleep, of course, and I may or may not have failed some quizzes in school the next day…worth it though).

The first song “Memphis” is probably one of my least favorite on the album, with a simple, low-key beat under lower-range vocals talking about struggling with his roots amid his journey through fame. Some cringy lyrics are thrown in as well: “I lost my voice like a pastor, faster than a Harlem shimmy, but I guess that’s what you get for tryin’ to make heartbreak pretty.” The tune fits in nicely with some current sounds of today’s music industry (it gives off Drake vibes)…which isn’t exactly a compliment in my books.

The album picks up right away, though, with the track “F****n Up The Disco.” Timberlake definitely begins to bring “SexyBack” here as you could picture (or, at least, I could picture) someone seductively strutting across a stage to the opening beats. The song feels more like past Justin Timberlake than anything has in many years.

“Play” is a very enjoyable track, with descending vocals alongside funky bass lines throughout, culminating in jazzy brass to finish. The tune possesses the vibe of non-stop positivity that could be found in the Trolls movies. Although, instead of singing about hugs, Branch and Poppy would now be “sippin’ that boujee rosé.” “Play” is short and sweet on the ears. The next song, “Technicolor” is the farthest thing from short at a whopping seven minute and eighteen second runtime, but the sound quality continues relatively well in a slower tune with a nice transition in the middle. The song feels like a sequel to the 20/20 Experience sound.

Following the pleasant-sounding song “Liar,” in which Timberlake teams up with Nigerian singer Fireboy DML and steps into the style of Afrobeats, “Infinity Sex” definitely feels like a callback to FutureSex/LoveSounds with musical mastermind Timbaland behind production. “Sexy” is continuing to be brought back with some signature falsettos and slick beats.

The album is 18 songs long…so I’ll just go over a few more noteworthy tunes (horrible pun intended). As I dove deeper into the record, I came across “My Favorite Drug,” a hidden gem which becomes an addictive listen the second you hear it. It has a sweet 70s-disco sound which reminds me of one of his previous tracks “Take Back the Night.” The song includes a reference to JT’s first solo hit, “Señorita,” as well as a chaotic transition to a dubstep finish. Later on in the record, Timbaland’s influence brings a satisfactory R&B feel in “What Lovers Do.”

Just like “Play,” the thirteenth song of the album “Imagination” could easily be added to a Trolls soundtrack. The song should get the listener ready for the summer with a steady euphoric vibe through echoing background sounds alongside Timberlake’s A+ vocals.

As the album comes to a close, Timberlake brings back his old gang after their reunion with the third Trolls movie, as him and ‘NSYNC deliver a decent track: “Paradise.” The song is composed of a slow-tempo look back on their journey together, highlighted by a gratifying chorus.

Obviously, Everything I Thought It Was can’t beat FutureSex/LoveSounds (nothing ever will), and the singles are nothing like his past hits from Justified, but parts of the album feel right on par with 20/20 Experience. The album is infused with references and meanings of love at every corner, fitting in with JT’s character. He’s still dedicated to both his family and music as he steps back onto the pop stage as a worldwide superstar.

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