Last week, during his Ryan Seacrest-hosted special on The CW, Justin Timberlake said that music is the "most special" hat of the many hats he wears as an entertainer. Now, we can't psychoanalyze JT—as much as everyone may have wanted to during his year-long courtship of the world's attention. But, to be sure, music has given this man a lot: Timberlake's pop-star status has allowed him to pursue the very side projects that have transformed into his main career focus, as modern mega-celebrities are want to do with their "brand maintenance" these days. Maybe in some alternate universe he could have taken childhood buddy Ryan Gosling's path and become a "serious actor" right off the bat. Except he didn't. And so JT owes the music. Turns out the music may own him.
Timberlake's new album, The 20/20 Experience, sold 968,000 in its first week. That's the best an album's done since Taylor Swift's Red came out in October, Rolling Stone reports today. It's also Timberlake's best sales week ever, according to Billboard, which also pointed out that the album had the "third-largest week ever for a digital album." Ole Justin is doing pretty well for himself.
(Of course, the album itself didn't exactly receive unanimous raves. But it most certainly was not shunned by critics, or anyone, and 20/20 was in some cases even praised for its "adult" qualities. This is an album with multiple songs in the seven- to eight-minute range, after all.)
But the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter's magazine reveals the shadier side of Timberlake's venture back into music, and this version of his never-ending comeback may help explain the JT charm offensive on display throughout his promotional onslaught. Shirley Halperin reports that Timberlake's deal with Live Nation might have been the reason he hurried the release of The 20/20 Experience (a second "half" of the record is due in the fall, Timberlake "confirmed" onstage recently.) In order to get his money, he had to go on tour, prompting Halperin to ask the question everyone's been too over-Timberlaked to bother asking: "Was the album rushed so there would be product to sell in addition to concert tickets?" Halperin elaborates on the deal:
According to multiple sources, a 2009 partnership with Timberlake, structured after Jay-Z's game-changing $150 million Live Nation 360 deal and Timberlake's AEG-promoted, $126 million-grossing 2007 FutureSex/LoveShow tour, was quid pro quo for a touring commitment to Live Nation. In exchange, Timberlake received about $20 million -- $5 million of it free and clear, or "a gimme," as one insider describes it. (Worth noting: Timberlake could have returned it had he not toured.)
We shouldn't be surprised that Timberlake's motives for making this album—or at least making this album at this pace—weren't entirely pure, nor should it really matter. Pop stars make music for money all the time, and sometimes it's even good music. If nothing else The 20/20 Experience does seem artistically adventurous, even if it's not wooing over all of his or anyone else's fans—even if Timberlake's Rat Pack style-transformation of the man does not scream of someone who is completely disinterested in his product. So maybe he rushed the product to collect on the Live Nation deal. Was that a little greedy? Yes. Should we begrudge him? For that, probably not. And at the very least, he's made an album, on his or someone else's terms, and the world has something of an answer for why he stopped making the music in the first place.