For better or for worse, we are in the age — or the year, or the week — of Justin Timberlake. At least that's what it seems like, ever since the former boy band leader/pop star/movie star/whatever he is these days took over the cultural hype cycle in January, then refused to let it go as his career transition continued last month, and now that he's doubling down upon the release of his long awaited new album. Following a successful stint on Saturday Night Live, Timberlake is in the midst of spending the week on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and The 20/20 Experience is currently streaming on iTunes. Frankly, it's all a bit much, and we're probably closing in on the age of Justin Timberlake fatigue more than anything else. Let's evaluate the hype level — on a scale of one to 10 — for each element of JT's endless media tour.
Though the album is scheduled for release March 19, it began streaming Monday night, prompting early reviews. Again, they're mostly for better, but might end up being for the worse. Response to the album as a whole have been, shall we say, reservedly positive. This is clearly a different Timberlake, one who's trying to prove he's an adult artist. Chuck Arnold at People writes that The 20/20 Experience "is the more challenging vision of an artist creating a cohesive work rather than a collection of singles." Rolling Stone's Jody Rosen says that "it's not quite a pop album," explaining that it "may test the patience of fans expecting immediate gratification." Melissa Maerz at Entertainment Weekly gave it a B, adding that "the songs are a little too slow, too long, too lacking in the flashy tap-dance energy that made him a giant solo success when he was 23."
"20/20" is very much an album's album. It's a tightly cohesive effort that should be enjoyed from start to finish in one single listen.— Arjan Writes (@arjanwrites) March 12, 2013
Hype Level: 9
This is what we've all been waiting for, right? The hype is there, and it's strong — if slow to build. The album is clearly challenging. Critics can't call it an automatic hit, but it's not a failure. It's just, well, a little different.
Perhaps because of Timberlake's recent career trajectory, or his experience with the show, the buzz around this part of his media frenzy was the most palpable. The appearance, despite being (or maybe because it was) heavy on the nostalgia, lived up to expectations and brought in gangbusters ratings for NBC.
Hype Level: 10
For the past seven years we've gotten no music from JT, only some middling movies (and The Social Network), with the occasional SNL appearance mixed in. His admission to the five-timers club almost seems more important in the moment for his legacy than his album release.
Timberweek on Jimmy Fallon
Want to watch a full week of a couple of dudes hanging out? That's what you'll get if you watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this week. Fallon is bringing out his Gibb Talk Show buddy every single night. In the first installment on Monday evening, the two bantered in a way that made us feel like we were listening in on a bunch of inside jokes, with nothing fully explained, but, hey, we're supposed to laugh along anyway? An example:
Hype Level: 6
Emily Yahr at the Washington Post wrote — in different words — that the struggling NBC is essentially pimping out Timberlake for a ratings boost, and that's what this seems like. A better strategy might have been to recruit Timberlake for one great bit with Fallon and let that go viral — it's a proven Fallon strategy, and certainly would have been less exhausting.
Timberlake raised eyebrows when he altered some lyrics of Suit & Tie during his SNL performance, singing "My hit's so sick, got rappers acting dramatic." It was apparently a comeback to a Kanye rant that dissed the song. Unfortunately for our hype meter this has been one of the most subtle beefs in recent years, and last night Timberlake sort of awkwardly quashed it on Fallon: "For the record, I absolutely love Kanye," he said.
Hype Level: 3
It would have been a fun story to follow, but it's essentially over now.
Hype Level: 2
Honestly, we're more excited about the possibility of Prince, and this seems to be the least public in a week of very public appearances for Timberlake. But it's for the most hype-friendly of crowds, and maybe that's the whole point of this thing anyway.