What's behind the Justin Timberlake backlash?

What's behind the Justin Timberlake backlash?
From BBC - February 6, 2018

This should have been a triumphant week for Justin Timberlake.

His fifth album Man of the Woods - billed as a return to the singer's Tennessee roots - came out on Friday, and he played the Super Bowl Half Time Show two days later, making him the only artist to grace the coveted stage three times.

But both the record and his performance have been savaged by critics. Here's a sample of the comments.

On Man of the Woods:

On his Super Bowl performance:

Timberlake must be wondering what went wrong. Because, truth be told, there's nothing egregiously bad about either Man of the Woods or his Super Bowl performance. They are just... slightly disappointing.

The backlash feels bigger than a commentary on his music. There's a mockery and a cruelty that feels personal - as though people had a lingering resentment towards the star, and they have suddenly been given licence to express it.

For some, it goes back to his relationship with Britney Spears. After they broke up, he made music and videos that traded on their story and told several interviewers he'd taken her virginity - a personal detail that was not his to share.

For others, it's about his failure to support Janet Jackson after exposing her breast to millions of TV viewers at the 2004 Super Bowl.

Timberlake's half-hearted acknowledgement of that moment at this year's show did not go unnoticed.

"He chose to perform the song Rock Your Body, during which the famous wardrobe malfunction took place, and yet he did not mention Janet: He did not shout her out, and he stopped the song right before the line during which he ripped off her costume," pop critic Ann Powers told NPR.

"It was almost like he was trying to erase what had happened in the past, but that is just not flying in 2018."

"The Super Bowl performance invited people to reflect on the time Justin threw Janet Jackson under a bus, and what that said about race and gender," agrees Peter Robinson, editor of Popjustice.

Timberlake has also been criticised for his fumbled response to the #TimesUp movement.

He starred in Woody Allen's latest film, Wonder Wheel, but appeared not to consider the moral implications of working with the director, who has been accused of sexual abuse by his adopted daughter.

"I chose to not get into it," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "I really do not dive into any of that stuff with anybody."

He later appeared at the Golden Globes wearing a Time's Up badge, but appeared to miss the point of the movement, sharing a picture of himself and his wife Jessica Biel captioned: "DAMN, my wife is hot! #TIMESUP #whywewearblack"

"He's spectacularly misjudged this comeback in a lot of different ways," says Laura Snapes, deputy music editor at The Guardian.

"It's a terrible mess of things to do with racial signifiers and gender signifiers.

"At this point in time, we are expecting pop stars to be spokespeople on a certain level, and he's definitely not living up to that."

Last month, in an article for New York Magazine, the critic Molly Fischer dubbed this phenomenon "Pop Culture's Great Awokening".


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