Editorial: Justin Timberlake and Timbaland restore dance-pop, dissolve crossover stigma with ‘The 20/20 Experience’
Before Skrillex ever won a single golden gramophone, before Will.I.Am took his new French friend into the studio with The Black Eyed Peas, there was Justin Timberlake. Timberlake has been the poster boy for American pop culture since the 90s, and claimed both pop and dance music for himself after his first solo album dropped in 2002. His second full-length effort, FutureSex/LoveSounds, exclusively produced by Timbaland, has sold over ten million copies worldwide and churned out two Grammy Awards, Best Dance Recording in 2006, and 2007 — ironically, the same award that Skrillex has taken home the past two years.
Justin returns to reclaim that spotlight seven years later, once again with Timbaland and their Grammy-winning formula, for the release of The 20/20 Experience. The Experience, both literally and figuratively, draws the bottom line for dance-pop with 70-minutes of unflawed, timeless material. Flawless by a matured Timbaland, who pulls out all the stops developed over the twenty years of his storied career, timeless as measured up to classics dating back to a time when pop and dance were analogous in the American psyche.
Since re-sparking his own fuse at the Grammys in February, Timberlake shoots a reminder — dance music doesn’t need an electronic prefix, and it doesn’t take a DJ to produce it. Hell, it doesn’t even need explosive drops — not when it contains JT’s x-factor at least. The album’s longevity will speak for itself when history is revisited, but 20/20 will likely outlive its electronic contemporaries.
The Timberlake-Timbaland tandem has perfected what current day EDM aficionados have coined “the crossover,” or better yet have diffused its stigma. It’s not pop-house, it’s not pop-electro, and it’s certainly not the product of a stolen beat and a mediocre rapper. It’s dance-pop. And both dance and pop, while one in the same, are lost in their own fusion.
Pop culture has thankfully accommodated electronic music, allowing bleeps and climaxes to penetrate the radio, making way for artists such as David Guetta and Skrillex to find a home next to international icons. They’ve flooded a gateway with dance that had been opened by pop stars, rock stars, and all around superstars. Justin Timberlake is one of those artists that the Afrojacks of the world have to tip their hats to, but he parts the sea of electronic talent this week as The 20/20 Experience eyes a platinum debut and chart topping status.
Draw curtains, enter Timberlake, cue Shure 55 microphone pop. The album opens gracefully with the instrumentally intricate “Pusher Love Girl,” and while melodically patient, Timbaland makes his presence known with a fashionably late introduction, bringing the dance element and hitting the ground running five minutes deep.
Timbaland – real name Timothy Mosley – is another pioneer of popular music. Having influenced hip-hop since 1991, his sound has matured over the past two decades to bring an eclectic and polished sound to any record he’s laid his hands on. From Jay-Z in his earlier days, to Aaliyah, to Missy Elliot, to Justin, Mosley has had his finger on the pulse of dance since day one. Not electronic dance music, but pristine dance music with highly contagious sounds. Sounds that percolate through a multitude of genres, defy labels, and provoke grooves regardless of its context. In many ways, sounds that have aligned him with production kings — and he hasn’t had to exceed 128 bpm to don his crown.
Structuring FutureSex/LoveSounds around the demand of dance in 2006, Timbaland takes a back seat this time around, handing the steering wheel to Justin with a close eye on the rearview. Paralleling their last collaboration, Timbaland comes to play on extended records such as “Tunnel Vision” and “Don’t Hold The Wall,” where he takes the baton from Timberlake, rearranges the chords, ups the tempo, and strews signature beatboxing circa 2003.
On “That Girl,” Justin introduces The Tennessee Kids, his live band that is joined by Timbaland, who departs from his own rulebook and supplies the sounds of a full-fledged jazz ensemble – a capability of a multi-faceted musician that even the most talented of electronic producers must envy.
Through serenade and sentiment, Timberlake continues to resonate for the females while Mosley swaps hats in preparation for the album’s crest. Shifting gears from eloquent jazz, Timbaland reaches for his bongos, maracas, and castanets to provide “Let The Groove Get In” with a danceable flare as a one-man Latin band. The duo bring their collaborative magic to “Mirrors” and leave no stone unturned as they blur the line between pop, R&B, and of course, dance — but Justin revokes the climactic energy and brings 20/20 to its adieu with the passive but powerful finale of “Blue Ocean Floor.”
The seven-year wait comes to a close with ten sophisticated recordings lead by the transcendent singing of Justin Timberlake and the impeccably seasoned production chops of Timothy Mosley, packaged as a genre-braved, dance-pop album that eludes scripts written by EDM. From a majestic start to an emotional finish, between prominent hooks, beat breakdowns, vocal escapes, and clairvoyant interludes that disguise the borders between harmonic lows and animated highs, The 20/20 Experience is an aptly labeled journey. One that breaks music free from the confinements of “the crossover” and allows dance and pop to be one in the same — as it has always been, and as it will remain long after the dust settles on electronic trends.
Timberlake and Timbaland, Timbaland and Timberlake — two legends, one (more) masterpiece. With another multi-platinum record on their hands, the duo looks to recapture the title of dance maestros now that they’ve composed another landmark album. As Skrillex reigns dance music with Grammy sweeps, Justin and Timothy look to take back what’s theirs in 2014 — not in disservice to electronica, but rather, in benediction. Ten months from now they will be fancied to reclaim the Grammy for Best Dance Recording, but they won’t be stealing it from the electronic community — they’ll be sharing it.