A new single: Justin Timberlake’s “Selfish” anticipates his forthcoming album, “Everything I Thought It Was,” set to release March 15. Unfortunately, Timberlake’s public feud with ex Britney Spears has overshadowed his music, and frankly, I’m not surprised.
The song is not good.
But allow me to be kind before being honest.
The song’s merits lie in Timberlake’s headspace making it, and if you watch his promotional interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, it’s easy to become sympathetic to this. Inspired by Donny Hathaway’s “Jealous Guy,” Timberlake says in the interview that he wanted to write a song about something “you don’t hear from men often … an emotion that makes them vulnerable.” Lyrics like “Baby who could blame you / Glad your momma made you” are an introspective attempt to deal with the insecurities of being with a woman everyone wants.
In the music video (where he is unsuccessfully filming another music video), Timberlake is frustrated with his mistakes, constrained, seeking a healthy outlet for what he feels but can’t lash out for.
But execution matters more than intention, and the song — although cute — is boring.
“Selfish” sounds like every pop song released over the past three years, a disappointing listening experience, similar to when Spotify radio generates a playlist of songs worse than the original one you wanted to hear more of. In other words: mainstream-squared. Stale.
Even its message — male vulnerability — attempts to appease contemporary obsessions rather than innovate. It’s hot right now for guys to talk about their feelings, but a superficial outpouring of emotion does not excuse low-level and unartistic delivery. A song about a jealous guy, backed by a stock instrumental, with lyrics too bubbly to say anything true about the reality of being jealous, is not going to land.
And the charts reflect that: if you’re looking for “Selfish” on the Billboard, Spotify or Apple top charts — you won’t find it. That’s probably why Timberlake is getting more attention for supposedly dissing Britney Spears at a New York concert Jan. 31, screaming “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to absolutely f--king nobody” before performing “Cry Me A River.” That song, released in 2003, is infamous for its rumored implicit accusation of Spear’s infidelity.
This happened days after Spears apologized to Timberlake via Instagram for remarks she made in her recent book, “The Woman In Me.” She has since rescinded her apology, and fans on either side are attacking each other.
My opinion: it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Britney should have known better. Team Justin.
Back to the music: I expect more from Justin Timberlake, but every artist eventually passes their prime, and this is a glaring example of just that. Long gone are the days when he dominated the pop charts (with the help of phenomenal producers Timbaland and Pharrell, let’s not forget), earning the title “Prince of Pop.”
If you’re looking for sexy, Timberlake left it back in 2006.
Does Gen Z care about Justin Timberlake? Not really. With artists like Taylor Swift, Tate McCrae and Tyla topping the charts, Timberlake’s music might be better suited for the outdated tastes of our parents.
Which pains me to say, because I remember the iPod Shuffle days of my youth as some of the best of my life, when Timberlake had my head bobbing in the car, my body rocking, my heart hoping I’d find a summer love.
I can appreciate the past without wanting to see it in the future. An artist should never stay what he once was — stagnation is a sin worse than trying something new and failing — and has every right to continue releasing music, whether it's commercially successful or not. In reality, we, the fan base, don’t matter as much as we think we do. Let the man create, regardless of wavering public opinion.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.