From 'Boyz' to Man: One Writer's Growth in the Pop Music World

FutureSex/LoveShow is a 33-show production touring 18 states with 10 dancers, a 14-piece band and multi-level, rounded stages, so female devotees can clamor and claw at the event’s mainstay, Justin Timberlake, from even more angles. Ladies reached at him while they twist ed and rubbed, crooned and cawed in their fishscale halter-tops and hip-riding jeans. The firsthand experience forced me to reacquire my appreciation for trashy pop and reanalyze my shallow musical ear.

It can be traced back to childhood, though I’m not quite sure where I began developing what I’ve been told now is a shitty taste in music – the memory is all a mess of pop and grandeur, from my sister’s fifth-grade Bette Midler solo to my mom crooning Dusty Springfield during weddings. I’ve lived with those two women for most of my life, insulated from common musical cornerstones (Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin) by mainstream divas and ear-pleasing ditties (Whitney Houston and Ritchie Valens).

So by my teens, I had to square my tastes with the real world, or risk a lynching for enjoying TLC. I closeted my “”Best of”” playlists for a long stint while feigning some deep, personal link to rock’s classics, i.e. Hendrix, Clapton and Crosby. (Who cares about a white lie, especially if it can save you from being the only guy who knows the words to “”Straight Up””?)

Good music should be about substance, not sex, and especially not Futuresex. On first listen, the album was a middle-of-the-road, half-hearted effort by a white-bread artist with illusions of talent and groove. How could a former boy-banding ex of Britney Spears even be mentioned alongside any quality musicians? Scrap your preferences, I was told, for a rebuilding of tastes. Out go the bubblegum lyrics of Aqua, in come the Eagles’ heartfelt narratives. Out goes the cornball suave of Boyz II Men, in comes the dapper sound of Dire Straits.

Just about the time all that 3LW and Destiny’s Child got flushed, along with Timberlake, I was reviewing his album for this newspaper. I gave it 3.5 stars, holding it as a testament that I had finally, in my college years, shed all attachments to pigtailed dance pop. In my review, I among other things, called him out as “”unenthusiastic,”” branded him a “”trend”” and made a quip about his flat attempt to be like Bobby Brown.

But by the time San Diego’s iPayOne Center went dark, and the wine and beer kicked in, I figured that nobody escapes their roots. So I decided to try a classic matchup: doesn’t the barefaced, stiff-lipped cool of FutureSex/LoveSounds at least hold a little ground against the gritty and grimey maturation of Michael Jackson’s Bad?

After a flurry of album listens, which included Justified, I managed to find something universal and classic in his sound – a Prince-friendly sex vibe backed by an unflinching falsetto and street-inspired funk. Even more classic: the 25-year-old even redid Elvis’ “”Heartbreak Hotel”” in a throwback shout-out for the King’s birthday, but not before he threw a charmed, purring drawl to the crowd: “”Ya’ll know, since I’m from Memphis an’ all.””

I’ll admit I was offended, even more than the time Hilary Duff covered “”Our Lips Are Sealed.”” But then the girl next to me started hyperventilating. After a three-second respite where she sat clutching at her lungs, the tween catapulted back to bumpin’ and grindin’ on the railing. “”If she loves him more than breathing,”” I thought, “”I should at least give him a chance.””

So I guess the point of all this is to renege my review, and reassure myself that I truly love shitty pop music. What I printed in this newspaper this year was supposed to be fleshed out critique of a washed-out flash-in-the-pan. It ended up becoming a knee-jerk attack on Timberlake, who was just a victim of bad timing (I was sojourning with classic rock at the time).

In conclusion, I’ll boost the album’s grade to four stars, but he’s lucky I was drunk.