If anyone besides the man himself can with speak with authority on Justin Timberlake’s music, it’s Timbaland, his collaborator across five albums and two decades. The two shifted the musical culture with hits like “SexyBack,” “Cry Me a River,” “Summer Love,” “My Love” and more, and created a new prototype for a kind of hip-hop-informed yet suave strain of pop. Timberlake brought his boy band-honed pop melodies and powerful voice, while Timbaland brought his innovative and intuitive beats and songcraft, honed over years of creating groundbreaking productions with Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Madonna, Drake, Bjork and so many more. It’s a winning combination with a dozen-year-long hot streak, but it cooled in 2019 with Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods,” a more introspective set that was far enough removed from “SexyBack” that fans looked elsewhere for the effortless sense of fun that they’d come to associate with his sound.
But four years later, as Timbaland says below, Timberlake is coming back with a new album that returns to the “fun Justin.” Tim spoke with Variety late last month for his Pioneer Award, which he received Thursday at our annual Miami Entertainment Town event, but this is the Timberlake part of the conversation in full.
How is the new Timberlake album coming along?
I just left working with him, we just finished up and everything sounds great. Now it’s really on him how he plans to wrap it up and how and when he envisions it to come out. With an artist of his caliber, everything has to be aligned, but it’s done and it’s coming.
What does it sound like?
It’s fun Justin — it’s like “FutureSex /LoveSounds” but nothing too heavy, just giving you what you’d expect from us: not overthought, the lyrics are not so deep, it’s bob-your-head, dance-to-it music. Music is a young sport, and you have to keep it fun — fun and young. We’ve both seen a lot of life, but you can’t overthink it because of that, you have to bring out the 13-year-old, 18-year-old again, you know? If not, you can get into the old-fogey stage real quick. (Laughter) That’s just the world we live in.
So you have to know how to be authentic and true to the art and understand it, and that’s what this album is. We took our time. We had songs that maybe were too complicated, but we said “We want it to feel like ‘FutureSex’ part two,” so we picked songs that will fit that.
Do you feel like the music might have gotten too serious with “Man of the Woods”?
I think that was the statement he wanted to make — something personal. When artists have a personal things that they want to do, I kind of back myself away. Because if I have a personal thing that I’m trying to get across, I have to at least try to get it out and deal with whatever happens from that point. Me being his friend, I’m gonna try to help him make what he’s trying to do the best it can be, and with “Man of the Woods,” he had a vision and me and [co-producer] Pharrell and him tried to execute the vision to the most highest level that we could. I guess it’s kind of an autobiography album, “I’m from Memphis, I came from nothing, this is how I used to live my life in the South.”
Every artist has to get things off their chest. You do all these records and it’s like, “Cool, but let me tell you who I am.” Sometimes when an artist does that, it’s a big risk, but without risk, there’s no reward. So I thought it was a great thing for him to do. Now we’re back to the essence.
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