Justin Timberlake’s album, Everything I Thought It Was, is nothing I thought it would be

April 12, 2024

Courtesy of ICON/AP

Is it possible to reinvent yourself in the music industry? It happened with Taylor Swift’s transition from country to pop and Beyoncé doing the reverse, but not everyone has the same success. 

In March, Justin Timberlake released Everything I Thought It Was (EITIW), his sixth studio album and first album in six years. With guest appearances from Fireboy DML, Tobe Nwigwe, and Timberlake’s band, NSYNC, the album features a variety of genres, ranging from electropop to more relaxed R&B. A significant change from Timberlake’s classic, 2000s boy-band hits, the album is Timberlake’s attempt to demonstrate his versatility and re-emphasize his vocal talent. However, EITIW has performed poorly on the charts, with other artists like Kacey Musgraves and Beyoncé completely overshadowing his release. 

Everyone knows Timberlake for his iconic songs “SexyBack” and “Rock Your Body”—raunchy and bold tunes with catchy beats you can easily dance to. Most people can recognize  “SexyBack” from the first few bars. Likewise, the jazzy tune of “Rock Your Body” is equally infectious. This style is what Timberlake does best, but, according to Vox, “Justin Timberlake’s ‘bad boy’ image always had an expiration date.” At age 43, has this date finally come?

Scandal has surrounded the release of this album since the publication of Britney Spears’ memoir, The Woman in Me. An ex-girlfriend of Timberlake’s, Spears airs the dirty laundry regarding their relationship in her memoir, shedding light on Timberlake’s previous objectionable behavior and character. Furthermore, even in an industry that historically favors privileged white men, Timberlake doesn’t really stand out. With the combination of his bland persona and the negative commentary swirling around him, it’s no surprise his album didn’t perform well. The public’s lackluster reaction might be a sign that Timberlake’s time in the music industry is coming to an end, and personally, I won’t be disappointed.

If you go into this album expecting the same vibe as his old music, you will be confused at best and disappointed at worst. You might not even realize you’re listening to Justin Timberlake. The opening track, “Memphis,” is a calm, relaxed song with lofi beats playing consistently in the background, which doesn’t set a strong foundation for the listener. Unlike the pop anthems of his earlier work,  this song is more fitting for my study playlist. It includes Timberlake’s sorrowful reflections on his past alongside lyrics insisting upon his growth as a person—a fittingly remorseful tone considering the skeletons in his closet that Spears brought to light. Regardless, it’s an underwhelming opening to the album which leaves you hoping for something more exciting–except it never comes.

In the highlight single, “Selfish,” Timberlake digs deeper into his emotions and sings openly of jealousy. With lyrics like “You’re the owner of my heart / And all my scars / Baby, you got such a hold on me,” his passionate longing is laid bare for everyone to see.

Reminiscent of Timberlake’s 2000s hits, “Selfish” is the best song on the album with its catchy tune and relatable lyrics. However, the uninspiring lofi beats in the background don’t offer much in the way of musical complexity. I can acknowledge and appreciate Timberlake’s attempt to transition into a more lyrical, poetic version of himself, but the album’s lukewarm message misses the mark of success. EITIW ends up falling in this weird gray area between soulful R&B and upbeat pop music—perhaps it is better suited for the background of a cafe.

Thematically, Everything I Thought It Was is caught between Timberlake’s past and future. While “Memphis” delves into his regrets, others such as “Love and War” and “My Favorite Drug” speak to his desires to spark a new flame. In “Love and Warm” Timberlake sings about how his “baby” is the only one he wants to be with and make love to; “My Favorite Drug” speaks about meet-cutes and new loves. Meanwhile, other love songs such as “What Lovers Do,” a sensual ode to having a lover and appreciating their body, just come off as shallow and unoriginal.

In the album, Timberlake seems to be irrationally consumed by a constant longing for romantic connection. Furthermore, strangely vague references to darkness and light are sprinkled throughout but are half-heartedly expanded upon and fail to relate with the rest of the album. Most songs in the 77-minute album are about the same concepts—a long time to whine about the same thing. While there are a couple fun pieces thrown into the mix, it’s ultimately a recycled mix of the same funky pop beats featured in every other generic pop song out there right now. By the end of the listen, Timberlake leaves you disappointed and wanting something with more depth. While many other artists have pulled musical reinvention off successfully and have flourished, Justin Timberlake is not one of them. In fact, this album could very well be his farewell to music.

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Clearly you just needed something negative to write. I bet you didn’t even listen to one full song. Lame article