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From the moment I saw the *NSYNC “Tearing Up My Heart” video, I knew that I would forever have a thing for Justin Timberlake. My prepubescent awkward younger self was terrible at making decisions, but I somehow grasped that the young man was worthy of my eternal lust.
Since then it’s been an interesting road. Justin makes incredible music, but he’s the anti-pop star. Unconcerned with saturating the market and becoming a pop hegemon, he disappears for lengthy periods of time.
He dabbled in acting, bought a floundering social network and married the obscenely beautiful Jessica Biel. However most of us JT fans have felt we never get enough of what we want from him, and that's music. But the pop culture gods have shined upon us. Justin Timberlake is back! And this week I got to see him!
Getting the tickets was far from straightforward. Tickets were sold out within minutes and I was absolutely devastated. Then I got a text from a friend who'd managed to secure tickets for the show, and knowing how much of fan I am, wanted to make me her guest. Suffice to say I screamed the house down with joy.
When I walked into the Forum, a small venue in Kentish Town, I could literally feel the anticipation from the crowd comprised of 80’s babies, a lot of them women who all looked very happy (for obvious reasons).
Justin burst on to the stage singing “Like I Love You” with a guitar strapped around his body. This was the first time in my life I wished I was an instrument.
The crowd screams, he smirks knowingly while he sings, aware of the power he has over us. Oozing charisma, sex and confidence he sings like he never left. His beautiful falsetto is still there. Those thrusts he does with his hips? Still there. He then begins to reel off his back catalogue. “My Love”, “Cry Me A River”, “Senorita”, with each song Justin reminds us why we missed him in the first place.
“Justified” was the soundtrack to my first emotionally dysfunctional quasi relationship, I still listen to it when I want to feel nostalgic. Getting to hear the songs that my 15-year-old self had on loop for months, felt rather surreal, but in the best way.
The new material was strong but unremarkable. “Mirrors” sounds like a mature and more forgiving conclusion to the drama in “Cry Me River”. It will work much better in a stadium environment, when the inevitable pop elements are weaved into the tour. “Pusher Love Girl” is a gospel-tinged track about the type of love that’s addictive and cult like, and probably what D’angelo would have created if he didn’t vanish between “Brown Sugar” and “Voodoo”. “That Girl”, is a punchy R&B number with a pulsating hook, and is what would have happened if God had made Usher and Jon B one person. It’s solid stuff, but you get the sense Justin carries the songs, rather than the songs carrying Justin. None of them are inherently magical records, but they are growers.
Like a lot of JT fans I wasn’t sure about “Suit and Tie”. In my opinion it lacked that je ne se quoi that Justin Timberlake singles have. But in a live setting, the song works great. It’s the grown and sexy anthem for those of us who on occasion like to pretend we are grown and sexy. And I suspect Justin wanted to remind us all, that even though he’s grown, he is far from out of touch because in the middle of “Suit and Tie” JT covered Trinidad James, the pseudo-rapper whose simultaneously brilliant and insipid “All Gold Everything” went viral last year.
It was the moment where my love for lower denominator Hip-Hip was validated. Clearly during his hiatus, Justin was watching the same type of sub-moronic trash on YouTube we all know we shouldn’t. (Sidebar: The fact he also managed to crochet “Bandz A Make Her Dance” and “Niggaz in Paris” into his set lends credence to my theory Justin Timberlake is undercover ratchet.)
But as the show progressed, I resolved to stop analyzing and keep my eyes on Justin.
This man's voice will have you in a love trance. Look the wrong way and you will fall in love with the wrong man. During “End Of Time” (never been my favorite song) I allowed my mind to wander for a bit.
I pondered a few things. Like the fact that Justin’s hair has come very far from his mini fro days. Now his locks are poker straight and slicked back. He looks open casket sharp. So, does Justin straighten his hair himself? Does he (like me) forget to switch off the flat iron when he’s finished? But then again those *NSYNC curls were really aggressive. So is Justin relaxing his hair and addicted to the creamy crack? Then I got chewing gum on my shoes and I snapped back to reality and headed to the ladies'.
In the ladies toilets I got to speaking to some girls who were far from impressed with the show. Turns out for some people, grown and sexy Justin just looks old and awkward. I played Justin evangelist for a bit and then remembered “HE’S STILL ON A STAGE JUST GET THE GUM OFF YOUR SHOE AND STOP TALKING.”
I got back just in time for “Sexy Back.” At that point in the show I’d completely abandoned singing along, and instead took to screaming, “YESSSSSSS!”, “JESSICA YOU BETTER TREAT THIS MAN RIGHT” and “HALLELUJAH” while dancing like a mad woman. I have never felt so comfortable acting visibly desperate for a man I have no chance with, because most of the women in the audience were doing the exact same thing.
All in all the night was a triumph against the ubiquitous Electronic Dance Music craze that’s ruined our airwaves. Justin and his band, The Tennessee Kids, brought back things we rarely see at mainstream pop gigs. Stellar musicianship, energy and art crafted in a spirit of excellence. I love the fact JT is doing it his way on his terms. It may not be bang on trend, but he’s being true to himself. Plus it’s great watching an artist grow up and still appreciate their work when you’ve transitioned from awkward teenager to awkward adult.
I came home with numb feet and a joyful heart. And I may or may not have spent an absurd time on ASOS.com trying to find an affordable “Suit and Tie.”