On Friday, February 2, Groundhog’s Day (that little shit predicts six more weeks of winter, by the way) Justin Timberlake released Man of the Woods, his fifth studio album and first record in five years. On Sunday, JT will return to the Super Bowl stage for the first time in 14 years, since the infamous incident in 2004 when he exposed Janet Jackson’s right breast to the world. On paper, JT is on top of the word, returning to the limelight in giant gestures anyone this far along in their pop career would be more than grateful to receive. The problem is, well, Justin Timberlake sucks, and his new record feels like the embodiment of that—where aesthetic cohesion doesn’t have to be realized for success, apology/responsibility for blatant cultural appropriation doesn’t have to happen, and the songs, well, the songs get to be excruciatingly lackluster.
For a while there, when Man of the Woods was but a long-awaited dream, everyone thought Justin was gonna go full-on country. He did not. He flirted with the stuff, sure, but his hybrid-genre take just, well, didn’t take.
To save you the despair of actually having to listen to the 75-minute long, 16-track album, we did it for you.
Introducing....A Man of the Woods Roundtable:
Maria Sherman: The intro is really theatrical, vaudevillian even. The Panic! thing makes sense.
David Turner: This song is definitely not good, but it’s fun and stupid.
Maria Sherman: This was the first single, right? The moment we were all like “Ahh Justin’s woods-y aesthetic was only album cover/teaser trailer-level deep.” He’s back on his old R&B bullshit.
Frida Garza: If you still think this is gonna be a country album this song really sets the tone and is like “SIKE!”
Frida Garza: Wait. Is it a Chance the Rapper sample? In the beginning? From “Juke Jam”? Actually, not a sample, but it’s the same rhyme, pattern and flow.
Maria Sherman: The “Y’all can’t do better than this / Act like the South ain’t the shit” line makes me want to turn this off—here’s where the cultural appropriation really sets in. Song two!
David Turner: I sort of liked that part because it reminds me of the 2006 track “Let Me Talk To You/My Love.”
Maria Sherman: That’s exactly it!
Frida Garza: That’s the part that sounds like “Juke Jam.”
Shawn Cooke: “Midnight Summer Jam” is a song I wouldn’t mind hearing in the produce section.
Frida Garza: I hate this. What is this riff?
Maria Sherman: It reminds me of what virtuosic teen guitarists play in public settings. I do not like it.
Frida Garza: The pink/purple analogy is not his best, lyrically speaking. It’s weird that as he’s gotten older he seems to have reverted to sounding like a teeny bopper.
David Turner: I’ll say R&B and funk lyrics are often bad and weird. It’s more in the delivery than the technical word play that sells them.
Frida Garza: His delivery sounds like he’s trying to be Charlie Puth here.
Frida Garza: This video is like a tutorial in how rich people camp, or how they live in the woods? Maybe it’s not camping if that’s just their home. The scene with multiple Justin Timberlakes harmonizing feels like a Saturday Night Live parody gone wrong.
Shawn Cooke: This is basically a glamping album.
Maria Sherman: Man of the Glamp.
Shawn Cooke: Just as a song, this sounds like something that might have been rejected from the new Lion King soundtrack.
David Turner: I really liked this music video, but I didn’t love the song.
Frida Garza: Is he trying to be woke in the video and the song? It’s kind of stressful.
Shawn Cooke: He’s trying way too hard. I don’t know, for me the bridge is the only part that works here—it truly feels like it’s from a different song. He’s barely dipping his toes into so many different ideas [on this album,] the pre-apocalyptic prepping, trap, and glamping. It just makes you wish he picked one.
David Turner: This song is boring.
Frida Garza: Somehow it is not as bad as some of the other ones we’ve heard? It feels “very early 2000s acoustic Starbucks-core.”
Shawn Cooke: This one, along with “Morning Light,” is the most cookie-cutter/country adjacent stuff, but the production’s also really distracting?
Frida Garza: There’s a line in here that goes “Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.” Hello, JT, take your own advice!
Shawn Cooke: These arrangements feel cluttered with handclaps. I get that it’s the case on most pop albums, but this one truly feels like a million different hands were laboring over it (and not in a good way.)
David Turner: There’s always a bit too much happening on this album. Live, that’s probably fine, but on record it feels a bit like “I Have A Nice Stereo System” music.
Frida Garza: Good God.
Maria Sherman: A spoken word section from his wife, exactly what I wanted, with a repetition of “I’m his / I’m his / I’m his.”
Frida Garza: It’s not that deep, Jessica Biel. This sounds like a fragrance commercial. Gender roles, still totally in place here.
Shawn Cooke: To put on Justin’s flannel is to become Justin.
Frida Garza: This is a Christmas Carol.
Maria Sherman: There’s some subliminal Jesus-mongering in here.
Frida Garza: Maybe it’s “The Little Drummer Boy”? Just start going “pa rum pum pum pum” over the verses and you’ll hear it.
Shawn Cooke: It’s way too syrupy—some first album Ed Sheeran stuff.
Shawn Cooke: Wow I didn’t realize the Neptunes did almost every song on here, this one sounds the most classically Pharrell.
David Turner: I like this one for that exact reason—it’s just a Neptunes song from 1999, or 2008, or 2013.
Shawn Cooke: I am...not sure how Montana comes into play. He wants to go back? Interesting, since he’s never been.
Frida Garza: “Montana” is the least egregious so far. “I need a compass,” [what a lyric.] [This is] more glamping.
David Turner: This song just broke my headphones.
Shawn Cooke: Oh shit, Justin has a house in Montana! Sorry, Justin!
Maria Sherman: Justin’s Walden.
Frida Garza: This is so inoffensive that it’s offensive.
David Turner: I mean, it’s fine, but also I never want to hear it again.
Shawn Cooke: The most “nothing” of all the songs, probably.
Shawn Cooke: This samples The History Channel.
Frida Garza: Oh my god, there is a pan flute on here.
Shawn Cooke: He’s teaching a young man (of the woods!) to speak.
Frida Garza: This is so boring, so soothing and safe. I’m disappointed, given how many bangers JT has been behind in his lifetime. This song reminds me of the song Macklemore did for his daughter, “Growing Up (Sloane’s Song.)“
Shawn Cooke: There are a few entries in the “big artist teaches baby life lessons in song” category that I can handle. This is not one of them. We don’t need a song about this. Just talk to ‘em!
Frida Garza: I wanna say now that we’re done listening to the album, I played “Filthy” again and it sounds so good in comparison.
Shawn Cooke: Our first and last time in the woods.
Listen to Man of the Woods below.