If you are at all curious regarding the source of Justin Timberlake’s seemingly limitless appeal across genre, gender and demographic lines, taking a look at his new video, “Not a Bad Thing,” might not be a bad place to start.
For this five-minute clip, Timberlake asked fans to submit their own photos and videos depicting significant “love stories” of their own, via a Twitter account created for the purpose. The submissions deemed the best were edited into a montage, with text superimposed to offer a glimpse into “everyday” love relationships between young, old, biracial, same-sex, parent-child and even human-pet couples.
Timberlake is barely shown in the video.
That, in a nutshell, is the source of Timberlake’s appeal. He employs abundant talent, strong songs, good looks and an “everyman” persona to foster the illusion that his fans might actually “know” him – that, indeed, he is just like them. (Though a touch wealthier, one supposes.) Timberlake went the extra mile to come across as a kind and considerate everyman when, after postponing a sold-out concert in the First Niagara Center due to health issues, he went on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show to offer a personal apology to Buffalo fans, promising the delayed show (now slotted for July 9) would be worth the wait.
People magazine deemed the “Not a Bad Thing” video “adorable” in a headline last week, and of course, it is adorable. Timberlake has this whole thing down to a science. Guys want to be him. Women want to be with him. Mothers and daughters alike can fall beneath his sway, for he’s as non-threatening as the image of a mop-topped Beatle, circa 1964. And folks who never are likely to haunt the same tax bracket can enjoy the illusion of a connection to him.
Of course, none of this would work if Timberlake didn’t have the goods in the first place. And in this area, he occupies a field of one, as he is the sole Disney/boy-band survivor, the only one who parlayed teen success into a lasting and meaningful career as an adult musician.
Far from being a has-been like so many of his peers – ex-flame Britney Spears comes immediately to mind – Timberlake has gotten better with age. His recent album “The 20/20 Experience” offered what might be the most convincing mainstream marriage of R&B, soul, pop and rock tropes since Prince conquered the world with “Purple Rain” 30 years ago. Rather than retreading kiddie pop, Timberlake has matured as a musician and singer. He has avoided becoming a parody of his younger self. He also avoided the abundantly public breakdowns, drug problems and scuffles with the law that have made pop stars like Justin Bieber old before their time.
Timberlake has transformed this ephemeral feeling of fan-star connection into very tangible Grammy Awards, a successful (both commercially and artistically) film career, and an ability to follow his artistic muse wherever it leads without necessarily fearing the backlash that often can be associated with musical envelope-pushing among the mainstream set. Whether or not he is as sincere, kind and humble as he seems to be is anyone’s guess. But Timberlake’s massive and rabid fan base believes he is all of these things. And that’s what counts.