Justin Timberlake’s new album, Everything I Thought It Was, is becoming Nothing He Wanted It To Be, critically and commercially performing well below what must have been his expectations. The album is not delivering on the charts, it’s not delivering on social media, and the critics don’t care for it, either. 


I just listened to the newest episode of the New York Times Popcast podcast, hosted by music critic Jon Caramanica, which focuses on “The Justin Timberlake Conundrum”, where Jon and his guests describe JT’s album has having “no heat” and “ice cold”, not in a cool way. Apart from Justin’s most dedicated fans, the audience and the industry seems to agree that Everything I Thought It Was lacks imagination, creativity, and sonic cohesion. And, as discussed on the podcast, the marketing for the album was a strategic miss, too – Justin led with weaker material instead of other songs that might have played better which stalled any possible momentum he might have been able to generate. “Might” is the key word there, though, because right now, mainstream music is all about the girls. 


Ariana Grande and Kacey Musgraves released their new albums around the same time and are taking up much more space. And I’m sure you know who the only story in music is this week, and what’s happening tonight. Three weeks from now it’ll be Taylor Swift, and three weeks after that Dua Lipa is dropping her third album. On top of that, we’re all still waiting on new albums from Lady Gaga, SZA, and Lana Del Rey. 

The point is, if Justin Timberlake hasn’t broken through already with his new work, it’s only getting harder and harder for him going forward. 

Looking backwards, then, is what he’s relying on. I’ve mentioned several times that his tour is selling well, because people want the old sh-t, it’s the nostalgia that’s helping with sales. But where his current output is concerned, he’s staring down the reality of two back-to-back flops: Man of the Woods and Everything I Thought It Was. 


Back in the early 2010s, for a while there, there were people who put Justin and Beyoncé in the same sentence. They’re the same age, they both went solo from their respective groups around the same time and experienced instant success. And then she left him in the dust. Nobody is saying now that they are on the same level. 

Which, if we want to turn lemons into lemonade, actually makes him a little more interesting. Because now we have an opportunity to talk about where he can go from here. And that’s where they took the conversation on Popcast, with Jon and his guest making suggestions about JT’s next move, if there’s going to be another album in a few years, and how he might be able to re-hype himself. According to them, JT might want to present himself like “puddy” to hitmakers and other music producers in the business to guide him and shape a fresher sound…which… for an artist who is now considered a veteran is, well, could his ego even stand it? 


Nobody is out here writing off Justin Timberlake but with his two most recent albums not delivering to the level of his previous ones, and generating such little cultural interest, it’s worth interrogating whether or not a reset is required if he wants to reclaim relevance. 


Here are Justin and Jessica Biel earlier this week, arriving in Los Angeles.