On Critics, Artistry, and The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2

I have a bone to pick. Don’t I always?

Today, I awoke to many status updates and reviews of Justin Timberlake’s newest album, “The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2.” Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, about anything really. When it comes to my own pop culture preferences, I like to stay away from articles and comments on the Interwebs critiquing newly released works. But today, one article that popped up in my Facebook and Twitter feed got me thinking. So much so, that I cranked out most of this post while in traffic heading to the gym. [I got lost on the way, it was that intense.]

Contemporary society increasingly blurs the line between artistry and musicianship. But it seems that common consumers of pop culture aren’t familiar with the gravity of either, the relationship between them, or that they even play a roll in entertainment produced for and consumed by the masses.

According to my Facebook and Twitter, and many of the album reviews I’ve glossed over [such scholarly sources, I know], “2 of 2” isn’t as well-liked at JT’s other work. Note that he is an entertainer in a few different capacities from musician to performer, and actor to comedy sketch-extraordinaire.

For whatever reason you don’t like his album, you’re probably only affected by his place in pop culture, rather than his artistic ventures. While some say they like the first portion of “The 20/20 Experience” better, the albums were meant to be viewed as two halves to a whole body of work. It’s obvious he didn’t do it for the praise or the money, as he spent years away from music until he, as an artist, could bring something to life which he unconditionally loved. It takes courage as an artist, not to mention a pop artist, to do this nowadays. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. And if you still don’t like it, you probably didn’t pay for it anyway and JT will probably not suffer from you not purchasing his work.

Most will agree that Justin Timberlake’s music isn’t popular for its social messages, but measured by its entertainment value. But if that is the limited view in which we see pop culture, is J. Cole’s “Born Sinner” album–ridden with consciousness–merely entertaining and nothing more? How do we measure how good or bad today’s popular music is? Do we have different measures for different genres? Are songs supposed to be catchy, lyrically eloquent, or musically innovative? All or none of the above? What is your good to bad scale based on for music, or any type of art/entertainment you consume for that matter? I have both a visual and performing arts background, some music experience, and an interest in sociology. I am a recent college putting life together in a huge city. Surely your personal experience subconsciously shapes what you like in pop culture, just as mine does. Take a step back and look at why you like or dislike “2 of 2,” or whether you’d even give it a listen in its entirety. Do critics [like the one who sparked my thought process] take their own experiences into account or is their worldview really so limited that they only hear the lyrics and the limits? Who are these experts with pop culture opinions that we value so much?

Knowing the background behind any product or success story always seems to change our perspective. So, too, will the documentary detailing the making of “The 20/20 Experience.” I’m sure of it. As many times as JT’s exhausted his story–20 some odds songs in 20 days, in secret, put on hold for an entire year after production–no one cares to listen. Critics and consumers alike pay no mind to his artistic journey. [Until the documentary comes out, which we will probably buy or download.] Just because most listeners don’t have the same visceral experience that JT and his team had in the studio, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

The aforementioned article hit a sensitive spot for me when JT’s collaboration with Timbaland was questioned. To suggest a different partnership in a negative manner–because the product isn’t good enough–demonstrates that artists still aren’t fully appreciated for their craft, nor is their experience as artist recognized. To consumers, the music is simply good or bad. They like this better than that. Blah blah blah.  JT has a familial relationship with Timbaland that is not only self-proclaimed, but tangible when you see them together during performances, interviews, and appearances. To create music with someone you vibe with and adore must be a phenomenal experience that makes the product worth that much more.

Why is the music on an album not seen as a product of performance art yet? This makes me see why my non-art interested friends were so mind blown with Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” performance art documentary/video. When we talk about Jackson Pollack’s iconic splattered paintings, his angry and forceful brushstrokes are always the center of discussion. Yet when JT talks of 20 songs in 20 days, it’s a moot point. What happened to shows like “Making the Video” to “Unplugged?” Artists use to have the opportunity to share their story, albeit in limited capacity. When can the conversation move to artistry rather than musicians simply producing songs for you to use, abuse, and rip apart? You can tear apart a product meant for everyday use. You can write endless Yelp reviews, peruse Angie’s list, or go through tech blogs for your fancy gadgets. But to expect “more” from a pop culture icon who is already taking the world by storm is a different issue. If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. No one is forcing it down your throat or making you buy it. This is the artist’s struggle of self-expression, even at his status and experience. Or especially at his status and experience.

Sure, I don’t like every song on the album, but I know it is there for a reason and I appreciate JT’s boldness in giving his brainchild to the world. It may not be the most innovative, but it is certainly unexpected and disturbing, which hits the nail on the head.

Don’t you have a government shutdown to be reading up on anyway?

‘Cause if they study close, real close, they might learn something.

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