A Second-by-Second Guide to Justin Timberlake’s Interminable ’20/20 Experience’


Justin Timberlake’s long-awaited new album, The 20/20 Experience, is out next week, and as we reported earlier this morning, you can stream the whole thing via iTunes. If you followed the link we posted, you may have noted that the album is well over an hour long, and because we are gluttons for punishment devoted to music journalism, your music editor has faithfully listened to the thing from start to finish, noting down his thoughts as he went. Pray for him.

“Pusher Love Girl” 0:01 Well, now, listen to those Wizard of Oz strings. References to the Golden Age of America past! Oh, the nostalgia!

0:25 So, we’ve got the title figured out already: the “20/20 experience” is hindsight, no?

0:35 The strings give way to a slow grinding beat and lyrics that employ that oldest of rock ‘n’ roll tropes: the drug metaphor. But wait, they didn’t have drugs in the Golden Age of American Culture, did they? Or was Dorothy just on bad smack all along?

2:00 Bawdy double entendre watch: “You gave me a taste/ Now I know that there’s no getting off you.” Ooh, matron!

2:35 “People call me a user/ But I want you to go on and use me, too.” Christ, he’s stringing out this metaphor for all it’s worth. He’s strung out! See? We can do it too!

3:20 Repeat the chorus.

4:48 Here come the strings again. So this song’s over, basically…? Isn’t it?

5:00 Why, no. Not for another THREE MINUTES.

5:38 “My hero-wine! My cocaine! My plum wine! My MDMA! I’m hopped up on you! It won’t go away! And I can’t wait until I get home and get you in my veins!”

6:24 “My nicotine! My blue dream! My hydroponic candy jelly bean!” Justin, we need to talk about drugs.

8:00 This song is still going. It should have ended about five minutes ago. This will become something of a theme as this album goes on.

“Suit and Tie” 0:01 Right, so, the lead single. You’ve all heard this: the brand placement, the casual materialism, the Instagram aesthetic that was debuted at the Grammys when they literally turned the whole telecast sepia. Woo.

0:45 “Are you ready, JT?”

0:46 “Why, yes, that entirely superfluous 45-minute intro has gotten me in the mood!”

1:30 A declaration of intent: “As long as I got my suit and tie/ I’mma leave it on the floor tonight.” Yep, dress sharp, slick your hair back, flash your cash and the ladies will throw themselves at your twinkle-toed feet. Woooo.

3:15 Oh, good, here comes full-time walking hip-hop lifestyle brand and part-time actual rapper Jay-Z.

3:50 “Tom Ford tuxedos for no reason/ All saints for my angel/ Alexander Wang too.” Oh, for the love of god, stop it.

4:00 Look, honestly, I’m not being contrarian here, but Jay-Z has been mumbling for decades. and he’s not even trying to rhyme here. He’s just listing whatever brands he’s struck deals with.

4:50 An outro that actually works, mainly because it’s only 30 seconds long and doesn’t repeat the chorus eleventy gazillion times.

“Don’t Hold the Wall” 0:15 The uncategorical imperative: “Dance/ Don’t hold the wall.”

0:30 The production here is pretty great, actually — there’s jittery beat lurking at the edges of the stereo spectrum, along with string samples that drift in and out of the mix, and a rolling bass figure that only gets dropped very occasionally. This is a good headphone track.

1:00 A lascivious, pleading, slightly insistent vocal.

2:55 Breakdown. Strings and Timberlake whispering at you.

4:25 Another breakdown. Synth bass and cowbell! And a sample: “How d’you like it? You shouldn’t have to ask me that question.”

5:00 Now Timberlake’s back in the mix, imploring me to come on and dance. This reminds me of being at an expensive nightclub where refusing to dance is not only frowned upon, it’s like an affront to everyone else there who’s shelled out a fuckton of money for bottle service and are determinedly Enjoying Themselves. “Dance/ Don’t hold the wall.” But Justin, I like the wall. I don’t like people demanding that I enjoy myself. I… oh, wait, you’re talking to my girlfriend, aren’t you?

5:45 See, this is where the track should end. Fade it back.

6:45 Clearly. This. Did. Not. Happen.

“Strawberry Bubblegum” 0:01 More strings! More evocations of a bygone golden era of American culture! The romanticism of the silver screen… The glamor of black-and-white photos… The McCarthyism… The conservatism… Um…

0:05 Some dude who sounds like the reincarnation of Barry White is telling me, “Hey pretty lady, this goes out to you.” Well, thanks, but…

0:25 “This is dedicated to you…”

0:35 “Dedicated to you…”

0:50 More interesting production, but it cannot change the fact that this is a rather saccharine love song based around the fact that JT is comparing his paramour to strawberry bubblegum. “Your flavor’s so original.” This is why it’s probably a good idea to have someone around to say, “No, Justin, that is a fucking terrible idea.”

3:00 Where “Don’t Hold the Wall” moved through several phases, this song has consisted of Timberlake banging on the bubblegum metaphor. Again. And. Again.

4:30 He has literally been saying “my little strawberry” for the last 30 seconds.

5:00 Fade. Is this song finished?


6:00 Deep despair is setting in.

6:30 He is still singing about strawberry bubblegum.

7:30 He is still singing about strawberry bubblegum.

8:00 This song was eight minutes long. EIGHT MINUTES LONG. And it had two verses. About bubblegum. God help us all.

“Tunnel Vision” 0:01 OK, we have a beat again. This sounds somewhat promising, as does the intro claim that “I know you lie.” Timberlake’s best songs have always been his bitter, somewhat edgy ones, not his godawful Disney-lite ballads.

0:20 Wait, did he just say, “I’m feeling so close to you/ I think it’s this lotion”?

0:30 The production here has largely abandoned the retro feel of the opening tracks, returning to something approximating the futurism of JT’s best work. This is a positive development.

1:30 OK, so the lyric is based around the idea that his “camera lens is only set for zoom,” and that he has “tunnel vision for you.” He will reinforce the latter point eight times in a row during the chorus.

2:30 Abiding impression: this song isn’t terrible, which looks like about the best we can hope for at this point.

4:40 The outro is still wayyyyy too long, though. This is starting to feel like JT’s Be Here Now, an album where every song is two minutes too long because no one dared tell its creator that every song was two minutes too long.

5:30 “What do we do now, Timbaland?”

5:35 “Well, Justin, how about you sing the chorus one more time. You can never sing the chorus too many times!”

6:00 “And perhaps now… an extended outro?”

6:05 “Why, yes, I was thinking the same thing!”

“Spaceship Coupe” 0:20 Ooh! That synth bass would put Ginuwine to shame!

1:00 The chorus: Justin’s car is not a car at all. It is in fact an interstellar shagging wagon, wherein you can make love on the moon. We are having visions of Timberlake and Timbaland getting it on inside Carl Sagan’s flawless white spacecraft. This is not a thing that anyone should ever have to imagine.

1:50 “Everyone knows you’re from outer space!” This is like a less funky version of Jamiroquai’s “Cosmic Girl.” Take that as you will.

2:40 “Sing the chorus again, Justin! Again! Again!”

3:20 Spacey breakdown! Vocodered vocals and a clap that’s been treated with every reverb Timbaland can find.

3:50 Wait, what’s this? A guitar solo? Do they have them on the moon?

4:20 In fairness, this is getting less sucky as it goes along. Still, the most amazing thing about this is that the Spaceship Coupe doesn’t have some sort of branding on it.

5:25 A weird sort of orgasm sample that terminates in a scream that sounds like a mouse squeaking. Is this what happens in the Spaceship Coupe? If so, we’ll stay right here on earth.

6:00 A long, leisurely outro (you’d never guess, would you?) that sounds like it’d be best appreciated in some sort of Hollywood Hills jacuzzi with a bottle of heinously expensive champagne and a small bucket of exceptionally good cocaine. Living the Hollywood dream, again.

7:00 There’s something a bit Frank Ocean about this, actually, except without the edge.

“That Girl” 0:05 Behold, the only song on this album less than five minutes long. It positively flies by, especially as it comes with a sort of faux-Pulp-Fiction-style intro wherein someone welcomes “JT and the Tennessee Kings” to a fictional stage.

0:35 A horn section and Barry White-style crooning (albeit two octaves higher, obviously.)

1:20 “I’m in love with that girl, so don’t be mad at me.” We have to rewind to make sure he’s not saying “I’m in love with a black girl,” which is kinda what it sounds like at first listen. But no, no interracial romances here — just Timberlake appropriating paying homage to black music. Wooo.

2:20 “So what if you’re from the other side of the tracks?”

3:00 “Pretty lady/ You always be my baby, baby, baby/ It’s so amazing/ How you became my baby, baby, baby/ My little daisy/ Come here and let me rock you like a baby, baby, baby/ Pretty lady/ Don’t you know you’ll always be my baby, baby, baby.” Jesus wept.

3:20 More horns, more crooning, more zzzzzzzzzz.

“Let the Groove In” 0:01 Um, now then, what’s this? Faux Afrobeat?

0:15 No, really. It’s a sort of ersatz African chant with Timberlake hollering “Right there, right there/ Let the groove get in/ Right there, right there/ Are you comfortable?” over a bongo and a bass drum, with some suitably exuberant horns thrown in for good measure.

0:50 We check the tracklist to make sure that this song is not in fact “Rich White Guys” by Justin Timberlake feat. Ezra Koenig.

1:30 Timbaland’s even EQed the chant thing to make it sound like it was recorded out in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to in a crushingly expensive recording studio.

2:10 Auto-Tuned middle eight bit. Some things never change.

2:50 The thing is, though, that beyond its rather eye-catching arrangement, nothing actually happens in this song….

7:10 …which clearly isn’t any impediment to stringing it out for another five minutes, hey?

“Mirrors” 0:01 Big widescreen epic intro! Coming soon to a sports highlight reel near you!

0:10 Big widescreen verse! So many feelings! Angst! Regret! Love! All dispensed in carefully measured doses in the pristine Timberlake/Timbaland laboratory to make this the perfectly emotive song for people who buy exactly one record a year!

1:00 The Big Chorus. “I don’t wanna lose you now/ I’m lookin’ right at the other half of me/ The vacancy that sat in my heart/ Is a space that now you hold/ Show me how to fight for now/ And I’ll tell you baby, it was easy/ Coming back into you once I figured it out/ You were right here all along.”


1.12 (As an aside: how exactly does one hold a vacancy, anyway? And why does it sound like JT is comparing getting it on with him to getting some sort of entry-level internship?)

1:20 Wow, this song even has that “woah-oah” thing.

1:30 “You were right here all along.” SHE WAS, JUSTIN. SHE WAS.

1:40 So this is gonna be the next single, no?

3:20 The middle eight. So many feelings.

3:45 The chorus again! With all the instruments except the drums dropped out! And Timberlake doing that thing where he emotes over his own backing vocals because he’s just FEELING SO MUCH GODDAMMIT.

4:15 The chorus again! Never enough choruses!

5:05 A string section!

5:20 A Mormon Tabernacle choir! (OK, we made that bit up.)

5:35 A bunch of people chanting “You are, you are/ The love of my life!” (We didn’t make that bit up.)

5:36-8:01 Extended outro. Obviously. Features keytar, curiously.

“Blue Ocean Floor” 0:01-0:45 Curious intro of backwards synth samples. Possibly meant to evoke the sea floor of the title, or the sound of orcas gamboling in boundless oceans, or something. Either way, at least they’re not a giant overbearing ballad, so small mercies.

1:10 “Tidal wave rushing on and on.” You’ll never guess what he’s using this as a metaphor for.

3:00 This is actually a rather pretty ballad, especially after the bombast of “Mirrors.” It’s really just JT singing over the strangely atmospheric orca synths, and the minimalism is both refreshing and effective.

5:20 “Fade out and disappear…” Ah, it’s a quietly understated and pretty end to the record…

5:25 PSYCH! No, there’s a three-minute outro. Of course there is.

7:22 Abiding impressions: sigh.