Friday, March 8th, 2013

Justin Timberlake – Mirrors

What goes around comes back around… and around…


Al Shipley: How much of the Timberlake/Timbaland catalog consists of songs that sound exactly like “Cry Me A River” and “What Goes Around”? 40 per cent? At least this album doesn’t have the word “future” in the title, I guess. 

Alfred Soto: Going eight minutes because he can, this Brillo-haired dork belts awkwardly over a rejected “What Comes Around…” percussive loop — a marketing concept this shrewdie will no doubt appropriate. Better then to think the angst is self-directed: in the mirror he sees aesthetic paralysis in the guise of Bruno Mars.

Brad Shoup: Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Justin Timberlake is kind of a choad, right?

Ian Mathers: Too much money and talent has been poured into this for it to be outright bad, but it sure as hell is not compelling on its own merits. And then we hit “you reflect me, I love that about you,” which is gross enough it feels like it was airdropped in from one of his Lonely Island guest spots.

Will Adams: I’m having trouble seeing how these eight minute suites aren’t totally self-indulgent. The first five minutes are one big whine over an overused metaphor. It’s like some pre-emptive penance we have to pay in order to unlock the lovely coda, which Timberlake doesn’t even have the decency to turn into a full song — all he’s doing is vamping over the top. Unfortunately, the more I loop those last three minutes, the more I question whether I like it solely because it’s salvation from the drivel that preceded it.

Iain Mew: The minimalist and direct last section, with its mantra of “You are the love of my life” and gorgeous twinkling synths, has more impact than all of the tortured metaphors and increasingly ridiculous fanfares of the first section can manage in twice the time. The thing is that the limited commonality and the juxtaposition of the two sections both add so little that there’s no reason to listen to the whole thing at all.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Here’s a free lifehack for you, readers of The Singles Jukebox: open up the media player of your choice, select “Mirrors” and change the start time to 5:24 i.e. roughly when the gorgeous Terius Nash-leaning coda begins. Before that, there are over five minutes of sports montage music with every possible Timbaland splutter-mouth percussion trick laid underneath (once wonderful, now a crutch), then a Bonnie Tyler-esque chorus with all the world’s strings slathered on top, then… well, really that is most of it. Over and over, louder and louder, at least until the music drops into a set of stadium hand claps and JT celebrates a Phyrric victory with some vocal runs. “Suit & Tie” was hesitantly received on its release but it continues to surprise a month and change after it dominated radio. Hearing it in a sweatbox environment last weekend through a good pair of subwoofers and amongst a dancefloor full of pissed revellers highlighted just how elegantly alien it is, even before Jay-Z’s lurching bullet-time verse begins. As relentlessly busy as it is, “Mirrors” is just boring. The outro — that scratchy, lovely dedication to newly married life — very, very nearly makes it worth it. But that’s what lifehacks are for. Lifehacked edit: [8] As a whole:

Scott Mildenhall: It’s 2006! It’s 2002! And it’s 1998, all at once. The ’90s aspect is the most interesting; the pained down-on-my-knees-and-begging-you-please over-earnestness and, curiously, scratchy vocals recalling some of Justin’s earliest ‘N Sync recordings, those made when he was just 15 and the scratchiness came naturally. The difference between them and “Mirrors” is 17 years of musical and life experience. With something like “Tearin’ Up My Heart” he was merely acting out a role; these days he knows exactly what he means, and who he means it towards. Justin Timberlake is Grown Up now. Nonetheless, “Mirrors” is about a thousand times more overwrought than any ’90s boyband single you could care to mention, and around twice as long. It’s completely brilliant and completely ludicrous, and yet, for maybe the first time, completely sincere.

Anthony Easton: Works about obsessive looking into mirror suggest an anxious or neurotic refracting of an unstable identity (see the fairy tales of  Snow White, or films like Last Year in Marienbad, Vertigo, or the Candyman horror movies, or pop songs like Bowie’s “Cracked Actor,” or Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” or the theories of Mulvey or Lacan). Narcissus gazed so far into the pond, it “stared back to him” and he wasted away — he could literally “get no back to me.” A psychoanalytic theory argues that the place where the homosocial sublimates into the homosexual, and the self is lost to the other, happens in this gaze: the staring/wasting away of Narcissus is a way to engage in a precise erotic looking without engaging in the sexuality that might follow it. Timberlake’s eight-minute obsessive production hints at those two intertwined theories, but it shifts to something quite different. It has him staring in the pond, the split of the personae, but it concentrates on someone else — and it lacks a complete anxiety. The production is so excessive, so obsessive, that any ideas we might have been about mirror float into silver gossamer. The lyrics can be ignored. 

Katherine St Asaph: Guys, I just don’t know about this Sophie B. Hawkins remix.

Reader average: [6.7] (27 votes)

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42 Responses to “Justin Timberlake – Mirrors”

  1. If this song means something, that meaning is the comeback of The Man. This is how is supposed to sound JT.

  2. I agree that the lyrics can be ignored. I’ve enjoyed this song for a few weeks, almost unreservedly, and when one of the more embarrassing couplets floats to the surface of my conscious understanding, I find it easy to push them back down.

    So then what is the purpose of the brief, name-dropping discourse on psychoanalytic theories of the mirror?

  3. Also the fact that Timberlake and Mosely are so flagrantly borrowing from their earlier successes doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it does other folks. It’s an earworm, and a pleasant one.

  4. A line like “you reflect me, I love that about you” is probably best ignored as romantic doggerel rather than speculated about as some window into JT’s narcissism. But what’s most relevant (to me) is that the melody, by varying the length of each vocal line in a pattern that is defiantly catchy, is probably at its best right there.

    The remit of TSJ is to offer opinions on contemporary pop music. But when something like this comes along–where a general popularity seems at odds with the (lack of) esteem it’s held in here–I long for a pop-music criticism that might attempt to explain, while reserving judgement, _why_ a particular song seems to catch folks’ fancy. Obviously there are potent “extramusical” factors, especially re. a song freighted with “comeback” expectations. But I still think there’s a reason that this song gets stuck in my head that a true analysis might bring out. Frankly such an analysis could be 5x as interesting as any opinion, no matter how cleverly expressed. (Of course I’m less inclined to say all this about some mega-popular song I don’t happen to like, but it would still apply.)

  5. Well, for me it gets stuck in my head because parts of it sound exactly like the chorus of “As I Lay Me Down.” This is not a good thing. (I actually can’t hear “Cry Me a River” or “What Goes Around…” at all!)

  6. I’m bored. The first time I heard this I just wanted to listen to the amazing “What Goes Around Comes Around”.

  7. Many of your contributions to TSJ overall strike me either pretentiously verbiose or affectedly naïve (though equally banal or meaningless). Occasionally you write a clear, sensible, “textually”-supported observation, and in those cases I find myself agreeing with you more often than not.

  8. The extramusical factors are the WHOLE STORY, though. They’re also utter crap — does nobody remember that Justin’s last single wasn’t “What Goes Around” but the awful “Carry Out”? — but being a Pop Star in 2013 is all about leveraging extramusical reasons to your advantage, so whatever, not as if dude isn’t doing what everyone else does.

    The problem is that JT going the Bruno Mars route (down to straight-up copying his Grammy staging!) is the safest, laziest strategy possible. Like, not even Bruno Mars is going that route. Basically, I wanted JT’s “Climax” (which might be beyond Timberlake, but then again everyone had thought it was beyond Usher or forgotten Usher could pull that off.) How hard would it have been to add another Justin to Diplo’s resume?

    And also this sounds like a bad remake of “As I Lay Me Down.” Which explains the earworm but doesn’t excuse it.

  9. Rebecca:

    Was that directed to me or to Ted?


  10. Ted’s own words directed back at Ted because I am a sassy teen.

  11. So according to Ted a “true analysis” (lolwut) would skip the pointedly misogynist/gross lyrics because, hey, HE doesn’t mind them. It’s not like there’s any songs with good melodies that don’t have lyrics you have to ignore!

    Also the idea that you could somehow absolutely quantify why one pop song becomes an earworm and another doesn’t, extramusical factors or not, is pretty goofy.

  12. I appreciate Ted’s thoughts and his self-awareness. Still, to explain why other people like (or hate) a song would be a tedious undertaking, no? The fun in TSJ is the range of attacks: purely musical, quick jokes, psychoanalytical close readings, cultural context, personal resonance, artist history. Our best entries approach a song in a dozen different ways, which makes sense: we have a lot of folks chipping in at any given moment.

  13. Also, ‘Mirrors’ kinda blows. Can we move this debate over to the ‘Treat Me Like A Pirate’ thread and start all out war from there?

  14. Expressing judgment of Ted’s opinion is unproductive and unprofessional. I thank the contributors who engaged his discourse, using their critical thinking to explore the implications of his ideas and not placing themselves, even unintentionally, above him. Every reader, even one you disagree with..a lot, is a great thing to have. And it sends the message to people who may not comment much that everyone truly is welcome.

  15. For the record, I am PISSED that JT has not been in a Californians sketch. Would have been my finest moment as photo editor.

  16. not saying that gaining understanding of what makes people like a song (what makes it stick) should come at the expense of everything else you can do with/write about a song that’s done here. just that when my own opinion of a song, or TSJ’s collective opinion of a song, differs from a broader audience reaction (which is a lot of the time), I begin to wonder how we can explain the appeal of the song just seems like an interesting and possibly productive task that is only attempt here occasionally and tentatively.

    “true analysis” was a poor word choice. didn’t mean to imply that people weren’t analyzing stuff here. i just meant that if you carry out the sort of analysis I’m hinting at to a reasonable extent (instead of just noting one catchy part of the arrangement and leaving it there) i think the results would be interesting.

    sorry if it seems like I’m picking on anthony easton, and I guess I am. it’s just that every time I search for TSJ’s thoughts about a particular song that interests me, I find what strikes me as an objectionable/pretentious comment by him. here he seems to be showing off his (not really that impressive) knowledge of cultural theory’s heavy hitters, but in a way that he acknowledges is totally irrelevant to the song under discussion. I’m not sure that this sort of self-awareness makes it any less grating. more, maybe.

  17. You gotta understand, though, that if one person decides to go HAM on the entire arrangement, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for everyone else. If this were a regular music-reviewing site, there’d be one person deconstructing the song, and he or she could go as detailed as desired. We have between 6 and 12, generally, and I think most of us zoom in on the parts, trusting that all the blurbs reach some kind of whole.

  18. how would you like me to review things Ted?

  19. The appeal of the song is twofold, possibly threefold:

    1: The only thing propping Timberlake and Timbaland up is a bullshit “return of the greats” narrative that people repeatedly haven’t called bullshit on.

    2: People really like wedding-safe Robin Thicke-n-B.

    3, possibly: Some people are too invested in Justin Timberlake’s love life.

  20. Yo anyone who read my comment has to understand it’s a straight up copy/paste of a previous Ted comment

  21. a “mirror,” if you will

  22. katherine, two of your answers presuppose an audience that has been sold a bill of goods, rather than an audience that finds something arresting in the music itself. I don’t have a problem with Robin Thicke but this song codes as less R&B than most of RT’s stuff, no? I mean the drum patterns and Tim’s beatboxing, obv, but the texture of the song is equal parts bombastic Coldplay-axis rock (as was referenced in their last collaborative album and, yeah, it’s dated) and unlike suit&tie there aren’t many vocal/lyrical nods to R&B as a genre.

    anthony: I dunno. it’s not for me to prescribe! maybe start by not name-dropping Theory at any opportunity? it’s not a good look.

  23. btw if I’m oversensitive to that it’s just that I end up hearing stuff like “I’m gonna drop some Deleuze on [insert lowbrow reality TV series here]!” too often. ostentatious attempts to bridge the high-low divide always strikes me as self-regarding and counterproductive (b/c it’s not really a divide).

  24. Every musician is selling you a bill of goods. The ones who claim otherwise have 300 SoundCloud views (or album sales, YouTube hits, etc.) and don’t know why.

  25. ok, so I listened to the album and immediately took a shower (literally, that is, but I also felt like I needed a shower immediately, SO MUCH CHEESY PICKUP SHIT).

    the appeal of “Mirrors,” it seems to me, is the same as the appeal of Beyonce’s “Halo.” which, to me, sucks in many of the same ways.

  26. Have I ever qouted Delueze?

  27. Anthony. Don’t feed the troll.

  28. This thread is oh so lockable.

  29. im actually not intending to. i am responding to criticisms

  30. lol anthony dropping Theory literally comes off as a billion times less pretentious than ted writing without it. and i’m not sure what would inspire us to talk about this song’s popularity to the masses when it seems to only be popular in the UK? most of the blurbers here are north american. also that’s not what TSJ is for.

  31. I don’t think Ted is trolling; he’s merely trying to provoke a serious discussion about the value of Theory as an interpretative tool when it comes to contemporary pop music.

  32. The value of theory as an interpretative tool when it comes to contemporary pop music (or any music): to help express how one feels about it

    k everyone go home that’s enough you’re not children there’s no reason to get worked up abt how someone chooses to talk abt a mediocre 8 minute long justin timberlake song

  33. you’re not children

    Well, fuck, someone better tell Justin Timberlake.

  34. I think Anthony’s blurb is perfectly clear (IMO pretentiousness is a quality inherent in reader response rather than text; *clarity* is the writerly goal). The question of why he took this angle if he doesn’t think the lyrics matter is a valid one, so I’ll opine that I *do* think the lyrics matter, and their corny narcissistic fatuousness completely ruin the song for me. :P Otherwise, I liked the first 2:30 a lot musically, and the outro. Rated “Suit & Tie” highly, have heard one other of the 8-minute suites and was not impressed.

  35. I guess you haven’t quoted Deleuze, Anthony. Just Lacan and Mulvey etc. So I guess my entire criticism is defeated.


  37. Hi. Can you nominate a comments section for Best Musical Writing? Can I even nominate things for BMW? Who am I even? Someone stop this trainnnnnnn

  38. And yet “Mirrors” is still longer than this.

  39. For that to be the case we’d have to – at the very least – clock one comment per 12.7 seconds. Which I think is something to aspire to one day.

  40. oof. sry 4 calling ya’ll children, that was not thought out well

    those italics really emphasize the douchiness of it, KSA. so, thx…

  41. I think we’re only at like minute 0:30 of “Mirrors”

  42. 1 minute in