Top 5, y’all! At this rate I’ll be done recapping the 2010s by sometime in 2022. Here’s a recap of the list so far:
#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu
#18: Lemonade – Beyonce
#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody
#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala
#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote
#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak
#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq
#12: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest
#11: The Electric Lady – Janelle Monáe
#10: But You Caint Use My Phone – Erykah Badu
#9: No Beginning No End – José James
#8: Currents – Tame Impala
#7: Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe
#6: “Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino
#5: The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake
When I decide I don’t like an artist it’s difficult to get out of my doghouse. Case in point: Justin Bieber. I’ve had more people than I can remember in the past few years say, “Give him a chance. He’s making good music right now.” Maybe he is, but I’m like, “Fuck that dude,” anyway. If he is, I haven’t heard it. I don’t think Biebs is gonna lose sleep over it. I’m far more open to new music now than I was 20 years ago, believe it or not. In the early 2000s if it wasn’t a Soulquarian I wasn’t trying to hear it. Knowing this, you can imagine my reaction when I heard that the bleach-permed, Britney Spears-dating, Mickey Mouse Club douchebag from *NSYNC was going solo. Great. Now we’ll get twice the bubblegum bullshit with *NSYNC letting out records and their lead singer making them, too.
The funny thing is, before Justin Timberlake hit us with Justified in 2002 he was already wearing me down. I sure as hell wouldn’t have admitted it at the time. A 25-year-old dude listening to *NSYNC? Not me! I begrudgingly enjoyed a few songs from their 2001 album Celebrity. The Neptunes remix of “Girlfriend” with Nelly was dope. Early proof that Timberlake and Pharrell Williams were a good team. “Gone” is a lovely ballad and basically a Justin Timberlake solo track. Regardless, Timberlake still had a steep uphill climb to win me over. I was not having anything to do with a solo album.
Then I heard “Like I Love You.” Shit. Another good track. “Cry Me A River?” Ice cold. Dope. “Rock Your Body” was on some vintage Off The Wall Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones shit. Did I mention this cat can dance? Not on MJ’s level because he was one of a kind, but he’s right behind MJ along with Usher and Janet. My favorite song on the album was actually “Señorita.” By the way, click the “Señorita” link and watch the video. JT is a little babyface kid and Pharrell looks exactly the same. I know they say black don’t crack, but Pharrell is on another level. If you think I just spent the last five minutes trying to think of a clever rhyme about how Pharrell doesn’t age you’d be right but “Pharrell Age Well” is weak and “Pharrell looks like he was cryogenically frozen to halt his aging process” doesn’t rhyme. Upon further review, I like “Pharrell Age Well.” I’m claiming that.
I’ve strayed far from my point. In the span of a year I went from thinking Justin Timberlake was the absolute worst to…*gulp*…buying one of his CDs?!? The night he officially won me over for good was Saturday, October 11, 2003. His first Saturday Night Live hosting gig. A good SNL performance can go a long way toward winning me over. Ask Peyton Manning. Actually, I’m still not a fan, but he was funny as hell and easily the best athlete ever to host the show. The tipping point came during JT’s monologue when he bailed on the standard jokes, sat down behind the keys, and went straight into a killer performance of “Señorita” instead. I can’t find that performance for the life of me, but here he is doing the same song a month earlier on Ellen. You might think skipping the monologue was a sign that JT was about to fail his hosting duties, but it was actually the opposite. He killed it. The “Ten to One” sketch that night was the original Barry Gibb Talk Show. It was, and still is, one of my favorite SNL sketches ever. That episode was pre-YouTube and pre-DVR (at least for me) and I remember having to wait until NBC re-ran it months later to see if the Barry Gibb Talk Show was half as funny as I remembered. It was.
Let’s fast forward a bit. Justin gradually took over the world. He was acting and, not surprisingly, did that well. He released Futuresex/Lovesounds in 2006 and cemented himself as a generational pop star. “Sexyback” was the kind of phenomenon that only happens once every few years. He teamed with The Lonely Island for “Dick In A Box” and won an Emmy for it. There wasn’t a damn thing Timberlake couldn’t do well.
Then he disappeared from music long enough to make me worry. Would he ever make more music? If he did, would he still have his fastball? He emphatically killed any doubt in early-2013 with the release of The 20/20 Experience. A pop masterpiece. I’m not 100% sure what qualifies at “pop” music so I’ll make this declaration with a giant asterisk in my back pocked just in case: The 20/20 Experience is my favorite pop album ever. I don’t consider Prince pop. Purple Rain was popular, but it’s not pop. Prince doesn’t fit into a genre. He’s Prince. Michael Jackson is obviously the King of Pop, but he doesn’t have a single album that I enjoy as much as 20/20. If you saw me in 2013 and even well into 2014 I was listening to this album. Justin did release The 20/20 Experience – Part 2 of 2 in late-2013, but he should’ve waited. I wasn’t done with Part 1 yet. Part 2 had some great music and was criminally slept on, but it’s inferior to Part 1. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
My final point before the awards: One complaint I hear about The 20/20 Experience is that the songs are too long. I vehemently disagree. That’s right. Vehement. First, I personally love when an artist lets a song breathe. A lot of songs don’t truly hit their stride until the third or fourth minute. Give them a little room to build up. Super-producer and frequent JT collaborator Timbaland (more on him shortly) is a master of adding and removing layers on a track and keeping listeners on their toes throughout. He can make a song eight minutes long and enjoyable throughout. I love that. There’s always the single edit for the weirdos who would rather listen to three minutes of good music than eight minutes. What makes The 20/20 Experience unique is that many of the longer tracks change drastically midway through. “Pusher Love Girl.” “Don’t Hold The Wall.” “Strawberry Bubblegum.” “Mirrors.” They’re all like getting two tracks in one. Each one has an epilogue that’s still part of the song and contains some of the same elements, but could also stand on their own. He did a lot of the same thing on FutureSex/LoveSounds as well. “Don’t Hold The Wall” is the best example. It’s one song for the first 4:19, then Timbaland completely changes up the beat and it takes on a different vibe for the final three minutes. This happens throughout the album. Seriously, just stop complaining to me about songs being too long. Are you in a hurry? Is your attention span that short? Take that shit somewhere else. I’m not hearing it.
On that note, let’s get into the awards!
I’m guessing this is a controversial choice, but on an album full of songs that I adore my favorite is “Strawberry Bubblegum” and it honestly isn’t even close. I can’t explain it. I’m quite certain “Pusher Love Girl” is the best song on the album, but it’s not my favorite. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is perfection. Dope beat. Sexy vibe. Timberlake’s silky falsetto hitting all the right notes. If you want to stop me dead in my tracks just press play on this track. I’ve been listening for eight years now and it’s as lovely and flawless to me now as it was when I first heard it.
I, I cant deny the way you caught my eye, eye
Then something strawberry filled up the sky
And everything on you intoxicates
It’s a mystery
I dont know why
I let you kick in my do not disturb sign
But I guess your mouth in motion got me so high
And I could tell it’s pure just by the taste
And you kiss me
So tell me you wanna get close somewhere far away, far away
Don’t worry about your loving it won’t go to waste, go to waste
Don’t ever change your flavor ’cause I love the taste, love the taste
And if you ask me where I wanna go, I say all the way
‘Cause she’s just like nothing
That I’ve ever seen before
Baby please don’t change nothing
Because your flavor’s so original
And it all started when she said
Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey
Smacking that strawberry bubblegum
You really got me when you said
Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey
Popping that strawberry bubblegum
I’m not done with “Strawberry Bubblegum” yet. I’m not sure that’s the best lyric on the album. I just think the shit is dope. I know I just posted this a few months ago on the site, but I’m going back to the night Justin debuted “Strawberry Bubblegum” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. JT was as pitchy as I’ve ever heard him early in the performance, but the Tennessee Kids were just killing it. Special shout out to the percussionists for replicating that beat live. I was hooked on this song from the first time I heard it during this performance.
Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song
Can I say “Strawberry Bubblegum” again? You might expect a Justin Timberlake album to be full of slow jams to make the ladies swoon, but The 20/20 Experience is surprisingly light on ballads. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any sexy chill songs. It’s not easy for a song to be a banger and a slow jam simultaneously, but “Spaceship Coupe” pulls it off flawlessly. Whenever I’m playing this album and I get to “Spaceship Coupe” I consider skipping it. I’m not always in the mood for a power ballad about a space car. Then I decide to let it play and within a minute I’m singing along and patting myself on the back for not skipping.
Ring Walk Song
I didn’t think I was going to pick this song for any of the awards, but now that I’m listening I think “Mirrors” is actually an underrated hype song. I just like the vibe. It gets me fired up. I had the privilege of seeing Justin Timberlake in concert along with Jay-Z at Soldier Field in Chicago back in 2013. I’ll never forget the feeling of the stadium shaking as tens of thousands of people danced and sang the chorus of “Mirrors” along with Justin. Strangely, that same crowd also screamed the lyrics of “On To The Next One” along with Jay-Z earlier in the concert. Versatile!
Favorite Happy Song
I don’t know that “Pusher Love Girl” is a happy song, but it sure makes me happy so I’m going with it. I couldn’t get through a dissertation of The 20/20 Experience without giving this song a lot of love. This is a testament to how good “Pusher Love Girl” is: It won the 2013 Grammy award for Best R&B Song and it wasn’t even a single. How often does that happen? An album cut wins a Grammy for best song in a genre? Never??? Completely off topic, I just realized that Justin has three more Grammy awards than Prince. I love me some JT, but how?
Song I’d Play If I Was DJing
I have this recurring dream that my wife and I are going to host a big party later this year when the COVID restrictions (hopefully) get lifted and we can go back to something reminiscent of normal. Unlike the last three parties we’ve hosted this will not be a dirty basement party with keg stands and secret pot brownies circulating like we’re broke ass college students. I’m thinking more like a wedding reception. Rent out a room. Everyone dresses up. It’s a damn shame that we all got married in our 20s and now 15-20 years later there isn’t a reason for us to get dressed up, have a few drinks, and dance all night. I wanna have a wedding reception without the wedding ceremony and dinner. Get us a DJ and a dance floor for a few hours. I want that DJ to play “Suit & Tie” to a dance floor full of my family and friends waving champagne in the air and having a blast. I’m gonna make that happen, damn it.
6th Man Award
Without question the only answer is Timbaland. Timbaland has been creating futuristic pop/funk/hip hop/R&B since he was a part of Da Bassment with Devante Swing back in Jodeci’s heyday. He was cranking out hits with Magoo, Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, and Aaliyah for years before he started working with Timberlake. Timbaland rocked every college party I attended with classics like “Luv 2 Luv Ya” and “Are You That Somebody?” Shout out to Nicole Wray and Playa. I didn’t forget you. Let’s just say Timbaland was a seasoned vet by the time he teamed up with Justin Timberlake and changed popular music. Timbaland did the bulk of the production on FutureSex/LoveSounds and both of the 20/20 Experience records. Damn near everything they’ve done together has been magic. I hope to hear more, preferably soon…
To sum up, now that I’ve been doing this deep dive into The 20/20 Experience I question if I should’ve placed it higher on the list. This album brought me a lot of enjoyment in the 2010s and it continues to this day. It’s still a go-to for me when I want something I can just drop the needle on and know I’m going to enjoy it from start to finish.
As I look ahead to the Final Four, though, I have to say 20/20 is probably exactly where it belongs in the rankings. Hard for me to move any of the remaining albums back to make room. Up next on the list is my favorite rap album of the 2010s…and I’m not really sure what “rap” means anymore either. Regardless, this album gave me the rare, thrilling “what the hell am I listening to?” feeling for the first several weeks after its release. #4 coming soon…