Justin Timberlake has just gifted us with the video for “Suit & Tie” — delivered on Valentine’s Day, one assumes, in order to inspire his many adoring fans to ably, and with full-throated theatricality, consummate the bedroom pyrotechnics mandated by the holiday — and I think I’m beginning to understand something.
Through the first couple of listens to “S&T,” I couldn’t help but think: What, exactly, is the often-besuited Timberlake bragging about here? When Jay-Z dropped the jerseys on “What More Can I Say,” it was a clear statement of intent: Once, I was a foolhardy young man, clothed in the manner of my generation. When I became a man, I put away childish things. And either way, I’ll cut you down just as quick. Justin, though, has been tailoring up for movie premieres and fragrance launches and iPhone app teaser-video release parties for like a decade. What evolution is being suggested by the fact that he is now on his suit-and-tie shit? Where is the narrative progression?
The video, though, has made things a bit clearer. It’s all black and white and perfectly calculated vintage showbiz glitz: Justin coolly flicking a cig before hitting the stage; Justin smoothly sliding through a “What, these old moves?” bit of choreography; Justin and Hov relaxing at home, watching ball and eating a bowl of what I have to assume is Cookie Crisp; Justin playing chess with comely young ladies; Justin playing sex chess (which, yes, is the same as regular sex, in case I’m confusing things too much) with a comely young lady. And what it does here is immediately call up a whole glossary of refinement: Dino and Frank, foremost, but also anyone who’s come since; anyone who’s touched upon their legacy to immediately effect the connotation of class.
As Unpopular Opinion Alerter Sean Fennessey pointed out of JT’s whole “long-awaited return to music” thing: “His stature, not just as an entertainer but as a musician, began to overwhelm his ability. FutureSex is a truly great album, but its burden began to weigh heavily. And there was something fantastic about the way he rarely acknowledged that fact.” So maybe this is how the weight of the burden is being filtered: Justin knew he had to come back great, that nothing short of brilliance would suffice. One way of doing that is just, you know, being great, the way he was on FutureSex. Another way is to clothe yourself in the aura of greatness.
And so “Suit & Tie” isn’t just about being supremely elegantly suited, and therefore superior to contemporary pop culture’s hoi polloi. “Suit & Tie” is about being better than everyone, ever, by piggybacking on all the symbols of that timelessness. “Suit & Tie” is about being an instant classic, in the bluntest form possible.
This is Justin Timberlake, at the age of 32, playing it safe, and doing so very, very effectively.