Trying To Get To You

Thursday, February 08, 2007

American Idol

I found Justin Timberlake's performance at Madison Square Garden last night to be simultaneously impressive and underwhelming. His show is impeccably choreographed down to the last detail and the pacing, while not at all perfect (especially in the 2nd half), catered to his material well. "This guy is a real pro," I found myself thinking several times, and I meant it as a compliment. But for a show to be great, it has to transcend beyond the professional, and in this area, Timberlake was lacking.

There's something endearingly sweet about Timberlake; you get the feeling that while he's serious about what he does, he doesn't take himself too seriously, which prevents him from going into egomania territory a la Usher or Kanye. And while he's undeniably sexy, he's sexy in a pop star context, which means the sexiness is never threatening - he's the perfect vehicle for the upwardly mobile, well dressed women in the audience to project their fantasies upon. He may now be singing about bringing sexy back, but he still hasn't lost his nice boy appeal in the slightest.

There were moments in the show that were undeniable - the audience singalong to "Senorita," the groove of "Rock Your Body" and the screams of the predominately female crowd itself - screams that rose in lockstep with Timberlake using his falsetto. And the ballad "What Goes Around" was excellent. But there were plenty of moments that felt somewhat rote and routine (not surprising since the show probably runs like clockwork and has little or no song variation each night), and an interminable DJ set (used as an intermission halfway through) by Timbaland killed much of the momentum for the rest of the night.

I don't find Timberlake soulful in the slightest. It's obvious that he has a real love of R&B (and a Michael Jackson fetish that won't quit), but Timberlake's "saddest" ballads lack an emotional depth that would make them qualify as soul, in my opinion. That's not to say he won't get there - I think the guy is a true talent, and once he gets knocked on his ass a few times, the resulting world weariness combined with his indefatigable charm and smarts might make him step it up another few notches. He may be a minor artist, but unlike many pop stars, it's obvious that he's still got a lot of growth left in him.

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