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We celebrate Justin Timberlake’s sophomore solo album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, which turns 10 today.
Look at that cover. Just look at it. JT has heard your Michael comparisons—You making dance music that kinda sounds like disco? You trying to be Michael. You leaving a boy band to go solo? You trying to be Michael.—and he’s putting his fucking foot through them. He’s giving your preconceptions of him a thorough curb stomp. He knows you think Justified was basically a 2002 version of Off the Wall, and he knows you’re going to compare FutureSex/LoveSounds to Thriller, but he wants you to know he knows, and he’s reading you for trash.
It’s hard to remember now, since he’s entrenched in that rarified air of “pop performers even our moms universally love” and his performances with a country singer can vault that country singer to superstardom, that FutureSex/LoveSounds was not a sure thing. Timberlake--who left NSYNC before recording Justified --wasn’t even sure he wanted to do a sophomore album. He spent the time off acting, appearing on SNL, and being a man about town, basically. He could live in a bubble where he was one of the most famous artists on earth, but he was still less famous than his ex, Britney Spears. He almost reunited with NSYNC, that’s how unsure of what he wanted to do with FutureSex/LoveSounds.
The rest is well known to you if you had a developed cerebral cortex in 2006; he teamed up with Timbaland and the two of them worked on FutureSex/LoveSounds from late 2005 to the day it dropped in September 2006, 10 years ago today. It spawned four number one singles--including “SexyBack,” 2006’s Song of the Summer--and soundtracked two generations of awkward house parties (kids who turned 20 between 2006 and 2013 have heard this in full at multiple soirees). It vaulted Timberlake to our most important male pop star, a category he still holds over that other Justin*. It’s Timberlake’s world and we’re just living in it.
The dictates of anniversary posts means going over the songs on the album, but let’s be honest: I’m not going to open your mind on how “Chop Me Up” is actually secretly the best song on the album; you know this already. I don’t need to tell you how it feels when the beat changes in “What Goes Around.../… Comes Around;” you know that feeling well and can articulate it as well as I can. I know you’ve tried to forget that will.i.am is on this, and maybe even succeeded once or twice. I don’t need to tell you what it feels like to blast “Summer Love” at max volume out of an automobile; you’ve done this. I don’t need to tell you what it’s like to stand up in a room and try to defend “Losing My Way” and “My name is Bob and I work at my job;” you’ve done this. Even Pitchfork formally recognized how hard the second half of “Lovestoned/ I Think She Knows” rules. So let’s talk about some of the guests on here.
It’s hard to explain to a kid who has grown up with Future being featured on Miley Cyrus albums how radical it was that Three 6 Mafia—also a couple Tennessee boys—and T.I. were on FutureSex. This wasn’t reality show with the funny little kids T.I.; this was “Rubberband Man” and “Front Back” T.I. This wasn’t everyone’s favorite stoned uncle Juicy J; granted, Hustle and Flow won Paul and Juicy an Oscar in early 2006, but this wasn’t your friendly neighborhood rappers. It wasn’t like they were going to be on a Taylor Swift album in 2006. High School Musical’s original soundtrack was the biggest selling album of 2006. The second best selling album had T.I.
So why canonize this album, why celebrate this album for its 10th birthday? Because FutureSex/LoveSounds is the last pop album we could all agree on. Its charms were too great, its masterpiece status too manifest in its 11 tracks, for anyone to stand up and Tweet and and say, “That album is trash,” and that’s not only because Twitter was all of two months old when FutureSex dropped. FutureSex was the last time that there was a genuine consensus in pop music; even the indie kids couldn’t deny that JT had the juice. FutureSex/LoveSounds was the last mega smash pop album that didn’t have EDM and didn’t have a wave of detractors. No one could even object on personal grounds; no one hates Justin Timberlake, and that’s remarkable, especially since he looked like this in recent history.
The last remnants of our monoculture were shattered when the Internet made it off phone lines into our home computers, but FutureSex/LoveSounds proved that something could be both massively popular and universally popular. When we are celebrating a 10-year-old Justin Timberlake album, we’re also celebrating that past version of ourselves, that could unite and agree on one thing.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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