Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake’s Air of Desperation

Author: Esther Zuckerman Source: The Atlantic
January 29, 2024 at 08:40
Will Heath / NBC
Will Heath / NBC

As a musical guest on SNL, the star’s changed status in the pop-cultural universe was hard to ignore.

Once upon a time, having Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live would have been a thrilling thing. In the mid-2000s, the pop star emerged as one of the show’s favorite recurring hosts, the kind of mega-famous celeb who seemed like he would be down for anything, such as dressing up in a giant mascot costume or putting his, ahem, dick in a box.

But the tide has turned on Timberlake. He arrived on SNL this weekend as a musical guest with an air of desperation. In the midst of trying to reboot his pop-music career after 2018’s poorly received album Man of the Woods, his persona has also undergone a cultural reckoning, especially in light of the revelations about him found in his ex Britney Spears’s memoir, among them that she got an abortion because he “wasn’t happy about the pregnancy.” She wrote that Timberlake tried to serenade her with his guitar while she was in pain, and then went on to paint her as “a harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy” after they broke up. Between that and a reevaluation of his role in the Janet Jackson Super Bowl scandal of 2004, in which he got off relatively scot-free while Jackson was pilloried, Timberlake has become emblematic of a casual mid-2000s white-male cockiness that doesn’t play as well in 2024.
 

 

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