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“Sexy” slides “back” standards of music

I don’t know what’s happened to him, but it can’t be good. Justin Timberlake’s single “SexyBack” carries many things uncharacteristic of music: a lack of singing, a lack of harmony and a lack of, well, creative art. Indeed, things uncharacteristic of himself. Whether or not he wrote the song, I don’t know, and to be honest, I know little of his songs except that they’re generally quite good.

This, though, is painful. Painful not just because he’s not singing, or because it lacks musical qualities, but because it lacks him. Deejays have described it as “pop pushed to its limits”. As if. That’s like saying Eminem is rock pushed to its limit. Or that Beethoven was baroque pushed to its limit. Except that Beethoven’s and Eminem’s compositions were still music.

In fact, the single (which I would prefer not to call “music”) is based entirely on three riffs—four if you count the in-between bits and five if you count the bit where he’s not saying anything—and by “riff” I mean one or two bars that last about second, if that. The “chorus” is essentially the same bar fifteen times, and boy, does it get boring. The verse and bridge aren’t melodic, they’re just the same thing repeated four times each. It’s almost as if he, or whoever the composer was, couldn’t be bothered writing a proper song.

Now, repetition isn’t always a bad thing, but exact repetition is. Timberlake makes no effort to distinguish each line from the next in any way. The same background prevails, he says the stuff in exactly the same way and, well, everything’s the same. If each repetition had something different about it, then it could be acceptable. But this is not the case.

Such is the stark inoriginality of the single that it is based entirely on two chords. Actually, I take that back—they’re not really chords, because I can only distinguish one note. And the second chord is merely the chromatic step above the first—what we might call a “colour chord”, used for decoration purposes—so arguably, the harmony doesn’t even change. Does it need to? Some might say no, but I beg to differ. No matter whether the artist is singing, rapping, talking, or whatever, the harmonic structure is what prevents a song, rap or three minutes of noise from being a drawl-on that becomes a bore that becomes just plain annoying.

It should be unnecessary to point out that the thing has no melody. No, mere variations in pitch do not count as “singing”, not if the variations are neither organised nor clear. The guy is talking, if that, more like forcing words out in a way that I can only describe as weird and messy. It’s no wonder he finds it necessary to punctuate his words with a periodic “yeah”. It doesn’t really add anything.

In short, the single lacks art. It lacks melody, it lacks variation, it lacks creativity in any form whatsoever. There is nothing to make it worth listening to after the first few bars. The result is an insult to songs, and insult to music, and most of all, an insult to Justin Timberlake.


“SexyBack” is from the album FutureSex/LoveSounds, released in 2006 by Justin Timberlake. The blog represents the author’s view only.

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