The Curious Case of Justin Timberlake (Or, Why 2013 Was A Messy Year in Pop Music)

When I look back at 2013 and the year of pop music it offered, it makes me so happy that we are in 2014.

Yes, it’s a pretty pessimistic view, especially for a first blog post, but hindsight is notoriously 20/20, and I can safely say that mainstream pop music in 2013 was a huge disappointment. At best, it was commercially and critically underwhelming. At worst, it was one of the worst years in music I can remember.

Ironically, I write this while listening to most successful album of 2013, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience. This time last year, Timberlake shocked the music world when he announced his comeback, releasing “Suit & Tie” and announcing his first album in six years. Nostalgia for 2006 aside, The 20/20 Experience was a certainly a good album. It didn’t push any boundaries, though; there was nothing as groundbreaking or career-defining as “SexyBack” on it, unless you consider the bloated song lengths revolutionary (I considered them irritating). When you really think about it, Justin scored the year’s biggest-selling album by coasting on his tried-and-true, Timbaland-produced sound. I think it’s one of the reasons why 20/20 didn’t receive an Album of the Year Grammy nomination, which everyone was expecting (the album did score a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, which I think he will win).

Not that I’m slating him for it, but when you consider how far-and-above his sales were compared to the rest of the competition, it speaks a lot to how truly dismal this year in pop was. Neither “Suit & Tie” or “Mirrors” landed on top of the Hot 100, and yet he sold 2.4 million copies in the US alone. On the other hand, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, with its dubious (and offensive) lyrical content, spent 12 weeks at #1. Its parent album of the same name hasn’t passed 700,000 copies sold.

What does that say?

For me, it says that music basically sourced from seven years ago is more commercially resonant than music from 2013. Dropping music sales be damned, it makes no sense that the biggest song of 2013 couldn’t even push an album past platinum….unless the music wasn’t up to snuff. That would probably explain why Robin Thicke hasn’t landed a single in the Top 20 since.

It’s one example, but I think it’s a compelling one. Pop music in 2013 just wasn’t up to snuff, especially after years like 2011 and 2012 (one word: Adele). It showed in the sales, and even in the chart positions (seriously, how did “Harlem Shake” spend multiple weeks at #1?).

My hope for 2014 is that the music will be better, so much so that we don’t have to settle.

What are your hopes for pop music in 2014? Do you think 2013 was a better year than I’m giving it? Leave a comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: