The Music Club

Justin Timberlake and the Lap of a Thousand Dances

Hey Sasha, hey Keith,

I’m a man of simple beliefs. I believe in red borscht, white socks, and blue-ribbon beer. I believe the first side of the second Stooges album is better than the second side of the first Stooges album. I believe Pedro Martinez was the AL MVP in 1999. I believe Ehrlichman was Deep Throat. I believe in a thing called love. I believe Owen Wilson is to Ann Wilson as Luke Wilson is to Nancy Wilson.

And I believe that Beyonce is a genius.

Part of what I love about Beyonce is that “Crazy in Love” is the same song as “Rock Me Amadeus.” Right down to the “uh oh, uh oh, uh oh” part. Anybody else notice? It’s the ‘80s flashback of the year in my apartment (unless you count the original picture-sleeve 12-inch of Peter Godwin’s Images of Heaven I found for a buck at the junk shop on Nassau Avenue). The grodiest ‘80s flashback? Definitely that OutKast slow jam that goes “I love the way you move,” over and over, to the tune of “Shock the Monkey.” OutKast manage to make Peter Gabriel sound even more annoying than he used to, an achievement already under review by the Nobel committee.

Justin? Man of the year, no question. He’s got the lap of a thousand dances. You have to go back to Leo DiCaprio circa March ‘98 for anything like this level of mass erotic hysteria. He has to stir-fry your pheromones for his music to make any impact, but that’s not a putdown, just a genre specification. As a performer, he’s one of the most inept I’ve ever seen. Hilarious. The bit where he leads his cheeseball, stripper-juice disco band through the 20-minute instrumental version of “On Broadway,” George Benson version of course, playing his soulful electric-piano solos while his hirelings from the Dream of the Blue Turtles Temp Agency “stretch” “out” and make “heavy, man, heavy” faces at him in that special “I bet the Mylanta is deductible” kind of way … well, he couldn’t express his passive-aggressive contempt for his crowd better if he took a whiz on us, which would at least be over quicker (wouldn’t it? my god, wouldn’t it?). Again, that’s not a putdown. Anybody who can suck that bad and still make straight girls see Jesus is doing something right. Very, very right.

He’s the perfect pop star for a moment when American culture is so passionately committed to conformity that the term “hater” gets applied to anyone with an opinion more personal than “click-to-add-to-cart.” That isn’t Justin’s fault, needless to say. We live in an age silly enough to turn Paula Abdul into Martha Wash, yet pompous enough to expect teen-pop pretties to namecheck Donnie Hathaway the way the New Kids were expected to namecheck Big Daddy Kane. There’s no coherent pop mainstream for ambitious musicians to cross over to, or to react against, or to skim energy from, or to influence.

So, Sasha, how does an ambitious musician go about getting paid these days? As a musician, do you even want a chair on that sinking corporate ship? (I second that mildly pleasant feeling about the LCD Soundsystem’s “Yeah”: what a great song. Dancing in the nude, feeling such a dude, it’s a rip-off.) Keith, if cultural relevance is back to being the chimera it usually is, what other options do ambitious musicians retain? You’ve seen me dance, and you know it’s not a pretty sight, but I would love to hear about safety dances from 2003 that I’ve missed out on so far, especially since I like Big Daddy Kane a lot better than Donnie Hathaway. I’m just another crazy guy. “Crazy in Love” was another high, just another high.

I guess I struck a nerve by casually mentioning the Liz Phair debacle. From my perspective it’s a musical debacle, not a commercial one, but it’s not a debacle I have any desire to make fun of. I adore Liz Phair and take no pleasure in her failures. Better love next time, as Dr. Hook would say. Meanwhile, I’m gonna go put on “Whipsmart.” Now there was a jump-rope song.

Put your weight up, not your hate up,