'Everything I Thought It Was' Is Everything I Thought Justin Timberlake Wasn't

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 20, 2024


Justin Timberlake must be looking for a win right now. After listeners scoffed at the clumsy rustic cosplay of 2018's Man of the Woods, he's had a rocky few years of bad press: his role in Janet Jackson's "Nipplegate" controversy came under renewed scrutiny, he was unflatteringly depicted in Britney Spears's memoir, and his recent film roles have ranged from the forgettable (2021's Palmer) to the dreadful (2023's Reptile). His biggest win lately has been last year's well-received *NSYNC reunion — a disappointing regression for a guy whose whole deal was being talented enough to transcend his boy band origins.

Everything I Thought It Was simply isn't bold enough to be a course correction. "All this time, I've always wondered if it would feel the same / As it did when we were young and not afraid" goes the *NSYNC-featuring ballad "Paradise" — something that unfortunately encapsulates Timberlake's struggles on this album, as he offers up a comfortably familiar mood board of downtempo R&B and pop-friendly funk, competently gesturing toward sounds he's done in the past without the same sense of exploratory abandon.

With 18 perfectly capable songs and nothing much that stands out, Everything I Thought It Was recalls the more-is-more algorithmic excess of Drake's recent albums — a similarity that is unmistakable thanks to opening track "Memphis," a vibey hip-hop ballad that sounds so much like Drake that one wonders if Timberlake's producers accidentally emailed him the wrong attachment. There's even a rapped verse and the lyric "word to FINNEAS," which isn't quite as corny as what he said to Ginuwine that time.

The album's horny, funk dance numbers fair best, with "Infinity Sex" and "Favorite Drug" gesturing towards the sweaty, club-catering sounds of Timberlake's '00s peak, and "Imagining" shimmying between the candy-sweet bass grooves and honeyed breakdowns of The 20/20 Experience. First-half highlight "Fuckin Up the Disco" doesn't quite fuck up the disco, but its four-on-the-four thump is a rare moment that raises the pulse rate.

The R&B slow jams don't leave as much of an impression: lead single "Selfish" is a serviceable piece of easy-listening pop aiming for the dentist-waiting-room niche that Miley Cyrus's "Flowers" cornered last year (although "Selfish" was a comparative flop of a lead single, maxing out at just 19 on the Hot 100). Mid-tempo standout "Flame" is a clear highlight of the back half, but that's mostly because it recalls the drama of superior past hits "What Goes Around...Comes Around" and "Cry Me a River."

For an album with 18 songs and a runtime of well over an hour, Everything I Thought It Was displays disappointingly little ambition. There's nothing to troll like that embarrassing Man of the Woods teaser — but there's also not quite enough swagger to bring sexy back. Everything I Thought It Was is everything I thought Timberlake wasn't when he first skyrocketed out of the boy band system: perfectly fine.


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