SALT LAKE CITY — On Thursday night, Justin Timberlake brought his “Man of the Woods” tour to Utah. Mistakenly, the Deseret News’ Arts & Entertainment editor gave permission to both Deseret News reporters Court Mann and Herb Scribner to review the Vivint Arena show. Reaching an impasse, the two found a solution. That solution is the debate that follows.
What was good, and what was not good, from Timberlake's concert? Read on.
Good or not good: The Shadowboxers
Court Mann: Man, this is a tough one. The Shadowboxers (the show’s opening act ) had some really great moments — cool hooks, good vocals, etc. — but collectively, it left me scratching my head. At some moments they seemed like One Direction, other moments like an R&B-funk-pop band, other moments a rap group, sometimes a dance troupe. Like, what are these kids doing, exactly? My verdict: kind of not good, but maybe good in a few years when they figure things out?
Herb Scribner: I don’t even know what to say about this band. I mostly agree with you, Court. This band literally played a song called “Shadowboxer.” Imagine if NSYNC played a song called “In Sink.” Oh boy. I’ll give them credit for attempting to hype up the crowd and perform across the entire stage. But let’s be real: The show's hype man who DJ’d earlier did a better job.
But I'm with you on how talented this band could be in a few years. This tour will do wonders for them with JT teaching them how to command a stage and own the night. Like I said to you during the show, I think this band could be years ahead of its time. Or … not.
Good or not good: The whole “Man of the Woods” aesthetic
Herb: Aside from the opening two numbers — “Filthy” and “Midnight Summer Jam” — his “Man of the Woods” theme didn’t really jibe with the rest of the show. Timberlake asked us to dance, hop, clap, bounce and sing, all of which don’t mesh with the “Man of the Woods” aesthetics (all those prop trees, a fake campfire, images of the woods on the dropdown screens). It just doesn’t make sense. Why would I be dancing in the woods?
However, I did gain a slight appreciation for the new album, or at least the songs themselves. “Say Something” is a hit, “Man of the Woods” should be blaring through your radio when you’re cruising down I-15 on a summer night and “Supplies” is as close to rapper JT that we’ll get. I’m inspired to listen to his album again. “Montana” was just a huge mood killer, though. So, I’m going to say “not really good” for this one.
Court: Wait a second, Herb — you’ve never danced in the woods? Please watch the dancing in the woods scene from “Hot Rod.” (I’m now imagining a world where Justin Timberlake watched this scene and was inspired to make “Man of the Woods.”)
I would have forgiven the “Man of the Woods” aesthetic if the songs were strong. Good music hides a multitude of sins, but those new songs just don’t measure up. I found it quite not good.
Herb: That’s all fair. Also, thanks for showing me the “Hot Rod” scene. The only redeeming quality of the campfire display was when JT let his backup singers sing some classic songs from other artists, including a personal favorite, “Ex-Factor,” by Lauryn Hill.
Good or not good: His biggest hits
Court: Good. Even great at certain moments. For me, the show’s high point was midway through, when he did “My Love” and “Cry Me A River” back-to-back. Those might be his two best songs, and they threw a killer guitar solo into each one. I. Was. Hyped.
Herb: This gets a good from me, too. “Cry Me a River” and “Mirrors” back-to-back just crushed me. I was thinking about my sixth-grade crush AND my college crush all in the space of five minutes. Wild how JT can bring us back with some classics. And he played my favorite all-time Timberlake song, “Summer Love.” Loved it.
Good or not good: “CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!”
Court: (Did you know this song's official title is written all in caps, with an exclamation point at the end?) I might anger some folks here: NOT GOOD. Listen, I love Justin — truly. Been riding with him ever since “Cry Me A River.” But “CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!” is supremely weak. If it were sung by a lesser man — like, oh, say, an Adam Levine or an Ed Sheeran — it’d be fine. It’s on their level.
I will concede, though, that “CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!” (gosh, I hate typing that out in caps) was written for a movie based on a popular children’s doll. The source material here isn't great. That it’s now his de facto closing song makes me sad. Aim higher, Justin.
Herb: Wow. You hate “CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!” Yeesh.
Look, “CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!” is such a jam. No question. It was the song of summer 2016. I’m all-in on the song.
But I’m a little worried about what it means for Justin’s legacy. That’s why I’m going to agree and say “not good” (with a slightly-sad face emoji). Here’s why: Justin just released what could be his final album, and the last song on the tour for that album is … a hit from 2016 that was featured on the “Trolls” soundtrack?
The final song in a set list is the artist’s most iconic, legendary, popular and, oftentimes, best song. It’s the one everyone will remember you for — forever. So, despite all the hits JT has dropped over the years, “CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!” is his bow-out song? A song that will dominate wedding playlists forever that DIDN’T EVEN APPEAR ON ANY OF HIS ALBUMS? Sort of a sad finale.
Here’s another question worth pondering: If not “CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!” then what?
Court: How about “I'm Lovin' It,” his song that got turned into a McDonald's jingle? Anyone? Anyone? I'm here for the deep cuts, people.
Good or not good: The songs he didn’t play
Herb: Timberlake’s discography is so deep, but there are plenty of songs he didn’t sing. Namely, all his NSYNC stuff. There’s so much material there he could have brought out. I was hoping for some throwbacks that made him famous before his solo career. Give me a “Bye Bye Bye,” “It’s Gonna Be Me” or a “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” any day. Those songs are straight fire. Drop some of the “Man of the Woods” songs and slap me with some slick boy band beats, JT!
Overall, I’m going to give him a not good on this. I can’t let JT slide for forgetting his roots.
Court: Great points, Herb. I was never an NSYNC fan (except for the song “Girlfriend.” All hail “Girlfriend”). But “Bye Bye Bye” would’ve blown the roof off the place. Maybe that should've been his closing song? I was hoping he’d throw in either “Let the Groove Get In” or “Take Back the Night,” two super-underrated songs from “The 20/20 Experience.” Overall, a strong set list with some great renditions of his classics, so I’ll say it was good.
Herb: He also left off “Not a Bad Thing” from “20/20” and that is certainly a bad thing.
Best moment/worst moment
Court: I mentioned this earlier, but “Cry Me A River” was my fave. That song still sounds so good, more than 15 years after it was released. And the concert version’s arrangement really showed how incredible JT’s backing band is. The worst moment, I think, was after they performed “Drink You Away” (a country music crossover that probably spurred this whole “Man of the Woods” shtick) and went into his dud of a new song “Flannel.” (Yes, he actually named one of his songs “Flannel.” You played yourself, Justin.) “Drink You Away” is good. “Flannel” is not.
Herb: My favorite moment was “Cry Me a River” into “Mirrors.” Those two songs linked together was awesome. I just loved the lighting display, the way the sounds meshed together, and just the way JT had the entire room singing with him for five minutes straight. Great moment.
I’m going to go with “Montana” as my worst moment (close second: The Shadowboxers). Just can’t deal with that song. It stinks, too, because he had a hot streak going with “What Goes Around … Comes Around” and “Say Something.” “Summer Love” would have been a great follow-up if “Montana” didn’t get in the way.
Court: Well, Herb, I think that covers it. Let's get to our last “good or not good” of the evening. Drumroll please …
Good or not good: The whole concert5 comments on this story
Herb: I’m going with good, because I had a fun time and it brought me back to my youth. I wouldn’t pass up the tickets if they came around again. Still, I’m giving this just a “good.” Not great. Not amazing. Not awesome. Good. It was fine. I will give JT credit — he won me back after a horrible Super Bowl performance earlier this year. Anyway, good stuff, JT. See you next time you’re in Salt Lake City.
Court: I’m in the “good” camp here. The first half of his set was just astoundingly strong. When they did that flannel costume change, though, they lost momentum and never quite regained it. But I'll salute Mr. Timberlake. The man knows how to command a crowd, how to enlist a killer group of backing musicians and has great taste in Air Jordans. Oh, and he’s very good at singing.