Has Justin Timberlake Lost His Stylish Edge?

Keo Nozari muses over the return of the singer and the new male talent threatening his place in the spotlight.
January 24, 2013

It came as a welcome surprise: Justin Timberlake teased and then dropped a new single, “Suit & Tie,” with no warning. Many had assumed he’d ditched his music career in favor of acting in movies after his last album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, was released in September 2006. 

But while Timberlake is dressed to the nines, we wonder: has a new playing field of male talent found more exciting places to go? Many have rushed in to fill the vacuum in his absence, most notably on-trend Justin Bieber and incredible singer Bruno Mars. And while he’s yet to break big in the U.S., Conor Maynard—the 20-year-old Ne-Yo protégé is the winner of MTV’s Brand New for 2012 award and already has three Top 10 U.K. singles—has just released his debut stateside album, Contrast. His sound of vigorous, feisty R&B blended with EDM perfectly encapsulates how we imagine Timberlake’s sound evolving if he hadn’t stopped in 2006. Check out “Animal,” “Can’t Say No” and “Lift Off.” It could be argued that Maynard’s doing Timberlake better than Timberlake is!
So how well does Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” fit in the current lineup of male artists? Well, despite a tepid intro (and a gluttonous 5:27 album-version length), the song emerges as a smooth, laid-back, retro R&B jam with a happy, effervescent vibe. The result isn’t particularly innovative but very much on the tip Robin Thicke has been rocking for years. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not super fresh either, but it’s definitely a grower. However, while “SexyBack” wasn’t our favorite song, when it launched Timberlake’s last album, it did show the kind of risk taking that we appreciate. This is more in the “safe” zone, which doesn’t always benefit a superstar—we expect them to inspire new trends. 
There’s also the issue of producer Timbaland, who unfortunately has lost relevance the last few years since he hasn’t had a standout hit in some time. Could this be the comeback he needs? Surprisingly, Jay-Z doesn’t help the track either—his solo drags the track down: the tempo reduces to accommodate his rapping and his presence doesn’t add zeal. 
But the song does showcase a classy, sexy, more adult side to Timberlake. He is married now, after all, and turning 32 years old this month, so the song is likely an attempt to differentiate himself from all the “kids” up in his spot (most definitely Bieber at 18). We really won’t know how good his vision is in scoping out the lay of the land until the release of his new album, The 20/20 Experience, later this year. In the meantime, we’ll be putting on the Ritz and guessing he’ll bring some sexy back.