There were plenty of folks counting down the seconds until 2019 arrived, in the hopes that better fortune was awaiting in the new year.
Among them might be Justin Timberlake, whose much awaited album dropped earlier this year to critically mixed reviews and who was forced to reschedule several tour dates because of bruised vocal cords.
Just a few days after relaunching the Man of the Woods Tour in Washington, he will stop at Raleigh’s PNC Arena Jan. 6 and Charlotte’s Spectrum Center Jan. 8. At press time, both shows are still on.
Last year was supposed to be a career high point for the singer. He entered 2018 by celebrating the release of his first album in five years with a Super Bowl halftime show in front of one of the largest viewing audiences in the world.
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Here, we look back at some of the hurdles Timberlake faced last year in the hopes that his 2019 begins much better with a killer show, as he is set to perform in front of a Triangle audience that has been eagerly awaiting this Sunday night for months.
1. “Man of the Woods,” or When Bad Album Titles Happen to Good Performers
Timberlake’s 2018 Super Bowl performance occurred just two days after the release of “Man of the Woods,” the singer’s first full-length album in five years, and his first impact within the music world since the 2016 single “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” That song, off of the “Trolls” soundtrack, was the best-selling single of 2016, according to Forbes, so all signs pointed to Timberlake’s new record posting huge numbers.
Unfortunately, the “Man of the Woods” release strategy may have been doomed from the beginning. Many viewed the album cover, with the singer standing in front of a forest of bare trees, as a hint that the record’s themes and sounds would lean more heavily toward the burgeoning Americana sound than his earlier hip-hop-influenced works. Pre-release rumors of a duet with country star Chris Stapleton (“Tennessee Whiskey”) appearing on the album didn’t help matters. There also was a puzzling trailer released online, with the bearded, flannel-wearing singer promising his fans that the record would be “about where I’m from,” while watching horses run through a pasture.
When “Man of the Woods” appeared, there were some Americana influences on the disc, but it also contained just as much hip-hop and R&B drive as any of the singer’s earlier albums. If guilty of anything, “Woods” is Timberlake’s most experimental record to date, and like most experiments in a performer’s career, it was destined to leave some fans feeling cold.
2. An ill-timed tribute
With the 2018 Super Bowl being played in Minneapolis, Minn., it wasn’t necessarily a shocker that whoever performed the halftime show would include an homage to Prince, who had died less than two years earlier and is still synonymous with the city.
Unfortunately for Timberlake, there were two things going against him in this regard: a rumor that his tribute would include Prince performing via hologram, a technology that has to be used very subtly to avoid feeling exploitive, and a public feud between the two that still lingered in many fans minds.
While the tribute still went on as planned, albeit one that had a projected image of Prince onstage, instead of a hologram, performing alongside Timberlake as he played the legend’s hits “I Would Die For You” and “Until the End of Time,” the whole affair left fans feeling even more skeptical.
3. Ghosts of past halftime shows
It didn’t help that Timberlake already had an infamous moment during a past halftime show when he was a guest in Janet Jackson’s 2004 halftime show. (We hope we don’t need to remind you of the so-called “wardrobe malfunction.”) Some fans still haven’t forgiven him for it, though it’s more for his part in the aftermath than the actual occasion. Timberlake issued many public apologies in the aftermath, while Jackson refused to speak about it for long after.
For years, many pointed to the incident as an example of white privilege, as Timberlake was largely forgiven for the whole affair despite being the one doing the ripping, whereas Jackson struggled to recover.
That latter claim was only helped this past September when reports came out during an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against disgraced former CBS CEO Les Moonves. According to a story in HuffPost, Moonves wanted to make sure he could damage Jackson’s career in any way possible, including banning her from all Viacom properties, but wasn’t as heavy-handed in his punishment of Timberlake.
4. But 2018 wasn’t all bad.
While Timberlake had his vocal cord problems at the end of the year, he released a photographic memoir of sorts, “Hindsight: & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me” this fall. The coffee table books, filled with essays and anecdotes, along with personal photos, landed on The New York Times Bestseller list.
He also announced he’s producing a game show for FOX called “Spin the Wheel,” with actor Dax Shepard as host, according to The Hollywood Reporter. A premiere date hasn’t been set.
And that tour? Despite the mixed feelings on Timberlake’s new material, his tour is still popular among fans. According to Pollstar’s year-end figures, the tour ranks No. 7 on the list of the top grossing tours in the world for 2018. That’s 77 shows bringing in $150.8 million, according to Pollstar, and that’s with several shows canceled.
Who: Justin Timberlake
When: 7:30 p.m., Jan. 6
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
Cost: Tickets start at $49.50
Info: ThePNCArena.com or 919-861-2300