Round 5 of “A Dime, A Dozen” brings us to a woman of fate and the captain who went solo before his ship sailed out and sunk: Beyonce and Justin Timberlake.
Beyonce and Justin Timberlake: This pair led two of the biggest gold mines of the 2000s before breaking western harder than a Frisco earthquake – but it paid off and thus is why they are indisputable Pop icons of the decade. Destiny’s Child is one of the best selling female groups of all-time (wait imma let you finish <– watch this space). *N Sync, one statistic: 2.4 million albums, 1 week – and Justin still went solo like he had no strings attached. Knowles is like a Diana Ross, and Timberlake like an Elvis who distracts you with an MJ studded glove. These two remained relevant in a decade where their new selves rendered their original selves irrelevant – they were the video that killed their own radio stars.
Beyonce: Beyonce Knowles is a Pop field marshal; we all knew from day the first that destiny’s chosen child was Beyonce. She just lived in a foster home with parents who knew she needed company – no need for the true sibling commitment, that’s Solange’s job. Beyonce ran Destiny’s Child like an army: either file in rank, or get your hand out the piggy bank.
My take on Beyonce is metaphorical, which is Pop at its core. It’s a lot of “she’s like this, with a bit of that, and a slight hint of some such.” Even still, it is the mixture of those elements that make an icon – originality is the art of concealing your sources (watch this space). That said, Beyonce is like Colonel Sanders trial and error-ing her way to the perfect secret recipe. She is like Asa Candler – the man behind Coca-Cola – pinpointing a commercial entity and marketing it to unparalleled success as an American staple. She’s like the Clipse “You thought I was a rapper, huh? We’ll I guess that makes me an actor ‘cuz I’d rather clap a gun,” singing to front being a really good marketer and brand. She’s Kelis: bossy; she’s Tyra: mainstream crossover in that Tyra-kinda way; she’s Hattie: making moves, being the first, but being controversial in a top-selling-or-selling-out social impact kind of way; she’s Hillary: the First Lady that will try you; she’s Marilyn: a self-made iconography of female sexuality; she’s Carrie Bradshaw: the low-key person that knows everyone, but no one really knows, yet everyone wants to know; she’s Madonna: universal Pop icon – love/hate/apathetic towards her, it is still understood – for a generation – period; she’s Paul McCartney: fronting a worldwide staple, yet quite disinterested in your personal opinion of said group or individual, and you respect them – within some capacity – for that reason.
Beyonce started off the decade with the 2001 Destiny’s Child release: Survivor. Yes, she wanted to let you know from the jump, that she will indeed be seeing you on the other side of the ten-year hump – though, she can’t make any promises for the other two broads in the video. DC took a three-year hiatus before releasing their final studio album to date, Destiny Fulfilled, in 2004. Yes, she wanted you to know that DC’s destiny is fulfilled – if the bridge is gone when you come back, it’s because I burned it; but don’t get mad, I made you. Furthermore, her personal destiny was fulfilled; Beyonce set herself up for epic things in the future. Should she have faltered in the 90s, she could fall back on the group – teams always share the blame. Now that she perfected the secret Pop recipe for success, she could break out on her own and share the credit with no one but me, myself, and I. 2005 brought a greatest hits album, #1s, to close the casket. Rewind to 2003 though. She went crazy – not crazy crazy, not Britney crazy – but crazy like a fox, and crazy in love. In 2003, she released her first solo album, Dangerously in Love.
The way the world fell in love with Beyonce, in negative two seconds, still makes me think she had rock boys lacing her albums – oh wait. Then we celebrated B’Day – marketing: ftw – in 2006. Even when it’s your day, it’s still Bey’s day. What did you want for your birthday in ’06? A cd about someone else’s special day. Then again, that album did begat this:
So, I’ll leave that at that. But wait, there’s more! Two words: Sasha Fierce. I would let you finish, but we don’t really need to start; because even though you met her in 2008 – and put a ring on it within a week – she’s still got you dry cleaning her freakum dress every Monday. She wanted me to remind you that when she calls they better see her on your video screen.
Beyonce is volcanic. She’s a steady constant: calm, grounded, stable, always present. Just as Cotapaxi sits in the middle of the urban metropolis that is Quito, Ecuador, Beyonce is such a strong force within pop culture, but in a way that has everything else adapt while she rests comfortably. Like a volcano though, she is always present, but most visible when she erupts. Powerful, game-changing, earth-shifting, but at the same time when the lava is cooled it sets on the foundation and becomes another layer from which to build – constantly, steadily growing. The heat and intensity of fire, mixed with the stability and permanence of earth, now that’s a dangerous combination.
Justin Timberlake: This one is a tricky one. He has Michael tendencies, but not really. Okay, he can dance. Right, he was the baby of a successful group that broke out to much greater fame alone. Then, there’s the intangibles – namely the fact that he danced with Michael at the VMAs, often donned Michael gear in videos, and just plain liked Mike. That said, J. Timbs is more of an Elvis character; that premise lies in this sentiment: “I tread a troubled track. My odds are stacked, I go back to black.” Justin really likes black music, but place JT against Thicke – pre or post “Robin,” it doesn’t really matter – and it’s apparent who has the true blue-eyed soul. However, Timberlake knew how to profit off of the urban market – and he did so quite well, for what it’s worth.
Timberlake started with the uberboy-band, *N Sync, and – like Beyonce gained her foundation with DC – Justin made a name for himself within the key teeny-bopper demographic in the early 90s. Then the millennium came – but BSB had the title on lock: womp womp – but not to fear *N Sync came out with back-to-back smash albums No Strings Attached, and Celebrity in 2000 and 2001, respectively. His name a signpost in pop culture, Timberlake went solo in 2002 with the critically-acclaimed, and commercially successful Justified. Justin has a knack for hitting and quitting – like a hustler, but less street cred (read: Punk’d). He turned a broken heart into a breakout single, “Cry Me a River,” that left Britney with a broken reputation (and we all saw where that went).
His first single was a sign of things to come, as he enlisted on the Clipse to cameo a verse in “Like I Love You.” His right-hand-man is – then uberproducer, now just uber – Timbaland. Justified also featured Bubba Sparxxx, Janet Jackson, and Pharrell. Honestly, this man switched more hands than a bottle of Lubriderm in February on U Street. Then, there was the Super Bowl. The only thing that flew off faster than Janet’s top was Justin from the scene. If that man isn’t the Teflon Don, I don’t know who is. He tore the top off, and she gets banned from the Grammy’s … okay.
It is interesting though, that Timberlake – who obviously enjoys black music and creative culture, especially of the Jackson persuasion – exposed Janet’s nipple to the largest television viewing crowd in the world. Like Elvis exposed the world to black music, a hidden unknown until he brought it mainstream; Justin literally exposed Janet’s unknown to the world. Regardless of opinion on her music, Janet Jackson is like a Mitochondrial Eve of Pop by relation to Michael alone. However, what Timberlake did was downright gratuitous; not only that, but the Southern gentleman distanced himself from the situation completely. So it is and here we are, but it’s funny how themes like that link.
Either way, Justin took the Christina route of years – and years – in between albums. Nonetheless the downtime was worth it and produced the wildly successful and appropriately titled: FutureSex/LoveSounds. What Timbaland did with Timberlake on that album made me marvel at what could’ve been had Aaliyah still been alive… *moment.* Truthfully the album was noteworthy. Again, Timberlake took it to the roots – not his, but the Alex Haley kind – and enlisted on T.I., Danja, Beyonce, Missy Elliott, Hezekiah Walker – for the song “Losing My Way,” yes, that’s the guilt talking – Three 6 Mafia, and Will.I.Am – kinda counts, kinda not – on his sophomore effort. Timberlake knows what sells, and he sells it well.
Justin is like a little Elvis. His music hearkens to an obvious demographic – sonically. Even when he’s not working on his own material he teams up with T.I., Rihanna, and Ciara – but also Reba McEntire (yes, that Reba), and Madonna. He has his fingers in both pies, but it’s fine. He lays in the cut, until it’s time to surface. His name is still well-known, and he doesn’t get caught up in much self-imposed drama. His look is versatile. He is from Memphis, and was in *N Sync, by birth and early life alone he has the Pop and southern demographic locked. He knew that he needed the crucial urban market to be successful.
He knew that urban contemporary was where 2000 was headed, and would remain for a decade; and he hustled to make a name for himself. He makes black music that everyone can vibe on, which works. He brings urban artists to the mainstream with killer collaborations, kudos. But there’s a lacking authenticity, he’s not Thicke – period. If this was a true blue eyed soul comparison, Thicke would win hands down. However, this is about Pop and Pop is about commercial sellability – Justin knows what sells, and sells out – tomato/tomahto it’s just money. Timberlake is the Wonderbread of Pop this decade: a spectacle of something quite plain, but an American staple as such – but dependent on that with which he’s filled.
Beyonce and Justin Timberlake: these two work because they know how to work the system – period.