Justin Timberlake – “Cry Me a River”

Released: 12.28.02

Peak: #3

The female fan that romantic pop has come to fashion over time is one demanding motherfucker of a construct. Never satisfied to hear that she is the unique object of her beloved singer’s adoration (I mean, honestly, how dumb do you think she is?), she also demands bitter stories eviscerating those lesser women who have wronged her. There’s never been a surer route to a girl’s heart than putting some other dumb broad in her place.

And smug little pussyhound that he is, Justin Timberlake hasn’t clung to his position as the only boy-bandling anygal still bothers to get wet over by underestimating the female capacity for despising one’s fellow woman. What’s more, it works for him. Justin hurts gloriously, eliciting sympathy with an ease that shows up Usher as a clumsy self-pity-partier. If “Cry Me a River” cries out for nothing less than Phil Spector comparisons, I’ll take the wounded purity of Justin’s falsetto over Bill Medley’s aching baritone any day.

Thing is, when you’re as famous as Justin, we can fact-check your emotional complaints. And when your video stars a doppleganger of your no-less-famous ex, and you weasel unconvincingly out of having intended its storyline as an accusation against said ex, and when you’re the while enjoying a contemporaneous rebound with Alyssa Milano — well, no matter how believable your vocal pain, you need a damn good producer.

When it comes to “Cry Me a River,” none of my ideological or biographical reservations could dislodge a single brick from Timbaland’s grand cathedral of resentment even if I wanted them to. Having recently explored his minimalist side, Timbaland here plunged into full-blown orchestral paranoia, complete with ghostly voices and guitar arpeggios stopping dead in mid-air. And in case you forgot he was an auteur, Tim reworks the synth riff and electro-tongue-clicks of “Are You That Somebody?”

Still, “What Goes Around…/…Comes Around” is another story altogether. Get out of there with those gratuitous ellipses.

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