Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body”

Released: 3.29.02

Peak: # 5

In pop as in all else, it’s different for boys. While Britney and Christina wriggled into womanhood as though auditioning for late-night phone sex ads, Justin coasted toward maturity, his sexual nonchalance blissfully free of pornographic trappings. If a teen idol is, as the cliché has it, a “non-threatening boy,” Justin grew into a non-threatening man, allowing us to indulge in a fantasy of young adulthood as a time of limitless, playful, guilt-free, non-procreative sex.

“Rock Your Body” may be the clearest articulation of that fantasy, and it’s also the closest Justin comes to an direct MJ rip. In fact, the Neptunes’ Off the Wall-style beat was originally targeted for Invincible, and when Michael passed, Justin jumped. The easy flow and gently flexed machismo recalls Jackson at his most pleasingly generic and subtext-free, more “The Way You Make Me Feel” than “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.” Here’s where Justin’s racial privilege came into play–he could channel the edgy confidence of his influence with none of the racially charged neuroses. Though his uncharacteristically violent contribution to Janet’s Super Bowl mishap tainted Justin’s “Gonna have you nekkid by the end of this song” for a brief moment, the quip’s brash candor has outlasted that memory.

But his boy band pedigree, lack of pigmentation, and Y chromosome weren’t all that made JT a star. Otherwise JC Chasez wouldn’t be relegated to judging America’s Best Dance Crew today. In fact, JC’s hectically eclectic (and often quite likeable) Schizophrenic provides a telling contrast, and not just because he sounds as though he mistook Jamiroqui for the future of R&B. JC’s overworked come-ons exude a taint of desperation, as though if there’s one girl in the club that night who wouldn’t go home with him, he’d have failed. But Justin would never waste his act on a girl if he wasn’t already sure of the hook-up. I mean, do you think he’d risk that dorky beatbox breakdown otherwise?

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