by Rob Woollard with Shaun Tandon in New York
MINNEAPOLIS, United States (AFP) — Once a teen idol, then a sensual R&B singer, Justin Timberlake is keeping his mojo even as he enters his next phase as a rootsy, mature father.
The superstar singer and actor is roaring back to the forefront of pop culture this weekend with a one-two punch — on Friday, the release of his first album in five years, and then Sunday as the headliner for the Super Bowl, the most watched US television event of the year.
With the title “Man of the Woods,” Timberlake’s fifth album initially triggered speculation that the Tennessee-born artist was going country, with a promotional video that featured him strolling in a cornfield.
But Timberlake, who is married to actress Jessica Biel, later revealed that the title refers to their two-year-old son, Silas, whose biblical name means “from the forest.”
The album shows Timberlake, who turned 37 on Wednesday, exploring his new perspectives on life as a father. “Flannel,” a track whose title at first glance may sound like a stylistic ode to country attire, in fact, is about the shirt his son touches.
While Timberlake has not developed a twang, “Man of the Woods” incorporates subtle country influences. Guests on the album include the accoladed country songwriter Chris Stapleton who brings rolling guitar licks to “Say Something.”
But the album marks no drastic reinvention musically, with Timberlake — when not busy being a daddy — still out to bring everyone to the dance floor with sexy beats.
“All the haters gonna say it’s fake / I guess I got my swagger back,” he declares at the start of the album’s opener “Filthy,” an energetic electro-funk song.
No new ‘wardrobe malfunction’?
He is releasing “Man of the Woods” in Minnesota with a late-night party in late pop icon Prince’s Paisley Park estate. Timberlake called Prince a “huge influence” and said the Paisley Park appearance fulfills one of his “bucket-list” life goals.
Timberlake is in Minneapolis for Sunday’s Super Bowl, 14 years after he last appeared during American football title match and triggered one of the halftime show’s most notorious moments.
Taking the stage in 2004 for a surprise duet with headliner Janet Jackson, Timberlake sang “Rock Your Body” and, after the line “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song,” slid off the cup over Jackson’s breast, revealing to the scandalized TV-watching nation the singer’s pierced nipple.
Timberlake, in a turn of phrase that has entered the lexicon, voiced regret for the “wardrobe malfunction” and broadcaster CBS was fined $550,000. The next two Super Bowls featured perceived safer performers, rock legends Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones, as well as a five-second delay on the live broadcast to safeguard wholesome values.
Timberlake was coy on whether he will bring any guests Sunday but acknowledged that bets were being placed on who might join — from members of his former boy band NSYNC to, presumably with her breasts firmly covered, Jackson.
He raised expectations, telling a news conference in Minneapolis: “We are doing a few things with this halftime show that they’ve never quite done before.”
“On a more serious note,” he said, “it’s a moment where you have the opportunity to bring so many people together through what I think is the greatest art form, music.”
Son ‘will never play football’
The Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles comes amid rising controversies around American football.
The National Football League has faced growing scrutiny over concussions and head trauma, agreeing in 2015 to pay $1 billion to resolve thousands of lawsuits by former players suffering from neurological disorders.
Asked if he would support an NFL career by his son, Timberlake replied without hesitation: “He will never play football.”
Timberlake quickly pivoted to a lighter tone and said he would encourage his son’s interests.
“My main objective is that he become a great person and if he wants to get into the arts and sports then, yeah, I would fully support that,” he said.
“I think I can hopefully offer him advice on what to do and what not to do.”
© Agence France-Presse