Justin Timberlake Live At The Forum: How I Fell In Love With Pop Music

As the BRITs limped around like a three-legged donkey with a wrestler on its back, I spent a couple of hours enrapt with the brilliance of Trousersnake...
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As the BRITs limped around like a three-legged donkey with a wrestler on its back, I spent a couple of hours enrapt with the brilliance of Trousersnake...

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Last night was one of the most unique and outlandish live music experiences of my life. As I stood in the Kentish Town Forum the atmosphere wasn’t so much buzzing excitement as it was calm anticipation. Everyone just felt so lucky to have got tickets, by hook or by crook, that nobody really knew what to expect. The clock rolled past 11, and we all waited, until Mr. Timberlake strode out, Gibson dreadnought slung over his back, and opened with Like I Love You, My Love and Cry Me A River, segueing briefly into Niggas In Paris.

I repeat. He opened with Like I Love You, My Love and Cry Me A River. Cry. Me. A. River. Fucking scenes. Akin to when I saw Bruce Springsteen and he opened with Thunder Road. That level of gall and audacity. Ridiculous.

Y’see, recently I’ve been digging through the archives for my musical enjoyment, eating up Prince, Michael Jackson and classic swing & Motown. Songs so objectively brilliant you wonder where they came from, and lament their absence in the contemporary music scene. I feel like Justin’s been doing his research too, because then he dropped a cut from his new record, Pusher Love Girl. I hit the roof.

The track, with its soaring strings, bouncing chorus and sweet, short phrasing could have come straight off a Marvin Gaye record. It’s properly brilliant, unabashed soul music that it is impossible not to dance to — the kind of song you didn’t think was being written anymore. His other new tunes carried a similar old school vibe — Mirrors, 8 minutes of outrageously lush chorus, Suit & Tie, which has grown on me so much it may as well be an extra limb, and That Girl, which people are going to go nuts for when the record comes out.

Never before have I seen such a complete full band performance either. The Tennessee Kids in all their finery comprised of two percussionists, two shit-hot guitar players who tore up their solos, a three-piece horn section, four backing singers and a bass player who didn’t miss a beat all night. JT hit the keys for a spectacular Senorita, complete with audience participation, and picked up his acoustic again for a supremely paired back What Goes Around. When you think of how huge that song is on record, to hear it so raw transforms it into an old torch song, puts you in a dive bar in Harlem, bourbon slaking your thirst and burning your chest in equal measure.

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What I’ve come to realise recently, and what last night more than confirmed, is that when pop music is done well it is beyond brilliant, as good as music can be. Pop music is entirely inclusive — it has no agenda, other than to make you get up and dance, laugh and go a bit mental. There’s no scene, no elitism, it is what it is, and when you’ve got musicians this good and songs this well written, what it is is life-affirming.

So welcome back Justin, we hope you had a good break with all that acting stuff. I thought you were top in The Social Network, but as you yourself said last night: “Now is the time.” This new record is going to be big. Bad big. Purple Rain big. He is on that level, seeing it in the flesh it’s impossible to ignore. Closing with a dirty rock version of Sexy Back, whipping the crowd into a frenzy then throwing them out onto the Kentish Town streets to think about what they’ve just witnessed. I’m still processing it the morning after. What I do know is this: pop-stars the world over need to seriously up their game, because that last night…nobody’s even coming close to that.