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The Most Important Thing from the 2013 VMA's….was not Miley Cyrus


So, while the “twerk-gate” that followed the MTV VMA’s seems to be making all of the national/internet news, I wanted to write down something that I thought was the biggest take away from the night: Justin Timberlake. Recently, I was doing a recording for a podcast on the Culture Conquistadors and we got to talking about how some artists are thought of as the “second coming” of another great artist and how sometimes the older artist’s legacy ends up actually being carried on by someone else.

Specifically, I was talking about how Usher (and artists like him) were being looked at as the next Michael Jackson. I had posited that Justin Timberlake seems to have actually taken up the mantle as this generation’s “King of Pop”. Appropriately, the next night Timberlake received the “Michael Jackson Video Vanguard” award on the MTV VMA’s, he also delivered a 15+ minute performance of hits from his catalog.

Now, I have to admit that Timberlake’s music isn’t always my cup of tea, especially when you include some of his boy band days. Because of that I don’t think I was consciously aware of just how long he’s been relevant in the pop music world. He’s managed to make relevant music for over two decades which is no small feat and I can’t think of another superstar during that time that’s managed to stay at the forefront of the pop music scene like he has.

While watching the MTV performance I started to really see some of his Jackson-esque qualities:

  • Like MJ, he was birthed from a style of group that was in vogue in their youth. For Jackson it was the family band and for Timberlake it was the Boy Band.
  • They both have extensive catalog of music that’s performed well on the pop charts
  • They both have had images that have evolved but have, for the most part, remained consistent (unlike someone like, let’s say, Madonna)
  • They have a distinctive voice, and they both happen to be high
  • They both obviously understand the importance of performance and excel at it
  • They’ve crossed over genre’s and collaborated with other influential artists
  • They’re dancers, there’s even a little bit of a Jackson-esque start to Timberlake’s VMA performance

The list goes on. Now obviously, there are differences between the two of them and I’m not saying that Timberlake is necessarily the “next” MJ, but that he is the 2013 version of him. I would say that MJ was a stronger singer and that he had more pop success than Timberlake just by virtue of his songs continuously dominating the charts.

Even though Timberlake hasn’t matched MJ’s charting success he has surpassed him in the area of general entertainment. Timberlake has been a leading man and a supporting man in successful box office films and will likely continue to do good acting work. He’s hosted shows like SNL as well as awards shows like the ESPYs. He’s also managed to become part of several viral internet videos (in a good way) by teaming up with the Lonely Island for songs like “Dick in a Box” and teaming up with Jimmy Fallon for the “History of Rap” performances. The landscape of entertainment has changed since Jackson’s time and while Timberlake doesn’t “dominate” the landscape like Jackson did he has found a way to become relevant in all of it and maintain the longevity of his relevance in the areas of music, movie, television, and the web.

I’m just wondering if in another 10-20 years we’ll be looking back at his career in the same light as MJs and offering anthology albums of his work. Who knows, with Timberlake seeming to be well adjusted and mentally healthy he may have even more time remaining in the spotlight than that.