Justin Timberlake’s newest album, Man of the Woods, saw release on Friday, and, well, the critics aren’t loving it. According to the bulk of the Man of the Woods reviews we’ve seen, they’re actually kinda hating it.
The album was timed to coincide with Timberlake’s Super Bowl LI Halftime Show on Feb. 4, though his upcoming performance has conjured the least amount of excitement for a Halftime Show we’ve seen in a decade. Many continue to side-eye the pop star for his role in the 2004 Janet Jackson Halftime Show debacle, for which Jackson took all the blame — and was banned from future Super Bowl performances — while Timberlake, the man who ripped off the fabric and exposed her nipple to the world, took little to no responsibility and finds himself back on the Super Bowl stage. (Patriarchy is fun, ain’t it?)
But incredulity for Timberlake’s insanely high douche-factor aside, Man of the Woods reviews can’t help but slam the new record for just being a shoddy musical turnout. Some of our favorite critics use phrases like “shrug of an album” and “a misstep large enough to merit relitigating Justin Timberlake’s status as a pop superstar” to describe it.
Here are snippets of five critics’ Man of the Woods reviews:
For Esquire, Matt Miller calls it “the Most Baffling Album of Justin Timberlake’s Career”:
Man of the Woods is not a country album. It’s more like deep-fried Justin Timberlake. It’s like stumbling across some awkward campfire party in a clearing in the middle of a forest. It’s like eating a handful of poison berries from a bush and finding yourself scared, confused, nauseous, and lost among the foliage. It has harmonica solos, fiddles, pan flutes, and so many hand drums. It has a weird aversion to choruses and an oddly playful production, like it’s partially meant to be bumped in Timberlake’s nursery. It’s his infamous denim suit resurrected as music.
Pitchfork rated Man of the Woods a 3.8:
When he unveiled Man of the Woods, his first album in five years, he framed his new music as the product of an audacious fusion of Southern sounds. Its problems invite the listener to scrap this narrative and stitch together a different story. Forget the album’s trailer—in which Timberlake comes out of the closet as a fire-building, creek-wading, baby-clutching Jeremiah Johnson cosplayer—or the baffling videos for singles like “Filthy” and the Migos-meets-preppers joint “Supplies.” It’s all there in the music: warm, indulgent, inert, and vacuous.
Ira Madison III for The Daily Beast calls Man of the Woods “mostly a snooze”:
In this climate, Timberlake has become inessential. Hence Man of the Woods, his purported attempt to strip down to the basics and reveal what’s behind the pop veneer in the way that his contemporaries have. Unfortunately, the album reveals that there’s…nothing there.
For Stereogum, Tom Breihan coined our new favorite term, “shrug of an album”:
With his reemergence, Timberlake has concocted a woodsy, outdoorsy image-makeover while resisting the idea that he’s made a country album. And he hasn’t made a country album. Instead, he’s gotten back together with his old collaborators and made a record almost entirely devoid of purpose or urgency. Man of the Woods plays as an hour-long contented sigh, a born-entertainer cheeseball doing his very best to make his transition into rural-dad middle age.
And over at Vox, Constance Grady looks not at the substance of the music but at Timberlake’s unfettered whiteness:
The mythic fantasy of the white male Wild West that the Man of the Woods trailer seemed to invoke is just that: a fantasy, one that’s whitewashed away the Native Americans and the black people who were just as present in the West as white men were.
Instead, Timberlake is working with two extremes: the fantasy of the rugged white male West, and the fantasy of the unthreatening Michael-Jackson-light sex symbol he’s perfected over his 20 years of fame.