Hot Takes on Justin Timberlake's Single "Filthy"

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 6:17pm

Ahead of his Super Bowl performance, Justin Timberlake announced his fourth solo album, Man of the Woods. The album art is Bon Iver-esque, set in the woods with Timberlake donning a flannel under a wool jacket. With his lead single “Filthy,” fans who speculated a return to his Tennessee roots were mistaken.

“Filthy” isn’t country — it’s an attempt for Timberlake to dip into electro-pop without fully committing. From the same team as “SexyBack” and Britney Spears’s dark-pop masterpiece Blackout, the single leans heavily towards early 2000s electro-pop. However, unlike “SexyBack” or “Gimme More,” which both build into euphoric choruses, “Filthy” lacks momentum. By minute two, I was ready for the song to do something. The same robotic synth throbs endlessly over the song’s unneeded five minutes. When the lackluster chorus finally does arrive, it’s indistinguishable from the verse.

Repetitive production can excel with the right lyricism (see Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”), but Timberlake’s songwriting is equally disinteresting. “Filthy” is a patchwork of one-liners that show Timberlake’s disconnect with pop music’s pulse. With lines like “Haters gonna say it’s fake” and “This ain’t the clean version,” Timberlake, now 38, is showing his age with corny “this is how the kids talk” lyricism. With a February 2 release date, I’m hoping the remainder of Man of the Woods leaves this synth-pop behind and commits to Timberlake’s signature bubblegum pop. 

Danny Madion, Daily Arts Writer 

“Filthy” stars out on a high note, with Justin Timberlake calling out, “Hey, if you know what’s good!” in his characteristic, high-energy belt. And it keeps climbing from there, but not in the way you’d expect.

For over half of its nearly five-minute duration, “Filthy” is jerky and deceptively low-energy, an understated jam with a funky spring. Then the electric guitar kicks in, and suddenly the song reaches the energetic peak it has secretly been building to all along — only to fall back again a few seconds later into its own hypnotic undercurrent. The song ends amid a weirdly ghostly atmosphere that feels like the exact antithesis of the place where it started out: A woman whispers, “Do you see me? Can you find me? / Look closer, through the trees / Do you see it?” And then nothing. Silence.

Upon first listen, “Filthy” is a bit of a slow burn. It takes a while to decide what type of song it wants to be: A dancefloor jam? Five minutes of artsy background noise? To some extent, it never really decides. The lyrics aren’t really anything to turn one’s head at either — they ultimately boil down to a lot of repetitive lines like “Put your filthy hands all over me” and “Your friends, my friends and they ain’t leavin’ ’til six in the morning.”

However, the song does succeed in blending a large number of genres — pop, electronica and funk to name a few — into an overall catchy song. “Filthy” doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not; at one point, Timberlake even sings, “You know this ain’t the clean version.” It’s unpretentious and genuinely fun. As far as what direction it’s pointing in, we may have to wait for Timberlake’s next single — or simply the release of his upcoming album, Man of the Woods — to know for sure.

Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer