n a recent documentary about the making of Justified, Justin Timberlake bemoans the comparisons that journalists and critics make between Michael Jackson and himself. He certainly isn’t sad about the fact about being compared to the King of Pop, but there is a certain feeling in Timberlake that it might be nice to be an original- something you never heard before. It all comes to a head, of course, in a montage of journalists saying the name “Michael Jackson” in quick succession until Timbaland, himself, laying back in the studio emits his trademark laugh and says “Yeah...you Mike.”
On Timbaland’s own production, “Cry Me A River”, Timberlake mines the high notes often associated with Jackson, but what makes his identity ever the more interesting is the accompanying video.
It’s no secret that Timberlake had broken up with his long time teen pop squeeze, Britney Spears, before the recording of this album. Some journalists have even made the brilliant connection that this album may have been a sort of cleansing process for Timberlake. As with any break-up, Timberlake is conflicted about his feelings on Spears.
In the beginning scenes we can see this. He stands outside a residence in the rain, clothed in a hooded sweatshirt. He approaches the house and, all of the sudden, the door breaks open- the glass shatters.
It is the subconscious of Timberlake at work here- as he alternately shows himself in the video as Superman, disturbing voyeur, and what he finally ends as: a shockingly conflicted and real celebrity. As Timberlake dances around the inside of the house, making incredible moves that are literally impossible; we find that Timbaland is outside with a girl in the car. She quickly exits and enters the house and finds Timberlake who immediately comes to film them making out. The woman is the aggressor here, Timberlake the passive victim of her advances. Sure, he does nothing to stop her- but this is the charm of Timberlake: he’s not sure what he wants. He knows he’s angry, he wants someone to “cry (him) a river”. That someone was “his sun, his earth”.
She soon leaves as Timberlake goes dancing around the house a bit more until finally someone comes in, followed by Justin. We know immediately who it is. The Spears look-a-like is followed by Timberlake (he can neither speak to her nor be heard by her), as she readies for a shower.
The video’s climax comes as Timberlake nearly touches Spears and she looks back to the television screen which features a paused still of Timberlake making out with the unknown woman.
As an act of pure vengenance it’s a beautiful thing- as an act by a small man incapable of any sort of mature response to his woman leaving him it’s a beautiful thing- and, most interestingly, it makes Timberlake look much more real than any proclamations that J. Lo may make explicitly within her songs. So, as we can see with the example of “Cry Me A River”, Timberlake has taken a chance and succeeded (if TRL standings are any indication) in making himself into a vulnerable and paranoid celebrity. Who says he ain’t like Mike?