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Hail JT: A Boy Band Fanatic’s Reaction to “Suit and Tie”

Let’s get this out of the way: I love pop music. Everything about it is a “yes” to me, so fortunately the universe timed my tween years in tandem with the 1990s boy band craze. Watching MTV’s Total Request Live after school was a way to forget those awkward middle school days that were occupied by hiding Tampax in my locker.

Those years were the last real ride for MTV—as we boy band lovers knew it—and it was also when Justin Timberlake’s career was resting on the success of N’Sync. N’Sync recorded several successful songs before, for example, their hit, “Bye Bye Bye.” That music video, however, was the moment during which Timberlake ditched his oversized hoop earring, but still retained a trace of wholesomeness: he was too sexy for an afterschool glass of milk, but not quite grown up enough to serve as soundtrack for raiding the parents’ liquor cabinet.

Now that we are all well beyond the legal drinking age, it is possible to look at the release of “Suit and Tie,” and ask what is so special about the video other than—honestly—Timberlake’s sex appeal. The song itself is not his catchiest. It appears, at first glance, to simply reuse and recycle visual tropes and motifs from his last several solo hits. While we are used to many of JT’s videos following a somewhat linear narrative (“Cry Me A River,” “What Goes Around Comes Around”), it is possible to read “Suit and Tie” as the ultimate maturation of his music career and simultaneously nostalgic of its past.

If the dynamic choreography of his earlier solo career is a reflection of JT in transition from boy band prince to respected artist and cult icon, he brought sexy back all over again in this latest video as the Don Draper of the music industry. Although in “Cry Me A River,” he had already outgrown his N’Sync puberty, if one were to look at “Dirty Pop,” there is a fun dichotomy between the transformation from the young adult, awkward, concert-nightclub vibe to the 1920s Chicago jazz, 1950s New York style combo of “Suit and Tie.” The strobe lights, for example, that tend to show up in JT’s earlier videos have been reappropriated to black and white in order to fit the agenda of “Suit and Tie.” And just when we thought that it could not get any sexier than Scarlett Johannson (“What Goes Around Comes Around”) “Suit and Tie” catapults itself fearlessly onto the burlesque stage.

Just as the video combines early and mid-twentieth century aesthetics with JT’s contemporary spin, the make-up and costuming choices are also a hit. Capitalizing, especially on mod fashion trends, his wavy blonde locks from those Mickey Mouse Club youth days are replaced with a 1950s Wall St. comb over (by champion tests forge). Even Jay Z is dressed to recall Banana Republic’s celebration of season 6 of AMC’s Mad Men.

If in her volume on music video, Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context, Carol Vernallis points out that the music video’s tendency is to use narrative devices to create interest rather than to construct a coherent plot, then “Suit and Tie’s entertainment value is in the viewer’s obsession with these interesting points that make us recall how much JT has grown up in the last 15 years. Scrolling through his iPad for the musical score? Like. A. Boss.

“Suit and Tie,” I would argue, reinforces two interesting points with regards to JT. First, in the post 1990s MTV craze, everyone, it seems, still feels a rush watching his videos. Despite, then, that MTV is no longer a trailblazer in music television, JT is proof that the music video medium is, in its own sense, alive and well.

I once had a conversation with someone as to why they adored Tom Brady so much, which leads me to my second point. Their argument? “He’s a great quarterback, no one can touch him, and he’s married to the most beautiful woman in the world.” In the same vein, it is true that JT is a great artist, no one can touch him, and he is not leading such a rough life in the marriage department (Jessica Biel). For those of us, however, who have watched him grow up, this video does not just spawn a blast from the past. This is the moment when an amazing performer truly rose to the level of adult artist.