Justin Timberlake – O2 Arena London, April 2014

Right there right there

Are you comfortable?

This is the first time I’m writing about music because, unfortunately, I can’t keep up with today’s music scene. But I do know about performance, so after attending one of Justin Timberlake’s 2014 London concerts last night, I have more to say than usual. It doesn’t hurt that since JT’s first album Justified came out in 2002, he has remained my favourite pop star.

Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids

When a new album comes out and it’s time to go on tour, the singer’s first goal is hopefully to offer the audience an experience that takes the album to a new level, with new warmth and spirit. JT’s 20/20 Experience Tour brings this goal forward with its title alone, creating an audiovisual experience for the audience to fully welcome him back after too long years of absence.

It’s no surprise: JT has matured. He appears in a black and white “suit and tie” in front of a vintage microphone and smoothly slips into a jazzy remake of “Pusher Love Girl”. His voice is clear, strong, striking. While the concert’s visual theme is largely black and white, I would have liked to see more risk in JT’s outfits, especially regarding colours and accessories. Furthermore, based on the 20/20 theme, I at first expected more visual effects on the back screen, but when you come to think of it, what he did was centre our attention on him and what was real rather than virtual. This is where we understand his intention to mix old and new.

When I saw him last at Paris Bercy nine years ago, he surprised with the amount of dancing and simultaneous singing. This time, there is less movement, although it is evident that the artist loves short and sweet hip hop sequences, accompanied by his background dancers. The comparison with Michael Jackson is inevitable.

What we noticed across the long slim mobile stage, which would later float over the audience, was the importance of the individual dancers and background artists. Although JT was the star, his accompaniment was treated with equal attention. This was highlighted by the camera focuses for example, and the choreography choices. What is more, I wouldn’t say that JT ever takes himself too seriously. On the contrary, many of his lyrics and comments during his show are filled with irony. He may trick the audience in calling him “My love!” during his famous song from FutureSex LoveSounds, but his generosity towards the crowds and his collaborators is palpable throughout. He also pays tribute to Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson who inspired his music throughout the years.

Now that JT has dozens of great songs to choose from to form his set, it’s no wonder that he likes to play and blend them together. The switches from “Gimme what I don’t know” to “Rock your body”, as well as from “Sexyback” to “Mirrors” during the finale were superb. While he is evolving and new musical rhythms enter his repertoire, the party boy is always there. I do not doubt that he will be around for decades, hopefully choosing smaller venues at times rather than arenas, to connect even more closely with the audiences that started following him in their teens and are enjoying to grow older with him.

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