Boasting over two decades as a platinum-selling pop star, paired with an impressive resume of big screen appearances and small screen moments, Justin Timberlake undoubtedly stands as one of the most dynamic entertainers of his time.
This year’s release of his latest full-length album Man of the Woods earned Timberlake his fourth No. 1 album to rank atop the Billboard Hot 200 chart. Its February release marked almost exactly five years since the 37-year-old dropped The 20/20 Experience, a soulful standout that sold just under 1 million units in the first week alone. The album would eventually become the highest-selling album of 2013 in the United States, and has eclipsed 6 million albums sold to date globally.
Teaming up with the same roster of producers from his last album for Man of the Woods, Timberlake completely shifted the theme, sound and inspiration that propelled his previous record. Also, with less lead up and anticipation built around the latest release, first week sales peaked at just 293,000. While this total seems significantly lower than he’s accustomed, they still allowed him to claim the top-selling week for any album. In January, Timberlake also announced his Man of the Woods Tour, covering 27 North American stops through May 30th, with additional dates being announced.
As much attention was placed on the album’s performance and standard metrics for measuring success, what may be most innovative and unique about the rollout of his newest album is the immersive partnership he designed with American Express. In addition to powering the tour, the collaboration further included Timberlake hosting two private listening sessions in NY, capped with an elaborate live streamed listening experience at the late Prince’s Paisley Park estate, just two days prior to his Super Bowl Halftime performance.
Additionally, they teamed up to launch Outside In, a mixed reality mobile app that uses AR to let fans interact with Timberlake, play the album and purchase exclusive merchandise from anywhere in real-time. Users also get to see how the album came together through original behind-the-scenes videos. “We’re always seeking out new opportunities to provide exclusive access and elevated experiences”, stated Walter Frye, VP of Global Entertainment Partnerships. “Over the past few months, we’ve broken new ground and provided premium access with industry icon Justin Timberlake in support of his Man of the Woods project”.
I spoke with Justin Timberlake about his latest album, evolving as an artist and the bigger vision behind his new partnership.
Being an artist who has been at the forefront of music for more than 20 years and counting — What are your keys to staying true, avoiding trends and continuing to evolve as an artist?
Justin Timberlake: I just think you have to be authentic to yourself in whatever you are doing. I’m inspired by so many different eras of music, film, and art. Historically, there have been some staples in entertainment that, at the time, were probably written off as merely ‘trends’ as well. I think that if you have a good feeling when you’re creating, and you believe in it, then your authenticity will never be in question. I also think you should always be brave and scare yourself a little bit too.
In today’s digital age, how important is thinking beyond just simply releasing music and focusing more on creating new experiences for your fans?
Justin Timberlake: With so many mediums available now, it’s creatively inspiring in a whole new way from when I started in this industry. You can add so many layers and nuances to the conversation you want to have with an audience. More so, it can constantly evolve and take turns along the way. The AR experience that AMEX came up with offered something so personal to the conversation that, while at the same time, was very cool and fun to interact with.
Describe your partnership with AMEX and what you set out to accomplish through the collaboration?
Justin Timberlake: AMEX has been an amazing partner with me and my team. They have all of the right taste. We wanted to bring people into our world a little and they really got that from the start. For a guy like me who obsesses over minutiae most of the time, their attention to detail was incredibly on point. They have also given me some freedom and a setting to really push everything as far as I can.
How have you managed to consistently grow and challenge yourself as an artist while simultaneously growing as a brand and business?
Justin Timberlake: I think it’s a mix of what I said before about staying hungry and doing things creatively that scare you a little bit, and a belief that you can move the needle if you want to. In the same way that we are all so complex as people, I have so many different sides to myself as an artist, and it’s inspiring for me to show people those sides.
Thinking back from Justified to the 20/20 experience — How would you explain your evolution and the message you wanted to send with Man of the Woods?
Justin Timberlake: I’m not sure I could justly describe something like that. I’m always going to stay in a place where I feel inspired to slightly shift the sound from where I was previously. I have so many influences that I think it takes time to pay homage to all of them.
As an artist with a global brand, how important is embracing new technology and being tuned in to how it impacts the industry?
Justin Timberlake: As an artist, embracing technology is integral for sure — you can create your own world and share it with everyone. It also offers you the ability to make left and right turns with people. Regarding how new technology is changing the music industry, it’s really the Wild West right now. If you can think it, you can create it — And that’s exciting!
Reflecting on all you’ve accomplished to this point, how do you measure success and what keeps you motivated to keep elevating?
Justin Timberlake: This may sound silly, but mostly by not thinking about it too much. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have experienced throughout my career. I feel like the best way to honor all that I’ve done is to stay true to my hunger to create.
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