In search of the filth in Justin Timberlake’s ‘Filthy’

"What you gonna do with all that meat?"

The return of ’00s pop emperor Justin Timberlake has been defined by strange twists and turns. Against all odds, December 2017 found him trademarking phrases such as ‘Man of the Woods’ and ‘Fresh Leaves’. Then, on Tuesday (January 2) he announced his new album – indeed called ‘Man of the Woods’ – with visuals that suggested he was going full Bon Iver, and a voiceover that described the album as “Mountains, trees, campfires… like the Wild West, but now.” Shudder not: ‘Filthy’ – JT’s first track since 2016’s blankly cheerful ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ – is anything but a bucolic picture of rural America.

Produced by his old pal Timbaland (‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’, ‘The 20/20 Experience’), ‘Filthy’ begins with a typical Timbaland/Timberlake moment of bombast, all OTT guitar licks and keening “Hey“s. And then something unexpected happens: it morphs into a sleekly industrial neo-funk banger, complete with blinding lashes of synth and a snaking bassline. It’s filthy, sure, but in a classy way.

If the title had you expecting explicit lyrics, you’d be hard pushed to find anything substantial. At his most risqué he asks: “What you gonna do with all that meat?“, but soon falters, finding himself at the kitchen counter with 30kg of diced lamb, “cookin’ up a mean servin’.” Elsewhere there’s talk of smoking and staying up until – whoa there – “six in the morning“.

With his braggadocious delivery, though, Timberlake pulls it off. And anyway, what’s really brilliant about ‘Filthy’ is that it’s proof that JT isn’t done with innovating. It’s too early to say whether ‘Man of the Woods’ will follow suit – it contains a guest turn from country singer Chris Stapleton after all – but JT seems to be on the same mission he’s been on since ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’: making pop that sounds like the future.