Justin Timberlake and Beyonce have a lot in common, and more than just the one degree of Jay Z.
Both got their starts in the 2000s high period of girl and boy bands. Timberlake and Beyonce spun off from N*SYNC and Destiny's Child, respectively, to create their own solo careers. Born only a couple months apart, the two are now entering their early 30s and settling into familyhood. Beyonce welcomed child Blue Ivy Carter last winter with rapper Jay Z, to whom she has been married for nearly five years. Timberlake married actress Jessica Biel last fall, though there is no talk of a baby making three just yet.
But family life hasn't sidelined the two stars, each in the midst of a media blitz that culminates in summer tours. (Timberlake is co-headlining with Jay Z, so rumors swirl that the two super tours may even converge).
Both also released new music this week. Timberlake's full length album "The 20/20 Experience" (which is expected to be the first installment of a two-part album) debuted Tuesday. Beyonce surprised the Internet by posting "Bow Down/I Been On" to her Tumblr over the weekend.
Timberlake has coasted album and tour promotion—performing at the Grammy's, hosting a SNL, and marqueeing "Timberweek" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He coasts through his new album as well. "The 20/20 Experience" is a blend of R&B, soul and swagger, continuing on the musical direction Timberlake has traveled since his "Pop" days. And while it is already scoring strong reviews, it is not exactly shocking. If you're not paying attention, each track melts into the next, interrupted by occasional grumble from Timberlake or Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon. And while the sexual innuendo and drug allusions in its lyrics may offend some, in sound, it's as pleasant as a lazy river.
In recent years Timberlake has drifted away from his musical roots, focusing more on his budding acting career in films including "Friends with Benefits" and "Bad Teacher". It was even reported that Timberlake was forced into new album because of contract obligations with his record RCA. It's also worth noting the campaign has capitalized on the JT image aside from hie musical talents—his SNL and Fallon appearance showing off his comedic chops, and his marketing partnership with Bud Light Platinum, his commercial ubiquity.
As New York Magazine's Amanda Dobbins at noted last week, Beyonce's ride to maintain relevancy has been rockier than Timberlake's, who Dobbins says has been given the "male-celebrity hall pass." Indeed, Beyonce's latest track has ruffled feathers, and it's unclear where it is meant to be taken as a serious single or just an attention-getter. On "Bow Down" Beyonce, over a brash Texas trill beat, demands her haters (and maybe even her fans) to "Bow down bitches." The track then transitions to "I Been On," with Beyonce, pitched down to the tenor of gangster Goliath, bragging about the street cred she has been earning since she was 14-years old. (Her blog even topped the track with a pagaent-garbed child Beyonce photoshopped in front of mantle of trophies).
Unlike Timberlake, Beyonce has been undoubtedly committed to her music. Her last full length album "4"—which "20/20 Experience" is not surprisingly being compared to—was seen as a purposeful move away from the dance floor pop that made Sasha Fierce so fierce; It took risks in genre-venturing that did not always succeed, but at least declared a new direction for Queen Bey. Since her crown has wobbled. The revelation that she lipsynched the Star Spangle Banner during President Barack Obama's inauguration was treated as national tragedy. Perhaps ironically, the careful polish of her HBO documentary "Life is But a Dream" dulled her image, with The Hollywood Reporter dismissing it as a "micromanaged video diary" and The New Yorker calling it "a torrent of banalities."
But with the new tracks—and the stellar Super Bowl performance that came on the heels of the lipsynching controversy—she is pushing back.Weeks away her tour titled "The Mrs. Carter Show" she asserts her right to be both a perfect wife and a perfect performer, and reminds them, "I took some time to live my life, But don't think I'm just his little wife," she insists in "Bow Down." No such anxiety exists in "20/20 Experience;" with its steady stream of love ballads and baby-making music, "20/20" suggest Timberlake's marriage to Biel is nothing but domestic bliss.
One can only expect that Timberlake will stick to his people-pleasing script on his "Legends of Summer Tour." However challenging, Beyonce, in both her tour and her rumored upcoming album, may be the 30-something pop royalty to watch. Will she steady her crown and go back to "perfect"? Or will she embrace the backlash and toss it off entirely?