Oh, Justin. What have you done, my man? One second you’re on top of the world — the only guy from the ’90s boy band era who’s been able to launch a successful solo career, bring sexy back, and headline the Super Bowl halftime show twice — and the next? You’re on the brink of persona non grata status, facing a harsh backlash from both the football and music communities. The fates, they are cruel.
First, there was Thursday night’s Super Bowl press conference. It was all sailing along smoothly until you said that thing. A reporter asked if you’d support your three-year-old son if he eventually wanted to play for the NFL, and you replied, almost reflexively: “Uh, he will never play football.”
Oof, awkward. Football is a sport that’s been getting enough bad publicity as it is, what with all the new research about the long-term implications of concussions, and the lawmakers trying to ban tackle football for children, and that bad Will Smith movie, and the XFL making the comeback nobody asked for. And now, the Super Bowl halftime headliner is essentially recoiling — on national television — at the thought of his kid ever touching the pigskin. I mean, fair enough — CTE is no joke — but hoo boy, that’s not a good look for the NFL. We’re sure you got an earful from the league’s PR flacks.
But, hey, they can’t be too hard on you. Obviously you were a little distracted; it was the eve of the release of your highly-anticipated new album, Man of the Woods.
Yeeeeah, about that. Hate to break it to you, but your new record’s getting DISEMBOWELED. By just about everybody. Pitchfork is calling it “indulgent, inert, and vacuous.” The Guardian is calling it “plain bad” and “bewitching.” Stereogum thinks it’s “a noncommittal shrug of an album.” The Atlantic says you’ve “lost the killer ear that makes an arena-commanding pop star.”
Of course, critics don’t always get it right. Zeppelin routinely got panned during their heyday. And your concept of “modern Americana with 808s” sounds kinda neat on paper. I like Johnny Cash and I like Kanye. It can’t be that bad. Can it?
Oh. My. Word. I take it all back. It really can be that bad. This song sounds like what would happen if Michael Bublé attempted to cover the Steve Miller Band. Besides the obvious tone-deafness of writing music that panders to rural white America at a time like this — you remember why Colin Kaepernick starting doing that whole kneeling-during-the-anthem thing, right? — this is also just an objectively terrible take on rural white American music. Justin, why did you rip off the bass line from the Spongebob Squarepants theme song? This makes Mumford & Sons sound authentic and edgy. I’m offended for all the tiki-torchers out there.
Man, I feel for you JT. Clearly you’re in the throes of some sort of early midlife crisis. Not a great time to be headlining the Super Bowl halftime show. Just promise me you’ll stick mostly to your back catalogue. (But try not to actually cry us a river while you’re out there.) And make sure you bring out lots of guests — they’ll help take attention away from… well, from you. Is Janet Jackson busy this weekend?