I just read an excellent piece that captures the strange situation of blacks liking artists like Justin Timberlake, who I, like the author of the piece, really like. I think Timberlake is a supremely talented triple threat – singing, acting and dancing. Not many can match him across all three disciplines. He is not the best at any one of them, but few can competently do them all.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is Timberlake benefits from being a White singer who borrows from Black styles which then makes it much more palatable to middle America to enjoy his style and music since a Black singer doing the same music is not always so easily accepted to the main audience of Whites.
Here is how the author of the piece I am referring to said it:
My ambivalence toward Justin is, to a large degree, a matter of aesthetics. But it’s also rooted in a very real anxiety about white artists “borrowing” black music and style then taking a break when it becomes inconvenient. Yes, Timberlake has rightfully earned his place among modern pop music legends, but he also embodies the historical mistrust that exists between white performers and black listeners that dates at least as far back as Elvis Presley’s 1950s foray into what was then called “race music.“
Timberlake is by no means in my opinion a racist nor is he purposely taking advantage of Blacks. I think he truly loves the music and it fits him. So let him do his thing. I am not trying to take that away from him or any other White singer for loving the music. Why shouldn’t they?
So I am not blaming him or a slew of others like Macklemore, Presley, Robin Thicke, Justin Beiber, you name the “blue-eyed soul singer” that we have seen. But it should not be surprising either when these singers take the Number 1 slots for their music. Again, I don’t see it as racism, just numbers. There are more white consumers. So when a White singer belts out Soul or Rap, it makes it more acceptable to many to buy it. History proves it. The Beastie Boys, talented as they were, were by no means the best rappers out there. But Number 1 they were. Eminem is also talented. But not surprisingly he outsells most Black artists, in a very Black-rooted art form. Macklemore, a White rapper, comes along with a very catchy tune, “Thrift Shop,” and rockets to the top of rap and other music. Again not surprising. Kind of like Vanilla Ice wasn’t surprising many years ago. Timberlake is just benefitting, whether he knows it or not, from being White in a style rooted in Black culture.
I watched Timberlake perform on SNL a few weeks ago and loved his performance of “Suit and Tie,” a song I love. But it was interesting to note that everyone backing him musically in his very large band, save I think for two band members, was Black. I think for someone like Timberlake, and I have seen this before, having a nearly all-Black band and back up singers, provides credibility and a coolness factor. Sort of a, “look, I’m down with these people.”
But as I said, I like Timberlake. But I do so at least knowing fully well, that part of his success is not just about his talent.
Here is the full article that sparked this post. Well worth reading. And below is Timberlake’s performance on SNL.