In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, since we’re getting into the summer groove, we’re picking what we’d like to be this year’s song of the summer.
Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” (2016)
To me, a perfect summer song is one I can blast while driving in the car with the windows down, as I develop a killer sunburn on my left arm. The tune doesn’t have to be meaningful—in fact, the more lightweight, the better—and it should offer a few minutes of unadulterated escapism. More often than not, this means I’m turning to the top 40, since that’s where the most inventive, freshest summer pop has emerged in recent years.
This year, I can already tell that Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” is my hot-weather jam. Stylistically, it’s a soul-pop sugar rush tweaked for maximum dance grooves, thanks to faint electronic programming. Unsurprisingly, credits show the song is a collaboration between JT and Max Martin, whose Timberlake-related CV entries, incredibly, previously only included the ’N Sync megahit “It’s Gonna Be Me” and album cut “Tell Me, Tell Me… Baby.” Martin and collaborator Shellback’s knack for foolproof pop hooks and concise arrangements are a perfect match for Timberlake’s nimble falsetto and vocal acrobatics. It’s a contemporary-sounding tune but possesses a few nostalgic signifiers to give it a timeless sheen.
Perhaps because the song is meant for the upcoming animated film Trolls (whose soundtrack JT is executive-producing), it’s almost adorably PG-rated. The raciest line comes during the chorus, when Timberlake quickly references dancing closely with someone. In fact, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” is fun and effervescent in ways that both volumes of The 20/20 Experience weren’t. Those albums felt like JT trying to run away from his strengths (e.g., pleasurable pop music). I’m not saying an artist needs to be stagnant, of course—Timberlake can and should evolve—but those records needed a serious editor, specifically to rein in the song lengths. “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” reverses course and is the kind of frothy, carefree song I expect to grow tired of only when the leaves start to turn.