Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Vultures Have Flown South

In case you didn’t see it, Justin Timberlake’s fifth stint as host of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE was another smash success. His latest out-of-this-world display of showmanship on the most difficult of celebrity stages begs the question I’ve been asking the last ten years: If JT isn’t the best who’s better?

Watching him rock Studio 8A last night, making the most talented cast of comics and impressionists on the planet look like a band of backup dancers was nothing compared to how pedestrian he made icons like Paul Simon, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin look when they were invited to share screen time with Timberlake. JT made Oscar-winner Tom Hanks look like second string. He made SNL-legend Alec Baldwin look ordinary. And all this before he even unleashed his latest performance of “Suit & Tie.”

Of course Timberlake is a stick of dynamite on any stage. He can sing, dance, make funny, do it all. But what separates Timberlake from every other guy out there who can do that too? I’m not saying there’s nobody else who can tear it up in entertainment. Almost anyone who's A-List is darn good. But why do we care so much about JT? Why will NBC and Jimmy Fallon redub a week of late-night programming TIMBERWEEK? Why will SNL icons reemerge around JT’s hosting stint? It was like an all-star show last night. Why does my wife wonder where Jessica Biel is during the SNL broadcast or where Justin & co. will be out eating in NYC after the show? She wasn’t wondering that when Kevin Hart or Jonah Hill hosted. When did this happen? When did he become the most exciting on stage AND the most exciting off stage? When did he become personal to us?

Justin went from a boy-bander that everyone dismissed as temporary, to a guy everyone figured for dead after one solo album, to a guy who . . . and fifteen years later I argue he’s the biggest star in the world. The only thing harder than coming up from nothing is being famous at fourteen then finding a way to work hard enough, and be smart enough, and talented enough not to mess it up, but only get bigger and better. There’re maybe five or six people in modern entertainment history that’ve been skillful enough and level headed enough NOT to completely blow up childhood stardom. As we watch the Beebs begin his certain self-destruction, Timberlake continues to prove he was never just a boy-bander, or just a guy who’d make one album and go poof, or just . . .

I hope we can appreciate that we are witnessing an icon happening right in front of our eyes. To answer my earlier question: I guess we feel like we know JT, and wonder where he’s eating after the show, because we’ve grown up with him, and now he’s a certified star, with heavyweight industry friends and unmatched talent, smarts, and work ethic. JT has never made a bad PR move. Never, not once, save the matching denim outfits of course. Not easy when you’re world famous by fourteen. Ask Britney Spears how easy it is.

You think Elvis could’ve done what Timberlake did last night? Michael Jackson? George Clooney? Will Ferrell? Mark Wahlberg? Who? Who could host, sing, star in every skit, deliver every line unblundered? Maybe Jimmy Fallon. Most weeks the SNLers have to quasi-carry their celebrity hosts through the show with solid writing and selective casting. Last night, JT told the SNLers to take a coffee break, and he carried the whole thing himself. Jay-Z’s no fool. He knows who to jump on with.

My only concern with JT is as follows: I’m not sure his brand of super-galaxy talent translates to an arena or stadium setting i.e. a major music tour. I obviously think Timberlake is an all-time great, but I’m not sure I’d go see him at Met-Life Stadium or even the TU. Most of the appeal with him would be up close and personal, watching this showman perform his craft close enough to appreciate it. I can’t do that from the eighty-fifth row. I saw him play live once from the eighty-fifth row. It was ordinary. Timberlake isn’t ordinary. 20/20 is going to be a great album. I think we're still waiting for his THRILLER or CONFESSIONS. Maybe another slight knock. It's coming.

As for last night, JT manhandled the most elite talent on the planet, and he's only 32. His one-time contemporaries are gone in the dust. His one-time naysayers are now sitting front row for his shows. Anyone who watched SNL last night knows that. My mother stayed up for SNL last night. Why would she stay up for the first time all season and watch a show she never really watches? Because it was Justin Timberlake of course. The vultures have flown south. He did it.

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Brian Huba

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