Are people tired of
The 18,000 or so packed into
"That's how y'all feeling tonight, L.A.?" he asked the capacity crowd. "Y'all feeling a certain sort of way."
The display was a pronounced refutation of the idea, building lately among some pop-culture pundits, that Timberlake is dangerously overexposed right now.
His presence this year has been an undeniable force, beginning in January, when the 32-year-old revealed that he'd made his first album since 2006. Then came the gig at the Grammys, the huge record sales, the late-night television appearances and the joint stadium tour with Jay Z.
There was a (laughably brief) reunion with 'N Sync on the
It's enough to trigger an inevitable, maybe even rightful backlash, which is how Timberlake ended up telling
At a moment when public personalities are expected to maintain their positions through social-media politicking, that's an exciting energy to get from a superstar, the kind you might've hoped to get more of from Timberlake at Staples Center, where he brought a solo trek scheduled through the end of next summer. (It's to stop Wednesday night at Anaheim's
Here's the thing about thousands of shrieking ticket-buyers, though: They can make it pretty hard to work up any kind of lather. And so this show, which stretched to nearly three hours with an intermission, felt almost entirely free of tension, as Timberlake and his 15-piece backing band glided through tunes from the "20/20 Experience" discs, his earlier solo records and covers of far-flung evergreens such as "Heartbreak Hotel" and Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison."
As always with Timberlake, the performance was technically impressive, a reminder that precision is his default approach. During "That Girl," he kept his falsetto (and his Tom Ford suit) wrinkle-free as he climbed a steep staircase; later, he harmonized with video images of himself in "Only When I Walk Away."
"My Love" felt like a miniature catalog of the various styles at his command as the music shifted from scrubbing live-band funk to stripped-down piano balladry to the sleek robo-soul for which his producing partner Timbaland is known. And it was a kick to watch Timberlake putting his body into songs like "Señorita" and "Tunnel Vision," not dancing to them exactly (though there was plenty of choreography elsewhere) but feeling their grooves, measuring them in a way he never got the chance to in his more tightly managed boy-band days.
But part of the reason he can do that -- and part of why many of the "20/20 Experience" songs go on for longer than they should -- is because Timberlake's success has afforded him so much leeway with his fans. And despite his kingly manner, Timberlake might be at his best when he's up against something: the uncertainty that he could launch a solo career with 2002's "Justified," for instance, or the skepticism about singers moving into acting that attended his star turn in
In a room full of the supremely devoted -- including a few hundred people who'd paid to sit in a VIP section named for Timberlake's brand of tequila -- he faced no obstacles, which made his use of a few lines from
Occasionally, the magnitude of the singer's celebrity provided its own thrill, as when he mounted a platform that detached from the main stage and brought him to within spitting distance of crowd members at the opposite end of the arena. (Needless to say, nobody tried to spit at him.) And in several songs -- "TKO,"
Yet those appealingly combative flashes only made you wish that Timberlake had more to be angry about. Maybe a few more months of blowback will do the trick.