Commenting on the events of the Academy Awards last month, Amanda Petrusich writes in The New Yorker an ambiguous column about the commercial phenomenon and success of Justin Timberlake. Timberlake opened the ceremony with a performance of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from the animated movie Trolls. Petrusich runs through the highlights of Timberlake’s career and observes that “[t]hese days, we have mostly divested ourselves of any notion that art and profit are inherently at odds, or that work made in service of consumerism is fundamentally compromised….Timberlake might be, at present, our most expressly and unapologetically commercial artist.”
The notion that art and profit are inherently incompatible is inconsistent with the historical record, and this is exactly why Timberlake is as omnipresent in the entertainment industry as he is. He consistently delivers a product that consumers enjoy and are willing to buy.
According to Petrusich, Timberlake’s career has been shaped by corporate and commercial designs. He began his career with “The Mickey Mouse Club” and then joined the band N’Sync, a group “designed primarily to make money.” He recorded a jingle that was widely used by McDonald’s for advertising in the early 2000s. He has also “had a fashion line, a record label, restaurants, a golf course, and a minority stake in the Memphis Grizzlies; he cheerfully endorses many products, including a fragrance, a car, and Sony electronics. In 2012, he hosted a corporate meeting for Walmart shareholders.” All the while, his solo albums have sold almost 30 million records worldwide.
The amalgamation of Timberlake’s talent, public persona, and commercial presence has turned out to be a winning combo for him. Much like the corporations and businesses he has acted as spokesperson for, his products create value for listeners (and moviegoers), which is why they are willing to depart with their earned income to purchase them.
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