No. 256: Man of the Woods

Justin Timberlake for Pendleton

DNVB / Media / eCommerce: (1) Justin Timberlake is one of the most talented musicians on earth and he wants to perform well into his 40’s. (2) The music industry continues to evolve and only the savviest artists are appropriately navigating streaming’s economic limitations.

Consider these two assessments when framing what Man of The Woods is all about.

Timberlake is a savvy businessman. So when the initial imagery for his Man of The Woods album released, it was easy to joke a bit about how blatant the merchandising promotion appeared to be. The irony of my earlier tweet was that Timberlake’s evolution is unquestioned. He’s also capable of playing a longer game than most other artists because of his previous, outsized successes.

Web Smith on Twitter

Timberlake and Bruno Mars have identical skill sets. One figured out how to evolve and the other one is making native ads for Filson.

Here’s the Timberlake career arc in a nutshell. Mr. Biel has been that rare and consistent success over three decades of changing music, his outlandish pop-fashion, and mostly-poor haircare decisions. He’s traversed the impossible terrain of American musical evolution:

  • Mickey Mouse Club Member (Ages 12-15)
  • N’SYNC lead (Ages 15-22)
  • Hip hop-infused pop star (Ages 22-33)
  • Jay-Z approved R&B artist (Ages 33-36)
  • The beginning of his latest phase (Ages 37-on)

To better understand Timberlake’s newfound interest in American heritage brands, consider that he is proudly from Tennessee and he was always inspired by the music of the region. 

Consider these two quotes from Refinery29‘s Album Review:

There was much debate about how Mumford & Sons/O Brother Where Art Thou? this album would get after Timberlake debuted its teaser trailer, but when the first two singles (“Filthy” and “Supplies”) were the straight-ahead dance pop we expected, it was assumed that Timberlake didn’t go full Montana — or even Tennessee. But there are strong country moments here, daringly on songs not involving Stapleton, who plays guitar on multiple songs.


The key to understanding why this feels like cultural tourism may come in Timberlake’s interview with Zane Lowe for Beats 1. He told Lowe that all of his records before were “aspiration,” either to a lifestyle or for him to “pay homage to my influences.” When you dabble in country or Americana but don’t have influences in mind to pay homage to, things are going to get weird.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 2.16.39 PMWhen I was an elementary school kid in Houston, I lived down the street from a music hall owned by Kris Kristofferson, a place where he’d perform with musicians like Shel Silverstein. I also had the opportunity to watch several of Kristofferson’s colleagues in their later years: Merle, Waylon, and so on. It’s squarely here that Timberlake is drawing aspiration for the next decade of his career with the help of Chris Stapleton, wool, and a beard.

Few can take issue with his staying power. And staying power means that you have to be willing to adapt to remain at the forefront of your craft. Timberlake is the master of this. So now that we’ve established the musician’s newfound musical aspiration, let’s look at the merchandising deals that were organized by Bravado, Universal Music Group’s merchandising arm.

A scene from the Man of The Woods pop up at 138 Wooster, NY, NY

Each track from Man of the Woods had a collaborative item:

  • Filthy: Heron Preston
  • Midnight Summer Jam: YETI
  • Sauce: Best Made Co.
  • Man Of The Woods: Best Made Co.
  • Higher Higher: Jordan Brand
  • Wave: Warby Parker
  • Supplies: Best Made Co.
  • Morning Light: Pendleton
  • Say Something: Moleskin
  • Hers: Pendleton
  • Flannel: Levi’s
  • Montana: Levi’s
  • Breeze Off The Pond: Maestro’s Classic
  • Livin’ Off The Land: Best Made Co.
  • The Hard Stuff: by Leor Yerushalmi
  • Young Man: Lucchese

In exchange for cross promotion and sales, several heritage brands and DNVB’s joined in on this experiment through Universal Music Group. The end result: Timberlake has masterfully monetized streaming music in a way that most artists had only dreamt of before Universal’s Bravado arm came about.

In the end, perhaps I was right about the snide comparison between Mars and Timberlake. Just days after Mars’ musical mastery and charisma amassed him six Grammy awards, Timberlake officially left craftsmanship behind – choosing to use streaming music as a vehicle for commerce and reinvention.

The Man of the Woods album is wholly forgettable. With any luck and a few more American albums, Timberlake will eventually get that nod from southern rock’s good ole’ boys. But everything from the Nike SNKRS stunt (1) at Super Bowl LII to corralling Yeti and Heron Preston is pure 24 karat magic.

(1) The Super Bowl / Nike / SNKRS deal explained.


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