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How Justin Timberlake Stole Janelle Monae's Steez

And why we're okay with that.


JT's campaign for global domination—or at least those corners of the globe that he hasn't already conquered—continues apace today with the streaming of his new joint, 20/20, on iTunes. Just his third solo album in seven years, 20/20 has seen our second favorite Mouseketeer (what up, Gosling!?!) everywhere. Last night he took his talents to Fallon, and last Saturday he almost singlehandedly delivered one of the year's best Saturday Night Live episodes (that is, singlehandedly with the help of Jay-Z, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Andy Samberg, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, Paul Simon, and Tom Hanks.) We're expecting him to turn up at the Vatican conclave and courtside with Kim Jong Un any day now.

Early reactions to 20/20 have been strong, which is no surprise. Who doesn't love JT, especially with this cool new Rat Pack vibe? While debut single "Suit & Tie" struck some listeners as underwhelming (fans like their JT as either balladeer or dance-meister, not mid-tempo crooner), the album as a whole sees Timberlake, and his similarly monikered studio wiz Timbaland, giving listeners what they want: pop-savvy, new-jack soul. So that's all good.

But watching JT perform on SNL—performing music, that is—we couldn't shake a sense of deja vu. Was it the tuxedo? The horn-heavy backing band, also dressed in tuxes? The pompadour?  Was it the James Brown-meets-Michael Jackson dance moves? The guest verses from an A-list MC? Or was it all of the above?

Then it dawned on us: JT is straight-up ripping off Janelle Monae, the super-foxy soul sister, whose ArchAndroid was arguably the best album of 2010 (and who guested on FUN.'s inescapable hit "We Are Young" this year). Even their album covers—slightly futuristic close-ups—are kinda similar:
 





Well, that might be a stretch. But let's look at the videos for Monae's "Tightrope" and JT's "Suit & Tie" and compare...



Tuxedo:
Let's be honest: JT looks pretty good in a tux. He looks good in lots of stuff. But Monae? Damn girl! Who knew drag could look so sexy? Bonus points for the size of her bow-tie. Bigger in this case is better.
Advantage: Monae

The Hair:
Both artists go for variations on the pompadour. JT's is subtle, Monae's in massive. But here's the thing: Justin, cool it with the relaxer! We know you don't have straight hair. Your ramen-headed days will forever haunt you.
Advantage: Monae

Concept:
"Tightrope" seems to take place in some sort of abandoned mental hospital, which is both spooky and pretty cool. "Suit & Tie" seems like FUN.'s "We Are Young" only without all the destruction. We like the destruction.
Advantage: Monae
 
Backing Band:
JT's "Tennessee Kids" definitely know how to bring a smooth soul vibe, but their name reminds us of ex-MTV VJ Jesse Camp and his "8th Street Kidz." Monae's "Classy Brass," on the other hand, has a killer name and brings the funk. 
Advantage: Monae

Backing Dancers:
In both cases, the backing dancers are dressed like the artists they're backing, so this could be a wash. But there's something about Janelle and Co.'s no-socks and saddle shoes look, plus the fact that they seem to be gliding across the floor, that we have a hard time wrapping our heads around. JT's crew seems to be mimicking Michael Jackson, while Monae's in going more James Brown. This is a close one, but…
Advantage: Monae

Guest MC: 
Jay-Z is arguably the greatest rapper of all time (although it's actually Biggie), and his super-smooth, killer-cool attitude is perfect for the vibe JT's going for. If only his verse was better. Big Boi, on the other hand, spits a mind-bending tongue-twister that reminds us why we loved OutKast so much in the first place.
Advantage: Monae

 

Use of Weird Wrought-Iron Beds:
It comes down to this one. The bed only makes a brief cameo in "Suit & Tie" and we're not really sure what the point of it is. The institutional version in "Tightrope," however, adds a creepy vibe to an already creepy video.
Advantage: Monae

Conclusion: 
We're not very good at math, but it looks like Janelle Monae takes this head-to-head by a hair. Still, you should check out 20/20. It's really good. Just not as good as ArchAndroid.


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