On Wednesday, November 11th, the speculation ended, and a new era began. Justin Timberlake has officially gone country. Or at least one of his songs has.
As radio programmers all over the country were busy Wednesday morning trying to figure out where to stack their reams of payola, a memorandum buzzed out across the wires: “Justin Timberlake’s ‘Drink You Away’—the same song he played with Chris Stapleton on the CMA Awards—is requesting play on your country station.”
Whether country radio hops to it and follows orders remains to be seen, but the effort has been expended to put Timberlake on your local country radio dial, and it appears this is the precursor to a big move by Justin Timberlake into country music that Saving Country Music and others have been predicting.
The single that landed at country stations is a shortened radio edit of the 5:31 song that originally appeared on Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience released way back in September of 2013—well over two years ago.
Perhaps we’ll take a deeper consideration of the song itself in due course, including considering it as a country song since that’s how it’s being sold now. But on the surface, this is a terrible move by Timberlake. At the moment he needed to ingratiate himself to the country music community the most—the release of the first song to be considered by the format—he takes the easy way out by taking a two-year-old song from a two-year-old album, and becomes another part of the problem as opposed to a potential solution. Timberlake’s performance on the CMA Awards was fine as the pop collaboration that it was, but was way too boisterous and overstated to attempt to be passed off as country.
Perhaps he got punch drunk from all of the success following the CMA Awards for himself and Stapleton. Perhaps with the dramatic sales spike the song enjoyed post CMA’s, Timberlake and label managers decided it was time to strike while the iron was hot. Maybe that’s why the single wasn’t released until a week later instead of the same night. But the release of “Drink You Away” puts Timberlake right in the crosshairs of cynics, and it remains to be seen if country radio will even be receptive. The song is just not relevant, either on the calendar, or in the country format, though admittedly a lack of country relevancy has not discouraged others from making similar moves.
Did we just witness pals Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake enact a cross genre switcheroo?
Justin Timberlake is in Nashville recording music as we speak. The reason he paired up with Chris Stapleton on the CMA Awards is likely because they’ve been writing songs or otherwise collaborating together since December of 2014. When Timberlake does release his next record and it includes country material, it’s likely to be much more country than this, and perhaps this “Drink You Away” single will simply be a footnote. But for now, it’s the wrong foot to start off his country courtship on.