"No. I am your father." —Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake is a Dad™. But not just any dad.
He is your dad. He is my dad. He is a dad to his biological son, Silas Randall Timberlake. He is a dad today, he will be a dad tomorrow -- to dad is his destiny. Justin Timberlake has always been a dad. We’ve just been embarrassingly slow to notice.
But I digress.
This week, Justin Timberlake performed an acoustic version of Cyndi Lauper’s "True Colors" at Cannes in support of his upcoming animated feature film, Trolls (which is about quirky Scandinavian toys from the 1990s, not awful Twitter eggs, believe it or not). The performance was cute, it was in tune, and it was heartfelt. And as Justin strummed and sang in his gingham short-sleeved shirt and well-tailored khaki pants, he sent an aesthetic message even clearer than his pitch: He’s gone full dad. It’s time to acknowledge this fundamental truth about the universe and Justin Timberlake.
Of course, he always has been. Whether referring to wife Jessica Biel as a MILF on Mother’s Day (Dad, no) or donning a fedora in the video for "Can’t Stop the Feeling" (Dad, why), Justin has consistently let his father flag fly -- and with plenty of warning. Whether appearing on The Mickey Mouse Club in his Sunday best or matching his denim with that of ex-GF Britney Spears, J.T. has perpetually been mere seconds from declaring his fatherhood alongside a sly wink. Because he’s a cool dad, not a regular dad. And if you’re going to drink, please tell him, because he’d rather you do it in the house.
Let's start with a classic GIF from long ago. With his hand gingerly draped around Brit’s wee shoulders, young Justin looks seconds from delivering a Danny Tanner–style speech about the perils of underage partying and/or not ironing one’s shirt. And bless him for it. Earnestness is a trait we don’t see enough of today, or ever, particularly in child stars or burgeoning teen heartthrobs.
And little did we know we’d return to it. Especially after rebelling both via oversize denim overalls and the unique style choices of his debut video with *NSYNC, 1996's "I Want You Back."
What father is this? What dad would emerge with such contrasting colors, fabrics, and silhouettes? Easy: Hip Dad. Cool Dad. A Dad Who’s With It, He Swears. Sure, we may dismiss any and all dad merits by citing Justin’s oversize pants or skintight short-sleeved turtleneck as the uniform of the young — or we can draw our attention to the fact that he zipped it right up to his chin, and that out of every accessory imaginable, he opted for a black leather belt. (Like my actual father.)
Then, add in the graphics (which look like the product of a late Wednesday night mastering Windows 98), the dance moves (the result of too many coolers at a friend’s BBQ), and the silk jacket (an investment piece), and we have it: destiny. Joey Fatone may have been 46, but only one member belonged with a BabyBjörn.
Plus, how else do you explain a music video set in a toy store?
Justin: "I’m thinking we set it in a toy store ..."
Chris Kirkpatrick: "Go on."
Justin: "And then we are the toys ..."
JC Chasez: "Wait, what?"
Justin: "Because, as a dad ..."
Lance Bass: "Huh?"
Justin: "Sorry, guys, I gotta go -- my girlfriend and I are coordinating outfits."
Remember this? Of course you do. It’s a part of our heritage, and has arguably shaped us all in ways we still can’t be quite sure of. But what teen and/or early twentysomething do you know who actually did this? What school dance was defined by so-and-so’s matching ensembles? Which prom? What costume party (aside from Halloween, which is admittedly a nightmare and a conversation for a different day)? None. Nein. Zero. Matching outfits define the first circle of hell for anyone who doesn’t drive a minivan adorned with sticker families. And even then, no.
This iconic image is Justin at full dad. Happy dad. Dad who wants to tell you just how happy he is. Until a second later, when the divorce has been announced, the custody has been determined, and what was once a family man is now a dad trolling for vindication, opening a video with a catcall before emerging with a shaved head and rubber shirt.
May 6ix God have mercy on us all.
And so began an important shift in Justin’s dad narrative. From proud papa to "having ourselves a nice little Saturday" to a father on the prowl, Justin demonstrated the precious life stages so many of us have been privy to. This is what made "SexyBack" so important. Now, after adopting fedoras, reveling in his singlehood, and trying to redefine who he is on his terms ("No, you can’t have the kids this weekend, Norma. I got us tickets to the game — Jesus”), he showed up looking like a million dollars, donning a suit in an era defined by bootcut jeans, graphic t-shirts, and Livestrong bracelets. Behold: Dad 2.0.
Right? I mean, the man wrote a song that's literally about suits and ties, therefore entering the era of "Hot Dad," "Business Dad," and even "Kids, I’m Getting Remarried."
I mean, do you know who sings about clothes? Teens in the noughties (see: pop’s former obsession with shoes), middle-aged men (Jay Z, "Tom Ford") ... and that’s all. Those are the only people. Twentysomething and early-thirtysomething musicians tend to sing about love or politics or social trends or work or sex or drugs or addiction or anything else. (Christmas, even. Halloween!) It is a serious dad move to spend roughly four minutes singing about one’s dedication to a specific wardrobe aesthetic. It is even more of a serious dad move to — after singing the merits of One Percent–equivalent fashion — continue wearing fedoras. And to start wearing gingham. And to button one’s shirt up to the neck while overenthusiastically providing the soundtrack for Trolls. (Which, I will say, is one hell of a song.)
So let’s not be shocked. Let’s not act surprised. For years, Justin Timberlake has stood onstage -- both literally and on the stage of our hearts -- and proudly declared his intention to parent. He has never hidden this from us. He has never pretended. We have only projected our own viewpoints and been shocked to see him, say, bust out an acoustic guitar at an international cinematic event. Or wear a fedora long after the world outlawed them. (Or use the term "MILF" unironically #why).
But we shouldn’t have been. He just did what a dad would do. And while J.T. may still be a new dad in terms of his own biological offspring, he’s been our dad since he sang the merits of Mickey Mouse in some freshly pressed slacks. So this Father’s Day, remember that Justin Timberlake is the ultimate dad. Because also, that is the only way I can wrap my head around Trolls. Or more specifically, the choice of headwear corresponding with it.