For how long have people been dreaming about sexy robots? Scholars answer the question with the ancient Greek myth of the sculptor Pygmalion kissing a statue that had come to life. These days, Westworld, Ex Machina, and real-life inventors make human-hardware humping seem imminent. Music has linked the synthetic and the carnal at least since Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer transformed pop in 1977 with drum machines and orgasmic cooing. Now Justin Timberlake’s comeback single, “Filthy,” plays like a Svedka ad.
Musically, it’s a sci-fi oddity. Imagine standing under a cluster of transmission towers during a wind storm, or trying to listen to a Stevie Wonder jam but getting interrupted by a Lonely Island sketch, and you’ll get a sense of what it sounds like. But the irrepressible, jokey, ultra-artificial “Filthy” is really a throwback for Timberlake. His 2006 album title named the aesthetic: FutureSex/LoveSounds.
“Filthy” arrives five years after the profitable but forgettable prog-soul of The 20/20 Experience, 16 years after his post-’NSync career kicked off, and about one month before he takes the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show. Earlier in the week, a pretentious teaser for his new album, Man of the Woods, had fans worrying he’d ditch the pop fun to put on folk-singer drag. But Marcus Mumford and Bon Iver can hold off on calling their lawyers: “Filthy,” the opener of Man of the Woods, won’t play well on emotional backpacking journeys.