Is this the most narcissistic love song of all time? Just after what felt like a nightlong advertisement for his new album (the Grammys), Justin Timberlake put out his eight-minute new jam “Mirrors” last night. While ostensibly a love song to the love of JT’s life (send your jealousy-driven hate mail to Jessica Biel), and perhaps a partial homage to MJ’s “Man in the Mirror,” it’s hard not to notice that all the love is directed at what JT lovingly describes as his own reflection. “You reflect me. I love that about you,” Timberlake sings, “If I could, I’d look at us all the time.” A selfish kind of love, indeed.
Not that JT is the first to make pop out of self-love. Such songs were one of the hot topics of 2011, after a study suggested that narcissism was on the rise on the Billboard charts, prompting a “duh” from David Brooks and a defense from pop critics. I’m inclined to agree with the pop critics: Narcissism in pop is nothing new, and there’s nothing wrong with using a pop song as a tool to find some self-empowerment. (Just as long as you don’t confuse that self-empowerment for something more selfless.)
Of course none of this would matter if it weren’t for the music, and in the end “Mirrors” delivers. Over “Cry Me a River”-style beatboxing (a nifty trick that’s getting a little old, especially in this a-capella-loving era), Justin croons in heavily harmonized falsetto, and a string backing fills out the “Suit & Tie”-wearing luxury pop feel. The epic features not one but two breakdowns, and it’s in the second, about five and a half minutes in, that the song really finds its groove. Timberlake finally turns his gaze outward, chanting “You are, you are the love of my life,” as the beat rebuilds itself around him. It may be a selfie trying to disguise itself as a valentine, but you can still find some charm in it when it looks this good.