Was Justin Timberlake Forced to Release ’20/20′ to Satisfy Live Nation Contract?

Earlier this week the buzz around Justin Timberlake concerned the phenomenal sales of The 20/20 Experience, which topped the charts its first week out with 968,000 copies sold. That’s the most sales so far this year, and also the most since Taylor Swift moved more than 1 million copies of Red during its first week of release in October of last year.

But that buzz has now moved to the question up in the headline: Was Justin Timberlake Forced to Release ’20/20′ to Satisfy Live Nation Contract?

The new flurry of Timberlake news is spurred by an article in the Hollywood Reporter stating, essentially, that Timberlake signed a deal with Live Nation in 2009 that he would tour with the company at a future time. The deal was worth a reported $20 million, but reports claim that Live Nation was beginning to worry about his potential touring draw after a six year stretch with no new albums, which put in motion steps that led to Timberlake recording a new album. That new album, of course, would naturally lead to a new tour.

Other indicators include the fact that in 2011 the artist hinted to Playboy that he might not ever release a new album as he focused on acting, that the album was made in only 20 days, and that the media blitz leading up to the release of the album took only three months, rather than the year required for many albums.

My question is not if he released the album to satisfy his touring commitment to Live Nation, nor is it the question posited by the Atlantic – “Just how greedy is Justin Timberlake?” My question is: Does it matter?

Could he have released the album to satisfy the agreement? Sure. Pop artists (even those with ample funds in the bank, which Timberlake assuredly has) have done far worse for a quick buck. But there’s just as much evidence to suggest that Timberlake made the album he wanted to make when he wanted to make it.

Here are a few reasons why.

Just because Timberlake can afford to spend two years in the most expensive studio in the world doesn’t mean he has too. He got inspired, went into the studio with Timbaland, and came out with a record. It just happened that it only took them 20 days to do it. Great records have been made much in less time than that. Timberlake didn’t make a great record, but he did make a very good one.

The 20/20 Experience has gotten fairly mixed reviews but overall they tend to skew positive. Regardless, I was impressed that Timberlake didn’t just trot out an easy Michael Jackson impersonation, hand it to his label, tour with Jay-Z for Live Nation, and then go back to the movie set of that upcoming Coen Brothers film and quickly forget about the whole thing.

No, he made the year’s best (so far) R&B album. In fact, he made the genre’s best album since Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. Personally I hear a good bit of influence from Ocean’s record on 20/20, which I view as part of a positive evolution for Timberlake.

As for the marketing blitz, I see it more as PR genius than a hurried, frantic attempt to get a product out. Billboard has a few articles on the effectiveness marketing plan, but it boils down to the fact that during the three months he was promoting the then-upcoming record, Timberlake wasn’t everywhere he could be. Instead – by design – he only appeared in places that mattered. Don’t think it worked? Check those album sales numbers at the top of this writing one more time.

In the wired and well-connected ADD society we live in now, Timberlake (and his management) played everything just right from a marketing perspective. His management got him to the places that offered the most visibility, and in three months he told everyone about the album, and it was out before they had time to forget they were waiting on it to be released.

So back to the original question, was he forced to do it? I choose to believe he wasn’t, but he certainly could have been. My choice is in part because I know that we certainly don’t want to know everything that goes on behind the scenes in the music industry regarding our favorite artists and albums. It just gets ugly.

Instead, just listen to it. If you like it, listen to it again. If you don’t like it, don’t listen. What it comes down to is you asking yourself if you like the album, that’s the question you should be asking.

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