An Open Breakup Letter to Justin Timberlake

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Justin Timberlake performing during the Super Bowl LII Pepsi Halftime Show in 2018

Dear Justin Timberlake (can I still call you JT?), I am writing to inform you that we’re through. I’m breaking up with you.

Let me back up.

I realize it’s been awhile since we last talked. In fact, I know that this is actually the first time. You don’t know me from Adam, and that’s OK. But I pray it somehow encourages you—even though I’m breaking up with you.

I should specify that this has nothing to do with your hunting outfit from the Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show. Camouflage isn’t my thing, but I thought it looked fine next to Ryan McKenna’s hoodie. And I don’t want to deny your talents: You’re the best Saturday Night Live host this side of Steve Martin (sorry-not-sorry, Alec), and you’re a delight every single time I see you hanging with your pal Jimmy on his evening show. Your voice isn’t half bad, either.

But let’s be real: As much as I’d like to say “It’s not you, it’s me,” this is actually all about you.

We’re both husbands and fathers, Justin. We both know the love of strong wives. We have both experienced the joy of welcoming a child into the world. It’s really something, isn’t it? Having our minds blown and our hearts burst with love on a daily basis.

Kids are the best.

It’s actually on behalf of the kids that I am writing this breakup letter. Not because I speak for them (I don’t), but because I care so deeply for the men and women that they will become—just as I know you do for your son.

I’d like to think that you’d want your son to grow up to be a man who respects women. We’ve seen and heard such raw, tragic, inexcusable stories in this age of #MeToo, as women like Rachael Denhollander, Alyssa Milano, and so many more have come forward. We’ve seen the fruits of what happens when men (and societies) denigrate women and withhold from them their inherent right to be treated with respect.

We must find a better way forward. We will find a better way forward.

To do that, though, we have to take this problem more seriously. We can’t simply address the symptoms and the wounds. We must start seeing clearly the roots and begin digging them up.

I’m talking about our popular culture.

I’m not here to blindly rail and flail against it. There are many fine things that have come from it. However, there are many ways that it actually undergirds a view of women that subverts their true strength, wisdom, and beauty. And unfortunately, a lot of that subversion can be found in your music. Your catchy, infectious music.

Filthy,” for example, contains demands for your partner to gratify you sexually and seems barely, and only superficially, concerned with the idea of consent.

Or what about “Pusher Lover Girl” from The 20/20 Experience? A song wherein your paramour’s value to you is how addicted you are to the ways she gratifies you sexually? Like she’s little more than the sexual drug with which you get your high?

And how could we forget about “Tunnel Vision“? You remember, your song with the nudity-laden music video from 2013? Robin Thicke’s music video for “Blurred Lines” was (correctly, as I see it) removed from YouTube for its graphic nudity and exploitive nature. “Tunnel Vision” was ultimately allowed to remain on YouTube, but I don’t believe that means it’s less problematic: It’s still a video focused on commodifying women’s bodies.

Words are powerful. Music is powerful. They mean something and have the ability to influence hearts and minds—for better and for worse.

As such, we cannot afford to say that words matter only in books or songs about peace and justice but then try to claim they are meaningless when we strip others down into two-dimensional objects meant for our sexual self-gratification. If the words women use to reclaim their dignity are powerful for good, how can we pretend that words reducing them to commodities mean nothing and aren’t harmful?

Is that the kind of culture we want to leave to our children? Is that the kind of world we want them to live in? Or do we want to raise our sons and daughters differently and leave to them a world more just and compassionate?

Now, here’s the thing: I think you probably do respect women on many levels. But that’s not the message that comes through in much of your music and, perhaps, no one’s ever really mentioned that to you. We’re all a little—a lot, actually—used to music that diminishes the value of women and turns them into objects to be used for sexual gratification. But when we accept those words and don’t challenge our music to reject dehumanizing worldviews, we lose sight of the heart and soul of the people underneath the skin. We lose sight of the basic humanity of people when sexual gratification becomes king (or queen).

We can’t afford to lose sight of one another’s humanity, especially in our ubiquitous and influential world of popular culture and entertainment. Women are not objects and neither are men. But as long as the pop culture we create and imbibe preaches that we are, it’s going to be difficult to avoid the wounds of exploitation that are dominating our headlines.

Our words matter. Spoken or sung, our words impact one another. Songs that treat human beings—that treat women—simply as objects of sexual self-gratification contribute to a culture that will continue to undervalue and devalue them.

I won’t—and don’t need to—speak on behalf of womankind. As you and I both know, Justin, women are strong and capable all on their own and don’t need you or I to save them.

But I will challenge both of us. I think all of us men should admonish one another in healthy ways. I think we don’t do it enough.

I challenge us to consider the different ways we can work alongside the strong women around us to step away from a culture that is entertained by the objectification and commodification of the human body. I challenge us to raise our sons and daughters to be men and women who create and live in a world where sex, and the sexes, are not objectified, commodified or forces for marginalization.

I challenge us to be men who hold one another to a stronger, healthier standard. Even and especially when the rest of the world has a hard time understanding that standard. The old standard is, quite sadly, ancient and many are used to it.

So maybe this isn’t a breakup letter after all, Justin.

Maybe, instead, it’s an invitation into a deeper relationship. Not with me, unless you enjoy playing pickup basketball, talking about Brad Pitt movies, and eating Doritos while watching the Green Bay Packers. (If that’s the case then you should definitely DM me on Twitter.)

The deeper relationship we need to step into is a life and community that pursues justice and equality and which doesn’t stop at the door of pop culture. It’s not “just entertainment.” We can’t have it both ways. If the words we speak matter and have weight, then so do the words that we sing in the songs that we love.

Let’s make them matter for the right things.

Who wrote this?

Jake Roberson is Plugged In’s social media manager and strategist. He’s the father of four children and husband of one wife, and he quite likes life that way. He also likes writing about entertainment, pop culture, dadhood … and food. He’s also a former Guinness World Record holder for participating in the largest hacky sack circle. Catch up with him on Twitter @jake_roberson

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Sunwoman More than 1 year ago
Jake, I LOVED your article—right on it!  As a Mom I also have to add that I found the HALF TIME SHOW offensive!!!  —the way Justin acted toward the women on stage when he was near each one. Yes—I’m sure by today’s standards it was mild—but it still speaks of a poor way to treat a woman.  A terrible example for all kids.  I pray for all of our Christian kids, that they know Christ has called them to live differently, and that He will help them.  Such a difficult world for our kids and young adults. Thanks for your article!!!  You are appreciated!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I totally agree with you about Justin Timberlake.  I’ve liked his performances on late night television and some of his music over the years - what music I knew about.  I started watching a concert of his on Netflix a while back and was super impressed by the fact that he gathered his team together for a prayer before they went on stage.  However, once he started performing I couldn’t believe what I was hearing - it was all music such as you’ve described - objectifying women.  It made me wonder what exactly they were expecting God to bless when they said their prayer.  I skipped ahead in the concert several times hoping things would get better but finally just turned it off.  Instead I watched a Pentatonix concert where they also prayed together before their concert but then went and performed music and in such a way that I believe glorified God and his creations.  I too wish Justin would reflect on how he can use his talent and influence in a more positive way with a more wholesome and uplifing message.  That being said, I do agree that his selection of songs and performance for this years super bowl was family friendly and so this is not a criticism of that event in particular.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this. I sincerely hope it makes it to Justin and it encourages a heart change that cascades into the rest of pop culture. We all benefit from this loving, humble, firm, respectful example of how to start an edifying discourse with others. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome.  Thanks for writing this. Very well articulated and written.  I hadn't read any of your blogs before, but found this article through Adam Holtz's page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Hi Jake,

I have not read any of your stuff before. I did read this after finding it on Focus on the Families twitter page. I find this Open Letter to Justin to be just the thing I am working heard in 2018 to comforthead on. That would include Christian’s calling individuals out that are not professing believers nor claiming to live an “Evangelical” lifestyle. Justin Timberlake had a great entertaining set during the 2018 Super Bowl half-time show! I was personally excite to watch the Super Bowl because of Justin. I was (and still)a *NYSNC fan! One of the issues I had with this article was calling Justin to clean his music. He makes music according to his personal beliefs. What he believes is right according to his worldview. If this was Lecrae, David Crowder or Kirk Franklin, this would be a great article! But since this artist is an entertainer in the secular music industry, he is at liberty to create what he wishes, biased on his personal convictions. We can’t call non-believers out to live the life that Christian’s live! They are not to follow out standards until they have come into a personal relationship with Christ. Yes, you may break-up with Justin Timberlake. His music goes against your worldview!


Jennifer

TheJudeSantos More than 1 year ago
Jennifer, a number of years ago, I stood where you are, thinking the same thing and living out the notion that "We can’t call non-believers out to live the life that Christian’s live!" I later on realized that this is much like telling someone who has battled diabetes that they shouldn't talk to others about what sugar does to their health.
Ian Gold More than 1 year ago
Judging others:

"It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside..." -1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NLT

How non-believers / sinners come to believe and accept Jesus as Lord:

"...With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself..." -Jeremiah 31:3, NLT

"...See how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can't you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?" -Romans 2:4, NLT

The best way to dispel lies, is to know the TRUTH [the Word of GOD is Truth - Jesus IS living Word]. May we each study God's Word to show ourselves approved unto God, not man. The Lord sees and knows each of our hearts. Blessings and be well

Steve McIrvin More than 1 year ago
Thoughtful, funny and very much needed in our culture. Thanks for writing. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a well written, respectful article. It falls in line with what I would expect and hope to see from Focus on the Family.   It clearly states that it has nothing to do with the Superbowl performance on Sunday.  It doesn't disrespect and truly acknowledges the talent of the performer.  It is all about the power of the spoken word and the effect that it has on this and future generations. Which is a relevant message at any time. Phil 4:8 tells us to meditate on what ever is pure, noble, just, lovely and of good report, is there any virtue, is it praiseworthy? As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to utilize and "look" through the filters that the Lord provides. What do these lyrics "look" like when viewed through biblical filters? Are they pure, noble, just and so on? What message is communicated? Do they contradict the truth of who our Heavenly Father says we are?  We live in a fallen world but we are not of the world. (Prov 23:6-8) We battle a very real enemy who uses very subtle tactics to infiltrate and sway the minds of the followers of Christ. The more we listen to and entertain things that are contrary to God, the more acceptable they become. We begin to say things like "It's not that bad." or "It's just entertainment." Once we get to that point the enemy is in.  Prov 23:7 says "So as he thinks within himself, so he is.."  We lose sight of the fact that ".. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph 6:12) That very real battle, always starts with a small seed.  Thank you for setting a Christ like example and standing firm on His Word.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually was really disappointed that there wasn't an NSYNC reunion during the Hafltime show. Although that Prince tribute was nice.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But why tho?
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For once, we both agree on something.
Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago
Wow...great harmonizing! I love seeing kids making music instead of bullying each other and eating Tide Pods. 
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Peggy Carter

bobed, I think you might be missing the point of the article. Jake wasn't specifically talking about the Super Bowl halftime show (or any of the past ones either), but Timberlake's lyrics in general. I'm a girl, and I really appreciate Jake's calling attention to the lyrics that repeatedly demean women to no more than objects. Even if the halftime show was family friendly, that doesn't make this letter "out-of-touch and pointless" to the person who wrote the lyrics, or to the women who are being objectified by it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well said; I think the point of writing this letter now was JT's resurgence in popular culture, what with his new album and Super Bowl show.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By CbinJ
Absolutely agree, bobed.This just uncalled for, especially when linking it to the totally defunked #MeToo movement. Justin Timberlake is the least of this culture’s problems. Do I think some of his music is too sexual? Absolutely. But this halftime show was positively tame and amazingly politics free and I quite enjoyed it. “Cry Me A River”, “Mirrors”, “Can’t Stop the Feeling”: all decent & clean pop songs that everybody at my Super Bowl Party, even my super conservative grandpa, could tolerate and even enjoy. He sang a few others, but his cleanest songs were the biggest numbers of the night. Honestly, it’s misplaced reactions like this that make my trips to PIO online more and more infrequent.
By CbinJ
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've actually listened to Justin's latest album (out of curiosity only; I have no particular love for JT!), and found it horrendous and tonally a mess. But besides that it was just offensive and saddening to hear all the stereotypical sexual topics and themes.  It seems we'll never get past the age where shock value is all that matters. In this case, though, Justin failed to even sell shock value convincingly.

In any case I love this letter. Perfectly written and thoughtful. Keep up the great work!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bravo!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Peggy Carter

Well said, Jake! That was a really thoughtful, well-written letter.
jake_roberson More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Peggy! :-)
Julienne Dy More than 1 year ago
Wow, this letter is so purposeful and carefully worded.  It's almost like whoever wrote it is just waiting for social justice warriors to take what he says out of context and get horribly offended.
In all seriousness though, this was a well-written letter with a nice message.  Thanks, Jake.
jake_roberson More than 1 year ago
I appreciate you saying so, thanks Julienne!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only thing that mattered about lat night's game was the commercial with Danny DeVito running around pretending to be an M&M. It truly captured the human experience as we know it.