“It feels like somethin’s heating up, can I leave with you?”
“I don’t know what I’m thinking ’bout, really leavin’ with you…”
Truthfully, I spent most of my youth singing the second line of this song, which is designed for the girls. Once my voice broke – and Christ, did that take a long time – I kept on doing it anyway. Despite it not charting nearly as his urban-inspired pastiches (‘Rock Your Body’, ‘Like I Love You’), I am of the firm belief that ‘Señorita’ is the best song the film actor formerly known as the pop singer Justin Timberlake has ever recorded. It can turn the whitest of white boys into smooth operators. It straddles at least three different genres in one amazing chord progression. And ultimately, it’s the sound of sex and summer and careless abandon rolled into something that will probably age at half to a quarter of the rate ‘SexyBack’ will. Latin American in its idealism, African-American in its musicality and Middle American in its execution, ‘Señorita’ is aural uranium. You may think you’ve gotten over it, but for as long as you live, it will never really go away.
In my line of work, it was never considered cool to like Justin Timberlake. Even when he crossed over from good-looking teen heart throb to better looking male lead, the implication was that Timberlake was a manufactured piece of Disney who would crash and burn like his fellow Mouseketeers. What everybody seemed to be forgetting in amongst all of this (and credit to him, because he launched his solo career right when guitar bands were back in vogue) is that JT can sing. Really, really well. The kid’s got moves, but they didn’t call him the ‘white Michael Jackson’ for nothing; he’s got a falsetto that is unrivalled by anyone outside of the late King Of Pop and a few of The Bee Gees. The most joyous thing about Justin falling out of *sync was that we got to hear the real performer underneath. The one who dropped ad-libs like they were the only thing keeping him alive. It’s a very exciting thing to listen to.
‘Señorita’ was apparently inspired by Stevie Wonder, which makes sense if you think about it because the latin-infused Fender Rhodes progression shares a certain quality with ‘Dont You Worry Bout A Thing’. It’s got the same summery, careless abandon matched with a superior vocalist who has the confidence and swagger to turn it into an anthem. Call and response sections die hard in contemporary pop music, but through sheer force of will and the minimalist styling of The Neptunes (a far better fit for him than Timbaland ever was), Timberlake made it happen. Nothing about this hit, save for the chorus, sounds like a hit. The beat is refined and exotic, the bass counters the chords rather than just hitting the root notes and Timberlake deliberately starts in an octave that is not his strongest suit. It’s the exact moment when one of the world’s most coveted performers crosses the line and joins everybody else in steamy revelry. None of that processed disco, sexiest-man-alive, synthesised bullshit. Here is a pop star who isn’t singing at you, but in the outro of his own song, consciously stepping back and asking you to sing with him. And you’re damn right I still do it every single time. And if the girls don’t get involved, I’ll happily to do their parts, too.
Justin Timberlake – ‘Señorita’