How Justin Timberlake's Meandering "Mirrors" Video Became the Video of the Year
Floria Sigismundi's video for Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors" is an eight-minute trip through the 1950s, 1970s, and 2010s, bouncing between shots of an elderly couple moving out of their home and the lifetime memories such a move stirs up. It sits awkwardly next to the condescending though effective video for Johnny Cash's “Hurt” (archival footage of the fresh-faced country legend intercut with cloying close-ups of present-day and decayed Man in Black), the too cute by half clip for Sigur Ros' “Hoppipolla” (wherein a bunch of elderly people act like a bunch of prick elementary school kids), and yes deal with it, the miserablist grunt-rock vid for Three Doors Down's “Kryptonite,” which follows an old fart actor sporting the superhero outfit he once wore on television as he saves the day one last time.
In short, “Mirrors” is one of those “Gee golly, being old is so sad but also quite beautiful isn't it?” type of vids. And as a result, it won “Video of the Year” at this year's MTV Music Video Awards, where Timberlake was also handed the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, given to musicians (and occasionally, directors) with careers chock full of visionary videos. Timberlake receiving the award was certainly the most LOLZ-worthy example of the Video Vanguard since Bon Jovi and butt rock director Wayne Isham won it back in 1991 because it would seem, Bon Jovi was strung up and sent over the crowd in the video for “Livin' on a Prayer,” and Isham put hella nudity in the Motley Crue's “Girls, Girls, Girls.” I don't know, man.
Timberlake's videos, outside of sometimes feeling pretty endless/coding as “epic” to dullards (“Mirrors” pushes eight minutes; the ScarJo fest that is “What Goes Around...Comes Around” goes on for nine), are rarely memorable. “Cry Me a River” is the exception of course, though its iconic qualities have more to do with the way it indulged Justin-Britney break-up blather (while cruelly suggesting, prick ex-boyfriend last word-style, that Britney cheated on poor ol' JT) than any of its cinematic qualities. How exactly did this goober become known as pop's class act, exactly? Winning an award named after Michael Jackson only served to remind viewers you'd hope, that back in 2004 at the Super Bowl halftime show, it was Timberlake who exposed the nipple of Jackson's sister Janet, effectively ending her career, while shouldering none of the blame himself. That the 2013 VMA's also found twerk imperialist Miley Cyrus pummeled by the thinkpiece-creating contingent, while Robin Thicke, also complicit in that Sunday night messy mess, is hardly mentioned, is truly depressing.
Where were we? Oh, yeah, music videos. “Mirrors” was named “Video of the Year” because Timberlake invokes the kind of musician that would once attempt pop art and canny commercialism at the same time, even though he doesn't. He just happens to be one of the few artists still even afforded the chance to do music videos with actual budgets and a clear-ish vision behind them. And it doesn't hurt that “Mirrors” is sentimental and steeped in the past, either. It is nostalgic in the sense that it's an high-concept and exceeds the three-minute running time we expect and therefore, looks back to the '90s, and also because it hinges on nostalgic themes. Like everything Timberlake has done since his comeback, “Mirrors” is in-the-pocket safe, hitting all the right notes but doing nothing more than that. Comeback Timberlake's the A-student of artful pop right now and well, A-students are dweebs, dude.
Over the past decade, MTV has entirely given up on music videos. This is not a rant-whine about that reality, rather it's just an observation that MTV abandoned one of the most vital and exciting elements of the pop culture PR machine. It seems fair to suggest that MTV stopped doing their part to promote and highlight music and as a significant arm of the monoculture, their choice had significant effects on the industry. Particularly, the passive listening and viewing elements of entertainment which are vital no matter how much on-demand streaming is put in front of your fingertips.
So, when MTV continues to self-mythologize, searching for the closest to a big deal artist with an auteurist streak, thereby looking back to an era they helped destroy so they could run more episodes of Rob & Big, and landing on Timberlake because hey he kind of works, and telling us he is on the vanguard of well anything, it's gross. Timberlake, trained to be faux-modest, said he was “not worthy” of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. He's correct. I just wish he meant it when he said it.
Brandon Soderberg is a writer and dog owner. He's on Twitter - @notrivia