There are several thousand people in Madison Square Garden tonight, and most of them are named Kory or Krystal or Kourtney. They are young, and they are wearing t-shirts they just bought with Justin Timberlake's image on the fronts. These people have endured a lackluster set by the opening act, Good Charlotte, and now they are watching as concert-goers' text messages flash on the screens onstage:
JUSTINN TIMBERLAKEE WUTTTTUPPPP
KRIS N VAL ARE BFL LUV JT
When Justin Timberlake finally rises onto stage this crowd of young women creates an ungodly sound, the scream of a thousand banshees, like witches' spindly fingers ripping through jagged sheets of metal, a relentless shriek with a million mothers that will not fully die down for at least an hour. You have to get accustomed to this sound, and you have to learn to listen to the music on top of it, like how you have to get accustomed to being one of not many men here. The men you have seen here fall into three categories: (1) attending with their women, reluctantly; (2) attending with their women, happily (you fall into this category); (3) attending with their men, happily. There are so few men here that when Justin does the call and response part in "Senorita," you can actually hear your own voice, alone yet uncowed, doing the male part ("it feels like something's heating up, can I leave with you?"), whereas in the female part ("I don't know but I'm thinking 'bout, really leaving with you") you are confronted with a wall of sound and cries and yelps barreling all around you.
Yet you enjoy this concert. The first thing that makes you turn to your woman and share a smile of happiness is the segue from "Like I Love You" to "My Love," when the choreography is so tight and subtle yet perfectly captures everything about the music. You will share similar moments of amazement and joy during the choreography for "Summer Love," and during Timbaland's guest DJ gig, when he moves seamlessly through recent, random pop hits ("Since You've Been Gone"), to the best songs from your high school years ("Are You That Somebody"), to the best song of the whole summer ("The Way I Are").
Surprisingly, the army of Krystals grows quiet as Justin does some of his older songs, especially a ballad from the "Justified" album that you love. "They never even listened to the whole thing," you cluck to your woman. You have a moment of greater triumph, along with profound disdain for the Krystals, once you see how long it takes them to recognize the songs that are being played. Once you hear a few piano keys, or a guitar lick, or maybe even a backbeat, you know what song he's about to launch into -- yet the Krystals seem to need measure after measure after measure to figure out they're about to hear "Rock Your Body" or "LoveStoned." "They're idiots! They don't even know what they're hearing!" you yell to your woman, confident that the Krystals aren't listening to you, since they just realized "SexyBack" started.
You have a great night, an island of matrimonial masculinity amid this sea of raging young women. The music sounds great, you hear every song you hoped to, and the choreography was truly sick. The staging was creative and ingenious. And the show was being recorded for a broadcast on HBO in a few weeks -- maybe you will see yourself briefly on TV, singing along, dancing as well as you can while standing in place and not jostling elbows with the screaming young women around you. Perhaps you even feel a certain affinity with Justin, or at least a shared love of the same kind of music, and an understanding that you are propelled by the same set of emotions, grooves, and undeniable rhythms. That is what you are singing, standing like an island in the middle of an extremely foreign sea.
"It feels like something's heating up, can I leave with you?"