“It’s fun to use my singing voice as part of a character,” says pop superstar Justin Timberlake, describing how he toned down his vibrato and adjusted his guitar-strumming to portray clean-cut, early ’60s folk singer Jim Berkey in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” One of the most delightful scenes in the movie, which opened Friday, involves a spirited recording session for a goofy novelty song called “Please Mr. Kennedy” — a plea to not be drafted into the space race.
Jim sets the pace, instructing his musician buddy Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) on where to jump in and how many “puh-puh” P sounds to insert before the word “please.” They then launch into a driving, deadpan version of the nonsensical song while their pal Al Cody (Adam Driver) blurts out “Uh-oh!” and other doo-wop exclamations for a comic top note.
Llewyn, described by the movie’s executive music producer, T Bone Burnett, as “a moody existentialist” folk singer struggling to get by in the ’60s music scene, finds the song appalling, but Jim can’t see a problem with it. “If people want a campy song, Jim’s happy to write it,” says Timberlake. “He kind of represents where the world was going. The beatniks of that time looked at music like, ‘This isn’t a career, man, this is art.’ But if you look at the music business now — you’re not anything until you’ve made an actual career out of being a musician.”
If Timberlake was ever concerned about his own bona fides, he may have overcompensated. The night before he sat down to chat, he’d been anointed both favorite male soul/R&B artist and favorite male pop/rock artist at the American Music Awards. While others in the “Inside Llewyn Davis” cast were promoting the movie with intimate musical performances in New York and L.A., Timberlake was kicking off a world tour around the recent pair of albums he dubbed “The 20/20 Experience”: He played for a capacity crowd of 18,000 at the Staples Center in November and heads to the Forum on Jan. 20.
With a raft of film roles now to his credits, until Joel Coen called he’d never gotten to play a musician. “I think I said yes before he finished the sentence,” says Timberlake. “I knew I wanted to mix music and movie-making. To get to do it with the Coen brothers is kind of unbelievable.”
Burnett, who’s worked on some of the choicest music-driven movies ever, including the Coens’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” doesn’t hesitate to give Timberlake his due. “Justin is a bad man,” he asserts, indulging in musician-speak. “He’s a real artist. He’ll get after it. He lays down the law. He’s not an empty-headed pop singer. He’s got a lot going on.”
In “Llewyn Davis,” Timberlake sings lead in a three-part harmony performance of Hedy West’s “500 Miles,” one of the more lyrical and beloved songs of the period. But it’s “Please Mr. Kennedy” that’s getting the most attention this awards season; the song has been submitted for Golden Globe consideration (it’s ineligible for the Academy Awards since it was adapted from existing material).
Timberlake remembers the collaboration (he’s among the credited writers). “Bone and I messed around with some chords and strumming patterns that felt more like the Coasters, with kind of a sunny, stoney groove,” he says, bobbing his head. “We played it for Joel and Ethan by speakerphone.” The original “Please Mr. Kennedy” (a slower, doo-wop Motown tune recorded by Mickey Woods) was a plea to avoid the Vietnam draft.
“We all thought, let’s make it funny; let’s make it about space exploration instead. Joel and Ethan came up with a lot of the jokes and refined it. When we recorded it, certain things just happened in the moment, and in the editing they went for what was funniest” — including such lines as “I’m 6-foot-2, so perhaps you’ll / tell me I’m too big for the capsule.”
The shooting schedule for “Inside Llewyn Davis” required all the songs to be recorded upfront, in a weeklong Manhattan studio session that Timberlake says became a creative bonus. “You’d get in there and play the song the way you thought your character would do it, and that’s how you found the details. There’s a real specificity to the way you play and sing in character.”
Jessica Biel may not be a mother in real life, but she does play a somewhat deranged and delusional mom in her new flick, The Truth About Emanuel.
At last night’s Hollywood premiere of the movie, Biel dished to us about tapping into her maternal instinct to film with a newborn baby.
“I think to make this person, this character, work without being some ridiculous, crazy performance, is to really believe in what she’s doing and believe that that is her truth, that baby is her baby and that’s what it is,” Biel exclusively told E! News.
“And so the nurturing element of being a mother, that is really what I tapped into,” the gorgeous 31-year-old actress continued. “Because it’s like, the best villain really believes what they’re doing. It’s the same idea. This woman, that’s just her truth, her reality.”
Pop megastar Justin Timberlake made his eagerly awaited return to Phoenix Monday night and quickly proved why the media has paid obsessive attention to him since his Mickey Mouse Club Days. Over the course of his three-hour performance (including a 10-minute intermission), Justin Timberlake made the 20/20 Experience Tour just that — a memorable concert experience with plenty of bang for its buck.
Opening with “Pusher Love Girl,” the first track from 20/20 Experience, silhouettes of the brass section appeared on the sides of the stage. The beginning of the song spotlighted Timberlake’s impressive 15-member backing band, The Tennessee Kids. The large band was absolutely necessary to emphasize all the nuances of 20/20 — you know the cool horn part in “Suit & Tie”? It sounds even better live.
Timberlake stood in the shadows for most of “Pusher Love Girl,” making him seem like just another member of his huge soul band. During “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want),” JT stepped forward and crooned under the spotlight.
Throughout the course of the concert, Timberlake served in a surprising variety of roles. The 20/20 songs showed that he’s a soulster who takes risks, something the album managed as well — a pop star putting out an album with songs that hover around eight minutes is an inherently risky move, but it pays off when he manages to sing and dance the songs in full without breaking a sweat — during a high-energy performance that clocks in just shy of three hours.
It was no small feat; the fact that Timberlake does it every night is impressive.
Following “Gimme” was “Rock Your Body,” which found Timberlake taking on yet another role — sexy heartthrob. His boy band past was suddenly quite clear; he could do something as small as glance at a portion of the audience and receive a deafening roar of girlish screams in return. The crowd went wild for this Justified track, which was given a 20/20 twist with an extended intro and some added dramatics.
The setlist featured over 30 songs that were reimagined with a 20/20 influence. FutureSex/LoveSounds” was slowed down and sexed up, picking up with “Like I Love You,” which sounded fantastic with the added instrumentation.
The setlist was well laid out, grouping some of JT’s biggest songs in the first portion of the set. “Summer Love” and “Love Stoned” paired well together, even if the later was cut short tp fit into its spot in the tight set — which was unfortunate, but didn’t detract from the set.
Even among all the hits some of the pairings yielded some surprises, like Jay-Z’s “Holy Grail.” Timberlake stuck to his parts, sauntering toward the audience for an emotive intro that transitioned into set highlight “Cry Me a River.” At the song’s conclusion, the massive platform holding up the band sank down for what would presumably be an encore break.
The band could very well have performed three or so more songs and called it a night, but that wasn’t the case — the show wasn’t even halfway done at this point.
The second portion of the show was quite different, focusing on deep cuts of the 20/20 Experience. The first part dragged a little bit due to the length of the songs, but nevertheless looked and sounded good thanks to the show’s formidable production values. The audience didn’t scream quite as much during songs like “True Blood” or “Tunnel Vision,” but things quickly picked up during “Let The Groove In.”
Timberlake and a few of his dancers performed on an elevated platform that slowly inched toward the back of the venue, giving everyone an opportunity to get a good view of the singer. He dangled over both ends of the platform, which ended in elevated stairways that extended out into the crowd, to a sea of cell phones and screaming fans.
The platform came to a stop at the opposite end of the venue during “That Girl,” and JT walked down to a stationary point near the soundboard. He played an acoustic guitar for an unexpected cover of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Timberlake immediately switched styles for the next song, a tribute to Michael Jackson — “Human Nature.” A semi-acoustic “What Goes Around . . . Comes Around” followed, beginning with Timberlake and his guitar and exploding into its pop glory with the full band joining in for JT’s rapid fire vocals toward the end of the song.
Timberlake and the platform made their way back to the front of the venue during “Take Back the Night,” which transitioned into the third and final portion of the evening. Once the band returned to the stage, Timberlake performed a couple more covers, as things got funky during “Jungle Boogie” and girls screamed even more for Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.”
Timberlake nailed the vocal style and — perhaps best of all — sprinkled some of the song’s original choreography into his performance.
The last portion of the set was the best, as “Take Back the Night” signaled a suite of songs that were played back to back with only one breather: A short lull before “Suit & Tie.” Otherwise, songs like “SexyBack,” “Mirrors,” and the covers were played back to back as one fluid song.
Pusher Love Girl
Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)
Rock Your Body
Don’t Hold the Wall
Like I Love You
Until the End of Time
Cry Me a River
Only When I Walk Away
Drink You Away
Let the Groove in
Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley cover)
Not a Bad Thing
Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
What Goes Around…Comes Around
Take Back the Night
Jungle Boogie (Kool & the Gang cover)
Poison (Bell Biv DeVoe cover)
Suit & Tie
Last Night: Justin Timberlake at US Airways Center.
Personal Bias: I was hoping to hear a little *NSYNC or “Dick in a Box,” but this was still a damn good show.
The Crowd: Overdressed and full of uncomfortable-looking shoes.
Overheard in the Crowd: “As a Britney fan, I feel guilty for liking this song” during “Cry Me a River.”
Random Notebook Dump: “‘Tunnel Vision’ — the first time I’ve seen a topless dancing woman projected onto a huge screen at an arena show.”
In Joel and Ethan Coen’s upcoming film Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac plays the title character, a struggling musician in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early ’60s. He has a hard time getting gigs, has no home of his own, and keeps losing a cat. It’s an unsentimental movie, but also a frequently beautiful one, thanks in no small part to the sensitive, layered work of its star, who performed all his own music.
There’s an Oscar Isaac/likely Oscar nomination pun to be made, but I’m not gonna make it. Instead, I’ll direct you to the conversation I had with the congenial actor, who was calling from London the night after joining Marcus Mumford, Jack White, the film’s music supervisor T Bone Burnett, and others in a concert of the film’s music at Manhattan’s Town Hall.
Did the Coens discuss how they wanted you to approach performing these old folk songs?
It was funny: When I was going to audition, I knew the part was kind of being based on [New York City folk singer] Dave Van Ronk, and the one song they had sent for the audition was his “Hang Me.” I learned that one and then, because I’m obsessive that way, I listened to everything Dave Van Ronk ever recorded, and I read his book The Mayor of MacDougal Street, and I started playing his songs. So when I came in to audition, I’d learned three other Van Ronk arrangements. However, I don’t have the same voice he has — he’s got this growl, and he knows how to howl. My voice is quite different. I knew that I had to be true to that and not try to put something else on it too much.
There’s a scene in the film where your character is watching the competing folksinger Troy Nelson sing in this really mannered style, which is sort of the opposite of how Llewyn Davis sings. And Davis says that Nelson “doesn’t have any higher function.” Did you sit and down and distinguish between your character as being more emotional authentic than the other singers in the film?
I didn’t, man. What’s amazing is that there’s a strange phenomenon with the Coens where they don’t really tell anybody how a scene needs to be. The emotion is just somehow infused into the writing and the people that they cast. The tone emerges; it gets teased out and coaxed out by all of us. It’s a really weird thing. I was expecting that T Bone was going to put me through boot camp, and it was none of that. I showed up to T Bone’s place and he was like, “Hey, have you heard the new Tom Waits album?” and put on the record and left the room for an hour. And then he’d come back and be like “Want to play a song?” and I’d play a song, and then we’d go take a walk and we’d come back, and he’d say, ‘Play it again, you’re really good, maybe change that to a C instead.” It was all very easy. But you look at the movie, and it seems directed within an inch of its life, because the tone is so specific and right on. It seems so precise, and yet that precision — it happens, and I don’t really know how.
You sing in the movie with your co-star, Justin Timberlake. Was that intimidating?
Yeah, it was incredibly intimidating. Justin has near-perfect pitch. It was very, very intimidating.
Did he do anything to put you at ease?
Yeah. He was just himself, and that put me at ease. He’s really easy-going and really funny and just incredibly supportive and excited to be there.
Presumably you weren’t a giant folk music fan before taking the part. Did getting into that genre change the way you think about it now?
It feels incredibly relevant to me now. I think people are on a search for authenticity, and it feels like a particularly rootless time. People are always lamenting times past — that’s just part of existence — but there is something . . . these ideas of man as an island and people isolated among the vastness of existence, they are really percolating around these days. But folk music connects us back to our roots. T Bone says that the greatest democratizing act in the history of man kind is when Alan Lomax and those people did all their field recordings and recorded all the poor people’s songs and then broadcast it throughout earth and space. That basically fulfilled the prophesy of, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” It’s an incredible thing that happened. To try and connect back to that impulse — I think that’s what folk music does.
Llewyn Davis is extremely unsympathetic in the film, except when he’s singing. How much of a challenge was it to convey that shift?
That was the big challenge for me. Llewyn doesn’t show who he is. He is not connecting. Even though he wants too, he doesn’t want to show any warmth through any traditional means — he doesn’t try to charm anybody, he doesn’t try to ingratiate himself at all. How do you connect to someone who is such an island? The only window into his soul — because he doesn’t have a cathartic moment where he reveals himself or cries — is when he sings those songs. That idea was very much in the forefront of my mind. That’s why it was so necessary to do the music performances live on film with no playback or click tracks or anything. If we’re waiting all this time to see him open up, and if when he does you can tell it’s a movie trick, then there would be no reason to invest emotionally. But the fact that you’re seeing something live, you’re actually seeing the thing that he does, that’s what makes it effective.
If you read a book that covers the same period covered in the movie, something like The Mayor of MacDougal Street or Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, it’s very easy to get caught up in the romance of that time and place. But the film doesn’t. Do you see it as being more truthful, in a way, than the non-fiction it’s based on?
What’s funny in The Mayor of MacDougal Street is how Dave Van Ronk talks a lot about the time and how exciting it was and how electric it was. MacDougal Street was just packed with all these people coming down. Washington Square Park had all the warring factions: the bluegrass guys hating the drummers, the jazz guys hating each other. And then there will be a paragraph about this shitty trip to Chicago he took, but then Van Ronk gets back to the fun part. That hard part is the part the Coens seize upon — that shitty trip to Chicago, because that’s where the music comes from. It comes from desperation, it comes from a dark place, it comes from all that pressure. One of the most exciting times in New York, and that’s where you follow this guy? It’s a smart move by the Coens not to do the obvious thing.
How good a guitar fingerpicker were you before you started working on the movie?
I was okay, but I didn’t know the Travis picking style style that Llewyn uses. I obsessed non-stop over that and now I can’t get out of it. I’ve still got the nails and everything.
What other research did you do for the role?
I read Dylan’s Chronicles and really delved into his repertoire. I listened to a lot of records that Dave Van Ronk would have listened to: Reverend Gary Davis and Lightnin’ Hopkins. I thought about Buster Keaton a lot, about the comedy of resilience. He’s somebody who doesn’t seem to show a whole lot in his face, but just keeps moving through space, no matter what the obstacle might be. A lot of Charles Bukowski, too. There’s a poem by Bukowski called “Bluebird” which was a bit of a mantra for me: There is a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out / But I’m too tough for him.
Music fans, brace yourself.
This Friday at 10 p.m. the Grammy Awards’ 2014 nominees will be announced in a televised CBS special, an event that inevitably leads to teeth-gnashing and tears — and not just among the stars who go unmentioned.
Dedicated fans, too, experience acute Grammy Depression Syndrome, crestfallen at the thought that the CDs and songs they consider the finest aren’t even in the running.
To cushion the blow, keep this in mind: Contrary to its stated goal, the Grammys weren’t conceived to toast the absolute finest in a given year. (An exception: Adele’s sweep in 2011.)
Instead, this industry-dominated self-salute exists mainly to provide extra promotion for whatever it has already managed to sell, or to reward its personal pets. Most nominees the voting body anoints have already gone gold or platinum, and even its darkest horses represent stars the record companies think will reach those plateaus one day. Fans should also be aware of the time eligibility period. The Grammys don’t go by calendar year. This year, only music released between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013, can be considered.
With these caveats in mind, several artists stand a greater chance than others of hearing their names announced early and often — mainly, Justin Timberlake and Kanye West.
JT enjoyed this year’s biggest CD debut, to the tune of 900,000-plus copies with the first of his two discs in 2013, “The 20/20 Experience.” While Kayne’s “Yeezus” has sold barely half that number, even after months on the market, his album inspired the year’s best reviews. It also made the boldest sonic statement, at least among big-name releases. Kanye has also proven to be a Grammy pet in terms of nominations, even if that doesn’t always pan out in wins.
Pitting JT against Kanye also makes for a dramatic contrast. It’s the nice guy against music’s foam-at-the-mouth crank, a match made in media heaven.
Another likely top nominee plays on Grammy voters’ secret self-loathing. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis made it huge by doing an end run around the industry, selling their wares via YouTube. At the same time they proved so likable, and fun, even the biggest industry insider would have trouble taking genuine offense.
Expect a strong presence for Drake, too. His “Nothing Was the Same” sold huge while presenting a friendly and accessible face for rap. Other likely biggies include razzle-dazzle king Bruno Mars (for “Unorthodox Jukebox”) and Daft Punk for their EDM/art-rock epic “Random Access Memories.”
Taylor Swift could also get big bids for “Red,” though that has more to do with voters trying to channel their inner teen girl, and to promote one of their last mega-sellers, than with genuine respect.
Each year, the Grammys find room for a less obvious star in the top categories, usually a young female. Two artists look likely this year: New Zealand prodigy Lorde and country upstart Kacey Musgraves. The latter found herself up in every big category in this year’s Country Music Awards, even if she lost all of them.
This year, a young male also has the chance to leap to the front ranks. Gary Clark Jr. wowed critics, and tasteful fans, with his bluesy and intuitive guitar leads. Mentions for him would make Grammy voters look like they still care about music in an industry otherwise driven by flash.
Long shots include David Bowie’s first album in 10 years, “The Next Day,” which may suffer for having been released in February, and Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” which came out a full year ago. Miley Cyrus will likely be penalized for her garishness, as Grammy voters like to see themselves as above such things.
Justin Timberlake is one talented guy and his wife, Jessica Biel, is plenty aware.
On Sunday, Timberlake, 32, kicked off the fan-voted American Music Awards with a win for favorite pop/rock male artist before taking home awards for soul/R&B artist and soul/R&B album categories.
He also brought the audience to their feet with his performance of “Drink You Away,” an alcohol-infused anthem from his latest release, The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2.
But while everyone in the house seemed to be under Timberlake’s spell, Biel, 31, was nowhere to be found. Fans took to Twitter to ponder where she was (and note their jealousy over her hot hubby).
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The actress soon announced she was watching the Awards from home.
“I’m watching from home tonight. Calm down, Internet,” she wrote.
PHOTOS: Candid Camera! The AMAs Moments You Didn’t See on TV
Although they were apart on Timberlake’s big night, two days prior, Biel shared a photo from Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience World Tour,” captioning it, “Not a bad seat in the house.”
Earlier this month, the couple attended the vows of fellow ‘NSYNC member, Chris Kirkpatrick in Orlando, Fla.