The roll-out for Justin Timberlake’s latest album “Man of the Woods” is the rare non-secret release plan, announced in multiple stages, starting with the reveal of his Feb. 4 Super Bowl LII performance in October, and leaving little to mystery other than a series of earthy visuals. And in other ways, the campaign was all there: the release date was known, the single strategy was transparent, and a tour was announced weeks ahead of the halftime show.
“We’ve got 50 shows on sale in North America and 16 in Europe, and we’re over 700,000 tickets [sold] and $100 million gross,” says Arthur Fogel, president of global touring for Live Nation. “It’s pretty staggering. We’re into our third shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Toronto; We’re into doubles in probably a dozen markets. It’s huge.”
What’s driving audiences to pony up $150 or more for a seat? Memories, for one. Although Timberlake first broke out in the late 1990s with the group ‘NSync, he’s not seen as a prestige or heritage artist — a showman to be sure, as Timberlake’s Super Bowl set proved, but one who still appeals to a wide range of ages when you consider that his first solo album came out in 2002.
That continued draw is thanks in large part to his ubiquity on the radio, where Timberlake notched four Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s as a solo artist and averaged a Top 10 hit or two every other year. One of the biggest songs of his career came as recently as 2016. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from “Trolls” topped the Hot 100 and ended the year as the top-selling song.
“What struck me about the album was that Justin was continuing to move the ball forward musically … It’s never a rehash of what he’s done before,” says Tom Poleman, president of national programming at iHeartRadio, which broadcasts to over 800 stations in the U.S. and on the iHeart app. The company has committed to a year-and-a-half-long campaign to bookend the album cycle.
Poleman, a longtime Timberlake faithful and one of many industry influencers that go back with the star to his ‘NSync days, says the scale of the promotional partnership with iHeart is “unprecedented.” Launched just ahead of the album’s Feb. 2 release, it included the simultaneous premieres of three “Man of the Woods” tracks across multiple formats — “Filthy” started at Pop, “Supplies” went to Rhythm, and “Say Something” to Hot AC — in addition to a “free access” stream of the album on the iHeart app over the weekend of its release, a 60-minute interview with iHeart personality Elvis Duran, flyaway contests to Timberlake’s record release event in Minneapolis, and billboards in 20 major markets. Poleman also hints at an appearance by Timberlake at a future iHeart event.
“It’s all JT all the time at iHeart,” says Poleman with a laugh. “There’s very few artists you can do that with. JT is somebody that the world wants to know what [his new music] sounds like immediately. It’s a pop culture event, and he’s rare in that he can touch all formats.”
“Justin’s drive to consistently push the boundaries on how we define ‘pop’ music is exactly what keeps him at the top of global superstardom,” adds John Fleckenstein, co-president of RCA Records, Timberlake’s label home. “‘Man of the Woods’ is yet another example of that.”
“Man of the Woods,” Timberlake’s fifth studio album, had a strong first week — over 262,000 album equivalent units, according to BuzzAngle Music (306,000 as of this writing), buoyed by the Super Bowl which aired two days after it dropped, and in spite of mixed reviews. But Poleman encourages a wait and see stance, pointing to “Say Something,” written with and featuring Chris Stapleton, which he says iHeart listeners are “gravitating towards.” The song has racked up total audience spins of 21 million on the iHeart network as of Feb. 15.
Fleckenstein describes the song as a “mega hit brewing.” Adds Poleman: “A year ago, no one would have imagined a JT album with a collaboration that sounded like ‘Say Something.’ It’s very unique, and that’s JT’s brilliance. He’s willing to take risks and give you something you don’t expect. [‘Say Something’] feels comfortable and it sounds really good on the radio.”
Fogel too advocates for faith in Timberlake’s vision. “The truly great artists are those that are comfortable in their own skin and comfortable with the plan,” he says. “And you can tell by the way the tour was laid out that there was a fairly high degree of confidence that this was going to be massive. What may be perceived as bumps in the road, I don’t see as impactful, to be honest. The great performance and great catalog overrides [that] small number of loud voices. He’s going to deliver a great show.”
The Justin Timberlake “Man of the Woods” tour kicks off March 13 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.