Preview: Pop superstar Justin Timberlake has been restless and creative in an up-and-down 2013


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In a recent story in GQ, the ever-suave Justin Timberlake was sporting a rather sour mood.

Rocked by the critical venom spewed his way for a pair of iffy fall projects: the box-office bomb "Runner Runner" and disappointing "The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2," the current King of Pop told the magazine, "I don't see myself as someone who's ever going to be defined by one moment. It's on to the next."

Justin Timberlake
Where: Consol Energy Center, Downtown.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: Sold out.

Mr. Timberlake, who headlines Consol Energy Center on Saturday, is doing a lot of "on to the next" this year, in the midst of his most productive as an artist. He launched his 2013 campaign with "The 20/20 Experience," his comeback release after a seven-year recording hiatus that had people wondering if he was finished with pop.

It topped the charts, scored two top 10 singles with "Suit & Tie" and "Mirrors" and earned a 75 (out of 100) on Metacritic. "2 of 2," released in September, also topped the charts, but the sequel was barely above average with a Metacritic 60 -- critics saying the songs sounded like outtakes -- and it has yet to put a single in the Top 10.

To add insult to injury, when the Grammy nominations were announced last week, JT tied "Suit & Tie" partner Jay-Z with a leading seven nominations, but was snubbed in all three top categories -- album, record and song of the year -- trumped by such lesser lights as Sara Bareilles, Daft Punk and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

To all that he can say, cry me a river.

With "20/20," he has the top-selling album of the year, with sales of a whopping 2.3 million, and, after touring with stadiums last summer, he's in the midst of a sold-out world tour drawing mostly rave reviews.

Ed Masley, at The Arizona Republic, said, "At three hours in length, it was a daunting show of force. But Timberlake never even broke a sweat, exuding an old-fashioned cool through it all with a slick performance that spoke well of the man's continued relevance in mainstream pop."

The L.A. Times also praised the performance for being "technically impressive," while lamenting the fact that the 29-song marathon show, with a 15-piece band, "felt almost entirely free of tension."

Even while on tour, JT has found a way to move on to the next thing. He has a supporting role in the new Coen brothers movie, "Inside Llewyn Davis," a tale of the '60s folk scene in Greenwich Village loosely based on the life of unsung folk hero Dave Van Ronk. He plays the singing partner to Carey Mulligan in the film, which has him and the Coens once again on the critical darling list.

That should ease the sting of Variety's October op-ed headlined "Why Justin Timberlake Should Stop Acting." In ridiculing "Runner Runner," in which he played a Princeton grad student caught up in a Costa Rica gambling scheme, Variety stated that Mr. Timberlake, who made his big screen debut in the 2006 film "Alpha Dog" and impressed in "The Social Network," struggled with the film's "cheesy dialogue" and in some scenes, "he comes across like a lost celebrity hosting 'Saturday Night Live' who can't find the teleprompter."

The last line was "Please stop sending him scripts."

Of course, that's not going to happen and Variety might be out on a limb with that sentiment, as he has proven that he can carry himself on the big screen.

Not to mention the small one.

Two of his biggest hits from 2013 were his appearances in March as the guest host on "Saturday Night Live" (for the fifth time) and his Timberweek on "The Jimmy Fallon Show," where the highlights included a barbershop quartet version of "Sexy Back" and him doing his best Michael McDonald with the man himself.

Chances to see him in the flesh have been more rare. The last time he came through Pittsburgh was March 2007 when he headlined the Civic Arena with Pink on his "FutureSex/LoveSounds" tour.

Before that, he played the Arena on the "Justified" tour in July 2003 with Christina Aguilera and the Black Eyed Peas. The PG review found his set to be "a little slick and ordinary" and described the reaction after he played two songs from his former group 'N Sync.

"From the sound of the screams that greeted those songs in particular, it was clear that Monday night was his. But the future? That's Christina's."

A decade later, he's the one selling out stadiums and arenas, but no one ever said predicting pop careers was an exact science.


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