Song Review: “Better Days” by Ant Clemons and Justin Timberlake

Ant Clemons and Justin Timberlake performing together

My dad forwarded this song to me after these two performed at the Inauguration of Joe Biden. However, this review is about the studio version, since it’s the one I was introduced to and have listened to in preparation for writing this. I tried to listen to a version with Kirk Franklin on it, but we won’t talk about that.

My first thought upon first listen was that Justin knocked this out of the park. His performance is essentially flawless. My second thought upon second listen is that they needed Justin to prop up this song because 1) who is Ant Clemons? And 2) why is his voice autotuned to hell? Is that his style?

This review is about “Better Days” though, so I’m not going to stray too far from that, including listening to the rest of Ant Clemons’ work. Maybe this is his style. Maybe I should listen to his other work. Maybe I’m an asshole for not knowing who he is. Regardless of the reason, Clemons’ stylized voice really sounds out of place on a stripped-down song.

This song was written by Clemons and Timberlake in lockdown, in response to “frustrations and challenges”. That is completely unsurprising because it sounds exactly like a song that was written in response to the pandemic and the political climate of the past 4 years. In fact, my biggest gripe is that it’s a little bit weak lyrically. I feel like it wants my attention. It wants to say something meaningful. It feels a little flat. Like they wrote it purposely to be this contrived pandering during difficult times.

Speaking of contrived pandering, I don’t officially like Justin Timberlake’s “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING”, a title in all-caps for some reason for the Trolls movie he co-starred in. I thought it was obviously trying to be another summer feel-good song that was also attached to a movie. It felt like a cash grab. I could practically hear the songwriters discussing it in a conference room as they tried to write it. “What if we made another song like ‘Happy’?” Yeah, guys, that would be great.

As obvious as that is to me, I still cannot help but sing along to that song and feel even a tiny bit happier when I hear it. Damnit. Their plan worked. Whoever is on the Dreamworks music production team knows how to make hits–or, at least gather together people who do.

Similarly, I find myself wanting to like the gospel elements of “Better Days”, the hopefulness, the smooth croonings of my man, JT, who I am a big fan of. When I first heard this song, I thought it might even become a contender for “Song of 2021”. This year’s anthem.

The song certainly wants to be this year’s anthem. It certainly wants you to like it and see it as this optimistic, reassuring, gospel-tinged R&B jam. I want to see it that way, too.

Unfortunately, it’s just not. It has its moments, but it fails to really reach its full potential. It builds up to nothing and ends abruptly, instead of capitalizing on all the momentum it created.

It’s a perfectly fine, non-intrusive song that has a positive message and some pretty-sounding moments. But it’s just not going to change my life. I’m happy that they released something like this because of its intentions. I’m happy to hear Justin still serenading us with his beautiful voice. Also, the man will be 40 in 2 days. FORTY. He looks too good at 40. I’m kind of mad.

Queen Dopamine – Made in Canva by me

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