Should black R&B fans fear Justin Timberlake-mania?

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What kind of former child performer can sell a million records in a matter of days?

Such is a week in the whirlwind life of Justin Timberlake, the megastar every woman wants and every guy surely wants to be. An anomaly in more ways than one, the man is officially embarked on a path to world domination.

The birth of Timberlake-Mania

From the gilded gramophones of the Grammy Awards to the laugh-filled set of Saturday Night Live, the world’s most famous former boy-band mate and Mouseketeer is both in your ears and your face. Timberlake-Mania is racing ahead at warp speed, not unlike sales of his new album The 20/20 Experience. Timberlake’s third solo effort threatens to break one million sales after just a few days in circulation.  All of this comes less than six months after tying the knot with his longtime girlfriend, actress Jessica Biel.

One might be tempted to use the word “over-saturation” to describe the almost aggressive reintroduction of a singer who hasn’t dropped anything new in nearly six years, and whose once-promising acting career appears to have cooled. Yet Timberlake’s re-emergence provides the chance to revisit a dicey topic: namely, the current state of R&B. The former ‘N Sync member’s runaway success – and his broad acceptance amongst black audiences – also raises the question of whether the R&B genre is on a fast track to obsolescence.

Blue-eyed soul or legitimate R&B?

In a certain sense, it’s almost counter-intuitive to mention soul, be it the conventional or “blue-eyed” variety, in the same breath as Justin Timberlake. While an eminently talented entertainer, the former boy-bander is not a legitimate R&B artist. He’s certainly not in the same strata as some of the most heralded names in the sub-genre.

At best, Timberlake’s sound is pop with an urban edge: recently, he’s even got his very own rap beef to enhance his street cred.

None of this is meant to slight Timberlake, or his considerable talents, which make him the rarest of species: a child star in another life who managed to strike career gold as a solo artist through sheer force of will.