On February 2, Justin Timberlake will release his fourth solo album, Man of the Woods. The title has caused much consternation, because the two songs and videos he has released from this record, “Filthy” and “Supplies,” have had nothing to do with a man in the woods. And yet, this is not the first time a Justin Timberlake album has caused befuddlement. In September 2006, Timberlake released his masterful second album FutureSex/LoveSounds. Which means that, for almost 12 years, I have been wondering why there is a slash in the title FutureSex/LoveSounds.
Just stop and think about it for a minute. FutureSex/LoveSounds. What is going on there, grammatically?
“It implies a false importance,” says a friend. “It suggests a double album, when it’s not actually there.” Much like “Man of the Woods,” “FutureSex/LoveSounds” feels like a collection of words one step ahead of the actual album title in the brainstorming process. It sounds like a child trying to recite the title of Outkast’s double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below from memory.
But that slash has always perplexed me more than anything. What is it communicating? That “Sex” and “Love” are indistinguishable? That “FutureSex” is somehow equivalent to “LoveSounds”? To answer this pressing question, I consulted The Ringer’s copy chief, Craig Gaines. What follows is our conversation about the slash in FutureSex/LoveSounds, edited slightly for clarity.
Lindsay Zoladz: Hi, Craig. Can I ask you a personal question? What do you make of the slash in FutureSex/LoveSounds?
Craig Gaines: I’ll start by passing along the slash entry in the Ringer style guide:
How I feel about it depends on what he’s trying to communicate. If the intent is: I am presenting to you FutureSex or LoveSounds, and I’m leaving it up to you to decide which song is which, then I’m in support of the slash because I consider that proper usage.
But if the intent is: This music is two things at once: FutureSex and LoveSounds, and there’s really no interpretation for the listener to take part in, then I’d consider it improper usage. In that case, I’d advise Justin to title the album FutureSex-LoveSounds.
Zoladz: I’ve always puzzled over it. Also, you are the only person with whom I use proper punctuation and capitalization when we are talking on Slack, because I fear your judgment.
Gaines: Oddly, the vaguest construction would be FutureSex LoveSounds. In that case, is FutureSex modifying LoveSounds? Or is it simply an agrammatical, kind of Dada phrasing?
Zoladz: I don’t think JT knows about Dada. For a long time I didn’t realize there weren’t spaces between the words. So I thought it was some sort of statement conflating sex and love: “Future Sex/Love Sounds.”
Gaines: The spaces would make it say a COMPLETELY different thing! Really interesting. The most concrete construction of all would be Future Sex-Love Sounds, which is not an album I’d listen to. Do you think he’s going for an and vibe or an or vibe?
Zoladz: I am leaning towards the or because I do think this title is somehow indebted to the Outkast album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which was actually two albums. HOWEVER—one thing that complicates it is that there is a song called “FutureSex/LoveSound”—singular—in which he presents it as a unified concept.
Gaines: Huh! Don’t think I realized that.
Zoladz: There are multitudes here, clearly. Also there are a few multipart songs on the album. That have a slash between the titles. Like “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude).”
Gaines: If he’s intentionally trying to create a cloudy, vague vibe—if he’s trying to present various options or multiverses to the listener—then he’s right on. I find mash-up compounds like “LoveStoned” to be aesthetically offensive, but there’s an environment where using letters and words as art pieces is valid.
Zoladz: Totally agree. Maybe in the end it’s just art. Something makes me think Justin Timberlake didn’t think all this through as much as we just did.
Gaines: That’s a sad thought!