Ah, clichés. What they lack in subtlety, they make up for in associations and memories.
While clichés are usually frowned upon in writing circles, they are often the fastest way to get from emotional point A to emotional point B. JT wanted to make it clear from the get-go that this song was about someone important who used to be in his life, and clichés get the job done. There’s always that other song, that other context, that other place you heard those words. “You were my earth”…doesn’t that just sound familiar?
Well, that’s because it is familiar, in the broad, nebulous way that clichés tend to be. That’s what makes them cliché. Timberlake wouldn’t be the first one to say you were my earth to a special girl out there. He probably won’t be the last, either.
We’re feeling a cheating song coming on.
Cheating on significant others is a remarkably enduring theme in American pop music. From a classic Hank Williams break-down of the cheating lifestyle to a recent Rihanna remix, cheating shows up in pretty much every decade, in nearly every genre of music. Why do you think this is?
Perhaps it’s because infidelity is verging on common practice in the U.S., with recent stats revealing that 20% of men and 10% of women admit to having extramarital sex—to say nothing of the cheating that occurs in dating relationships and more casual arrangements. Don’t worry Justin—it happens to the best of us.
Everyone loves a revenge fantasy.
A recent survey on cheating revealed that a rather shocking 11% of women who cheat do it for revenge. This motif—cheating on your partner to get back at him or her for cheating on you—is central to “Cry Me A River.” The theme becomes particularly graphic in the well-known music video, in which Timberlake tapes himself making out with another woman and leaves the tape running on his ex-girlfriend’s TV. The video was quite scandalous at the time, as it features an actress who bears a striking resemblance to JT’s real-life ex Britney Spears in the role of—you guessed it—the cheating Jezebel. Looks like he was taking that whole “art imitating life” thing pretty seriously.
Rivers, rain, tears, rivers, burned bridges, shattered windows…okay, okay, we get it.
Justin’s hurt. And “Cry Me A River” takes the bitter tone of someone who has been burned and wants to make it glass-shatteringly clear that he is not going to be burned again. The music video riffs on the river of tears theme so hard, though, that it almost becomes elementary. Not only does Justin spend much of the video walking through the rain, he also shatters a window (great visual metaphor for the breakdown of a relationship; ever think about what the phrase “picking up the pieces” means?), kicks a photo of his ex across the room, and exacts cruel, complicated, borderline pornographic revenge. There’s even a creepy shower scene at the end. We love “Cry Me A River,” but we’re even more excited for Timberlake’s requisite follow-up songs, “Build Me A Bridge” and “Get Over It.”