"What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" is a pop song by American singer Justin Timberlake. The track was created after Justin and collaborators Timbaland and Nate "Danja" Hills were fooling around Timbaland's studio in Virginia Beach. They produced the song for Timberlake's second solo studio album, FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006). The song has similarities to "Cry Me a River"; although Timberlake disclosed to whom he wrote the song, the public had generated their lyrical interpretation.
The track was released as the third single from the album early in 2007. It became Timberlake's third consecutive number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100. The international chart performance of the single failed to match its domestic success, never reaching the top spot. The single's music video features "real" artists and is considered a short film. "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" was certified multi-platinum.
When he felt inspired to compose music again, he did not choose to reunite with his former band 'N Sync, which he considered doing after his first record. Instead, he went to former Justified collaborator Timbaland's studio in Virginia Beach, Virginia in November 2005. However, no one of them had an idea of what the album would be; no plan for it and even a title. Timberlake revealed: "I thought if I could put something together that lived up to the first record, I would have." He told Timbaland if he could remake his previous single, "Cry Me a River", five or six times. Nate "Danja" Hills, a protégé of Timbaland, stated: "We had no direction at all other than 'Cry Me a River,' and not in the sense of mimicking the track, but in how big the song was. There was no direction for how he wanted the song to sound, because there was no direction for how he wanted [his album FutureSex/LoveSounds] to sound."
While in the studio, Timberlake, Danja and Timbaland were just "fooling around" and "freestyling". When Danja begun playing a guitar riff, it caught Timberlake's attention. He started humming the melody of "What goes around comes around", and then the lyrics came. Timbaland was at his keyboards, besides Danja, adding drums to the melody. Danja commented that "everything was coming together at the same time." After coming up with the music, Timberlake never wrote down the lyrics and, in an hour, he was ready to record it. By the time Timberlake was in the vocal booth, the basic track was done, then Timbaland produced a prelude of the song. Timberlake sang the song in a couple of takes and went back line by line to fill up the gaps. During the recording sessions, Timbaland and Danja added everything else, including the basses and strings. Danja considered the process scoring to a film and referred to the song a horror flick.
After finishing the song, Timbaland teased Timberlake. Timberlake responded: "Let's do something we would never do. Let's go far left and just see what happens." His answer motivated them, and they ended up producing ten songs for the album.
"What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" is a pop-R&B song performed in a slow manner. It is composed in the key of A minor, in common time. With a gentle and midtempo beat, the tempo is pacing to seventy-two beats per minute. The song features a two-minute interlude titled "Comes Around", featuring the album's producer Timbaland, spanning to a seven minutes and twenty-eight-second track. Timberlake's voice ranges from B3 to C6. Musically, the song is similar to the type of music produced on Timberlake's Justified album; however, it is the only link from FutureSex/LoveSounds to Justified.
In the beginning of the song, there is a five-second solo of an oud, a Middle-Eastern instrument. The beat is then changed to a more upbeat version of the same melody with more percussion. Timbaland used the oud to mellow out the guitar riff. The chord series follows the Am-C-G-D keys. Following the instrumental, Timberlake begins the verse at thirteenth bar. The original track had a bridge, including the pre-verses, the verses and the choruses. After hearing the vocals of Timberlake, they decided to remove the bridge and follow a simple flow, because they felt its "too much" to have it and a break at the end of the song. Timbaland provides backing vocals on the song.
"What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" is about betrayal and forgiveness. Timberlake revealed that the song was written for the experience his friend went through. However, the public came up with different lyrical interpretations and speculated "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" a sequel to "Cry Me A River" in content. Bill Lamb wrote that the song has a "cautionary tale in the lyrics". According to him, after hearing the lyrics, many fans and critics insisted that the song is similar to "Cry Me a River", which is allegedly about his relationship with former girlfriend pop singer Britney Spears. Spence D. of IGN commented that the song presents "some intriguing ambiance".
The song received generally positive reviews from critics. Rolling Stone called the single "a soaring ballad featuring Timberlake's falsetto, with verses and choruses that pile on top of one another with dizzying effect. About.com reviewer Bill Lamb stated that the song "is one of the most gorgeous pop melodies of the year." He complimented the string-based arrangement of the song. Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly called it "superior", along with "LoveStoned". Zach Baron of Pitchfork Media referred to it "some real can't-let-go shit that'll save you the repeat stabs on the bad night. Spence D. of IGN called it "annoying" but he complimented the use of echo vocals and swirling synths.
"What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" placed at number twenty-four on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007. The song was nominated at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, but lost to Amy Winehouse's contemporary single "Rehab". It won the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, beating four other nominees.
"What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" was commercially successful in the United States. The single debuted at number 64 on December 23, 2006 on the Billboard Hot 100, prior to its physical release. From number eight on February 24, 2007, it propelled to number one the following week. "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" became Timberlake's third consecutive number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 from his Futuresex/Lovesounds album, becoming the first male artist since Usher in 2004 to have three or more consecutive number-one hits from one album. The single charted on Hot 100 for 25 weeks. "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on June 7, 2007.
Internationally, the single failed to match its domestic chart performance. In the United Kingdom, "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" debuted at number 59 on the UK Singles Chart on January 29, 2007. The digital download sales helped propel the single to number eleven on February 26, 2007. "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" peaked at number four on March 12, to become his sixth top five hit in the United Kingdom. It stayed on the chart for 22 weeks. The single entered the top five in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland. In Australia, the single debuted and peaked at number three on the Australian ARIA singles chart on March 26, 2007, gaining the Highest Debut certification. It spent a total of 22 weeks on the chart. "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" was certified two-times platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association for selling over 30,000 units. The single peaked at number three in the New Zealand on April 9, 2007, and spent 16 weeks on the chart. "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand.
On the United World Chart, "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" peaked at number two for seven consecutive weeks, behind American pop rock singer Gwen Stefani's single "The Sweet Escape". "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" became the world's eighth best-performing single in 2007, earning 5,163,000 United World Chart points.
The music video for the "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" was produced as a short movie. The video was directed by Samuel Bayer, who had first directorial works with Nirvana's 1991 single "Smells Like Teen Spirit". The video features dialogues written by Alpha Dog writer and director Nick Cassavetes, who had previously worked with Timberlake in the film. Timberlake and Bayer enlisted American actress Scarlett Johansson after deciding on using "real" actors. The shooting went for three days between Christmas and New Year's Eve in Los Angeles. The dawn scene was shot on January 8, after the original sessions were done.
The video starts off with Timberlake flirting with Scarlett Johansson on the rooftop of a 1950's Moulin Rouge circus-style club. She rejects with a tease at first but eventually leaves with him to go back to his place. In between cuts, they are shown in bed caressing each other. Johansson jumps into a pool outside the house, and floats below the surface as if she is drowning. Timberlake runs out and pulls her up; she laughs at Timberlake and kisses him. Timberlake introduces her to a drunk Shawn Hatosy at the club calling her "The One". Hatosy seems to be interested in Johansson, despite Timberlake's wish for Hatosy to look out for her. Timberlake caught them at the stairway making out. After punching Hatosy and chasing after Johansson, who has sped off in her 1967 Chevrolet Corvette C2 Sting Ray, Timberlake chases her in his Porsche Carrera GT until seeing her run right into a fiery car crash pile up in which she is thrown from the car and lands feet away from the crash. Timberlake notices a body (presumably a dead one) lying supine on the ground. He gets out and kneels over her while the camera view moves toward the sky and ends the video.
The music video of "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" was exclusively premiered on February 9, 2007 on the iTunes store. The music video debuted on MTV's Total Request Live at number nine on February 13, 2007. "What Goes Around..." retired on May 7 at number seven. In Canada, the music video debuted on Muchmusic's Top 30 countdown at number 22 on January 26, 2007. It peaked at number one on April 27 and stayed on the chart for seven non-consecutive weeks. The video was commercially successful, becoming the fastest selling pop promo on iTunes. It has sold 50,000 in downloads for four days. Timberlake was the first major artist to release a video on the download platform.
In September 2007, "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around" won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Direction. It was also nominated for Video of the Year but lost to pop singer Rihanna's 2007 video "Umbrella".
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