“What the fuck has happened to Justin Timberlake?” is what you were probably wondering after first experiencing the video for his incredible new song ‘Supplies’. That is because you’re a mindless sheep, a suitable idiot that the system can use and abuse. The enlightened among us, however, realise that JT is no longer a simple pop star, but fucking woke.
It’s a densely packed four minutes, and a lot of the political subtext is very subtle, so it may be hard to pick up on many of Timberlake’s implications on first watch. I implore you to sit down for a second viewing and really take in everything he is saying, though. If you’ll allow me I’ll briefly go over the video again, pointing out some of the key themes, helping you see why you’re such a mindless conformist incapable of critical thought.
The film begins with Justin staring indignantly at a selection of TV screens, displaying images of Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump amid messages such as “end racism now” and “stop government crimes”. He looks on with disgust. There’s also an MRI scan which I can’t yet decipher but I’m sure is a metaphor for something really important. Already, you just know that this is going to be one of the most important art pieces of our lifetime.
The action then shifts to outdoors, where Timberlake and director Dave Meyers deliver a masterclass in symbolism. I’m not sure I fully understand it myself, but I’ll try my best to interpret Timberlake’s vision. We see a group of people, dressed head-to-toe in white clothes and donning chalk-white skin paint, harassing a woman clothed in a jet black hoodie (played deftly by Eiza González). I can’t say for sure, but given the reference to Trump earlier in the video I suspect the bullies are a symbol of white supremacy.
One figure in particular stands out among them: the man with the gun necklace. The necklace seems to represent violence and, given his light hue, I would guess Timberlake is making a statement about white gun violence in particular. Are the American public so desensitised to it that they are headed for a society in which it is glamorised even within fashion? That seems to be Timberlake’s implication, and it’s a haunting one.
After seeing this woman be harassed, Justin intervenes and tells the intimidators to step off. This brave act by Timberlake gives González the courage she needs to fight back against her attackers. He then takes her hand, leading her away from the racists and their (flawlessly computer rendered) alligators. Now I’m not saying Justin Timberlake has single-handedly ended racism with this bold imagery, but I’m not not saying that.
After that heavy political commentary, we are moved to a seemingly innocuous scene of Timberlake dancing against a dark stone backdrop. Look closer, though, and you’ll see that he is sending us an – admittedly subtle – message. The setting actually seems to be a prison of some sort and, behind Timberlake, a shadow emerges from beneath the wall and runs away.
That’s right, the new-and-improved Justin Timberlake is no longer content with dancing for us like a circus monkey. He’s asking us instead to look beyond such trivial acts and examine our deeper societal problems. In this case, it’s the broken prison system. Who was that shadow we saw escaping? Were they sentenced fairly? Were they even guilty? We don’t know, and that’s the problem.
After a surprise Pharrell cameo, a brief moment of respite in this harrowing film, we are returned to – what I think is – the apex of the entire video. A massive pyramid sits in the midst of an enormous crowd bowing to it. Atop the sculpture lies a ball of light, which flashes over the spectators – almost like an eye. What is Timberlake critiquing? Organised Religion? Our cult-like fealty to the government? I’m inclined to say the latter.
The mysterious woman Timberlake previously rescued starts running towards the pyramid with some sort of explosive in her hand. The congregation doesn’t even notice her presence, still enthralled by the unsettling structure (the eagle-eyed among you may notice that the scene is a reference to a little-known Apple advert from the 1980s). It’s an extremely intense moment in the film, and what follows is sure to be an iconic image.
The pyramid bursts into an intense flame which quickly spreads to the glowing ball of light. The ‘eye’ explodes, filling the air with banknotes. This is interesting. I am tempted to say this lends further credence to my theory that the pyramid was a metaphor for corrupt governance. Only by destroying the symbol of corruption was Timberlake’s companion able to return the wealth to the people.
Soon after Timberlake and his companion exit the scene triumphantly, the action shifts yet again. Now González is sitting on a throne, leading an irate crowd in protest while the word ‘REVOLUTION’ is printed behind her. Is she the leader of the new revolution? It’s unclear. We then see a woman wearing a ‘pussy grabs back’ tee lifting the car Timberlake is perched on.
This returns us to another timely theme of the video, after a brief preface in the opening sequence: the push to end sexual assault, polluting the entertainment industry and beyond. The imagery presented suggests that Timberlake is showing solidarity with women, a statement that means so much more knowing that he wore a ‘Time’s Up’ pin to the Golden Globes and just shot a movie with known women’s rights proponent Woody Allen.
Then, something unexpected happens. Amid bursts of light and colour, Timberlake and González begin to have sex. Some might say following commentary on sexual assault with a sex scene is extremely inappropriate. They would be idiots, naturally, as this is a totally necessary part of the video. Justin Timberlake is woke now, I think he knows what’s appropriate.
After the hot and not at all tone-deaf love scene, we return to the room where the video started; only, something’s different. The computers that were displaying the subtle political subtext start exploding. Did Timberlake and González’s lovemaking do this? Or was it her destroying the evil pyramid? Whatever the answer, things have changed.
The big question is whether they have changed for better or worse. Timberlake does some great acting in this scene, and it’s hard to get a read on what his character is feeling or thinking. He’s no longer watching the screens in disgust, but is now looking away with a stunned expression on his face. He does seem weak, however, as he is leaning on one of the televisions for support. Is he taking a breath of relief after saving us all, or has he given up trying to fight the system?
Immediately, we get our answer. Suddenly the action shifts to a desert, finding Timberlake arising from the sand in a scene drenched in orange hues – possibly a reference to Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece ‘Blade Runner 2049 Announcement Trailer’.
We soon learn that JT’s surroundings are apocalyptic. Is this video set in the future; is it a metaphor for how he perceives the present? We aren’t given an answer and, as with all great art, we can interpret it however we want. He is soon joined by González and a number of children. They are all dirty and dressed in rags, begging the question: what sort of society would allow this?
Towards the end, one of the children steps forward and addresses the camera directly. He asks us if we’re “still asleep”, before telling us to “wake up”, whilst severe camera distortion pierces his messages. It’s chilling.
I’m still having a very hard time unpacking this scene. The interference is obviously a pointed reminder that the government has a vested interest in hiding the truth from the public. What is more difficult to interpret are the child’s words. Whilst he could mean the words “wake up” literally, suggesting we are all living in some Matrix-type scenario, I am wont to think that it’s something more nuanced.
Indeed, I believe what Timberlake is communicating is that we (well, not me; probably you) are ‘asleep’ to what is really going on in our society. This interpretation amalgamates many of the themes of video – discrimination, the unlawfulness of elites – into an arguably more important question: how can we stop these things if so much of society turns a blind eye to them?
Finally, Justin, González, and the children wander off into the the distance. Before the viewer can sit back and take in what they just experienced, however, the man with the gun necklace reemerges unexpectedly amid more static interference. He only appears for a split second, so don’t be ashamed if you missed him on your first watch.
Choosing to end the video on such an alarming and ambiguous shot is a shrewd move. It also calls back to one of the earlier motifs in the video; one of the clearer points Timberlake communicates throughout the film is his aversion to firearms. However, the imagery displayed earlier seemed to indicate that the only way to free ourselves from the tyranny of government corruption was through violent resistance.
Even after examining the ‘Supplies’ video on a micro level, we are left with an array of questions unanswered. Perhaps that itself is one of the film’s themes. These problems – racism, sexism, corruption – have no easy solutions and so, when watching ‘Supplies’, we are given no easy answers. Bravo Timberlake.