The video for the Justin Timberlake single “What Goes Around Comes Around” has hit the internet, and it features Scarlett Johansson, hot cars, and plenty of mediocre acting.
After watching the video, I was immediately struck by the desire to pull it apart from a dating/relationship perspective. So I dug up my old media-deconstruction skills from undergrad and dug into this well-produced video. Read on for what it REALLY says about male / female interaction…..
First, it may help to watch the video. You may want to pause the video as you go through and read my accompanying commentary, following along with your own impressions.
Damn, Scarlett Johansson is hot. She may even be a 10. Her celebrity probably makes her a 10. Anyway, notice in this opening sequence some very good things Justin does, and how Scarlett responds in a very subtle but still very clear way.
00:19 to 00:25 Justin approaches Scarlett without fear (approaches without fear). He’s very directive. He’s persistent; he keeps asking her the same question over and over.
00:26 to 00:36 He doesn’t back down, even in the face of a very clear “go away” signal. Scarlett tries to blow him out: “Leave me alone, I’m with someone.” At this point, he goes the absolute wrong route, asking “Yeah, who?” and looking around nervously, but it’s okay, because he persists as though that part of the interaction never happened. It doesn’t matter because it’s obvious Scarlett isn’t with anybody at all.
00:36 Scarlett says, “I’m really bored.” Any experienced seducer knows what the subtext of “I’m bored” is: “Please take me somewhere and fuck me.”
Justin, however, makes the mistake of taking it at face value, and furthermore the ADDED mistake of attributing her boredom to HIMSELF (”So…I’m boring.”) Scarlett just follows this thread. Notice that she’s actually following HIS LEAD when she says, “Yes, you bore me.” He suggested it, not her.
00:42 Justin starts to dig himself out of the hole by saying, “I happen to think I’m a lot of fun.” Scarlett, still following dutifully, now throws up a hoop (really, it’s Justin’s hoop, though) with “So what are you gonna do to entertain me?”
Notice how blunt and imprecise this whole interaction is. These are two people GROPING towards intimacy with each other. It’s like they’re bludgeoning each other with these clumsy cliches. Some people may see this as a delicate choreographed dance — I just see a couple of kids whacking each other with those big Nerf swords. This child-like qualitiy, we will see, continues throughout the video.
00:54 Justin kinos (touches). Actually, all we see is him lean down behind Scarlett for a second, but from the smile on her face we can conclude he did something playful and physical: neck sniff or lick, ass grab, ass kiss(?), something playful with her dress. ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION: After repeated viewings, the other possibility is that Justin is supposed to have whispered something to Scarlett — but those of us in the reality-based community know that there are very few lines he could have whispered to her to get such a good reaction.
Probably something intimate, since her next line is, “You like to play?” at 1:02. At this point we’re in Secret Society territory: Scarlett is now verbalizing what she suspected about Justin all along — that he’s a cool guy she’d like to get with. Notice the interaction has been running for just about exactly one minute and the major hook point has been passed: Scarlett is into him and her next question/statement is going to be a clincher.
Yes, folks, this IS Hollywood — but it’s also reality. This shit is possible in real life. Rare, but possible.
1:07 “Let’s get the hell out of here.” In this video, delivered by a woman, still a money, money closing line for any guy — especially for a single woman with no peer group or friends to arrange logistics with.
End of the first sequence…cut to plenty of peach-fuzz Justin and high-production-value circus scenes.
Intercut Sequence #1
At 1:50, Scarlett throws herself into a swimming pool and fakes drowning, just to see if Justin will rescue her. He does. This is a crazy, crazy shit-test — but it serves an important function for Scarlett, in the story, because it gives her an emotional high of being “rescued” from “certain death” and eliciting Justin’s crazy concern and love for her. Note to guys: In relationships with Scarlett-quality girls, unless you provide them this emotional high-drama in a controlled way, they will provide it for you in their own way, and you will be at their mercy (as Justin is here).
On a Meta note, I think this is done deliberately to underscore Justin’s innocence and youth, and portray Brittany (who the video is clearly about) in a psycho-crazy-batshit light. Nevermind the fact that Scarlett is 10x hotter than Brittany.
03:20 Boozing it up with male friend and peer group, Justin intro’s Scarlett. Watch how the his friend throws up a qualifying screen for Scarlett (”Woah woah woah….” 3:35), which she adeptly jumps through (”I like girls” 3:46). This locks it up for Justin’s male friend, who is clearly attracted (watch for the naked attraction in his eyes at 3:13, 3:25, 3:47, and 4:08) and proposes a toast (also at 4:07/4:08) to “You (Scarlett)…and ME.”
Justin should have picked this up immediately. A true gentleman, even a gentlemanly Don Juan, doesn’t propose a toast to His Boy’s Girl and Himself….he proposes a toast to His Boy’s Girl and His Boy, wishing them happiness in their relationship.
Scarlett picks this up, but Justin is completely closed out of the frame (symbolically, I think). Scarlett’s demure gaze at 4:13 show that she knows what’s up — her eyes literally say “This is trouble, but MY kind of trouble.” She’s reticent but she’s knows what’s coming, and you can actually see the dread in her eyes. Women are socially intuitive, and she can see, maybe only subconsciously, the pain that’s to come.
Intercut Sequence #2
Justin, Scarlett and peer group boozing it up, and Justin’s Male Friend (JMF) and Scarlett subcommunicating. Notice Scarlett’s brief but intense Fuck-Me Eyes at 4:26, lasting barely a second.
At 4:52, Scarlett is kissing Justin while JMF holds her hand, his own face very close to Justin’s. Body language is screaming “I want in!” It’s the perfect set-up for a MMF threesome, but Justin is pretty much oblivious.
At 5:18, the entire scene changes to what looks like a modern-day living room scenario, in the video’s one jarring jump-cut. Justin asks his JMF to “keep an eye on” Scarlett. Bad, bad idea, as JMF’s facial expression says clearly at 5:19/20. At 5:21 and 22, we’re back to the theater / circus scene, Justin has left his position on the couch between Scarlett and JMF, and an unattributed voice (JMF’s, I believe) says “We gotta stop doing this” as, in the scene, JMF himself turns away from a very close “near-kiss” intimate position with Scarlett.
He’s fighting, but he’s losing. Who wouldn’t lose against Scarlett’s beauty (check 5:49 for the most beautiful shot in the entire video, soft-focus on her upturned face) and seductive power?
In a way, this entire set-up is childish, not to mention completely predictable. Justin picked Scarlett up from an afterparty or club party, and they fucked within probably an hour of meeting, following a really messy, undisciplined pick-up by Justin. Now Scarlett is reeling in Justin’s best male friend. She didn’t have to work hard for Justin, so why should she work hard to keep him, or not toss her net casually over other alpha males in his peer group? There’s absolutely no reason not to, as anyone who understands social dynamics knows; “morality” doesn’t enter into it (as it rarely does with women of Scarlett’s character’s caliber / position).
At 5:55, JMF and Scarlett are making out; at 6:00, Justin discovers them and becomes predictably but pointlessly violent. His friend’s only coherent defense is “I like her too!” (6:09), cold comfort for Justin, who clearly has one-itis and is way over-invested in this club floozy who, although beautiful and seductive and probably good in bed, clearly wants different things in life than Justin (who spends his time singing about commitment and fidelity while she is, literally, making a living playing with fire and fake-drowning herself for the dramatic/romantic emotional thrill).
And you know, of course, the rest of the story. The narrative becomes increasingly dissociated from reality as the two lovebirds shout more or less meaningless cliches at each other “Look at your shit! You don’t fuckin’ know me!” / “I fuckin know you!” and embark on a high-speed car chase that ends, predictably, in a fiery high-speed crash.
The one bit of entertainment I got out of this third sequence was how damn similar Justin and Scarlett’s voices sound as they scream at each other at the start of “the chase” (does Scarlett smoke? Justin sings, what’s her excuse?)
While the overall tone of the video is a bit strong (make out with my best friend and die in an auto accident), it speaks to volumes of pain and betrayal Justin felt over losing Brittany, and has (productively) channeled into his (highly popular and profitable) art.
It also depicts a realistic top-5% fast-seduction pickup, as well as some very traditional and predictable relationship dynamics, including:
a highlight of male weakness in the face of traditional female seductive power
hired-gun / entertainment female personality types and need for dramatic / risky emotional drama….AND the consequences of not properly leading a woman in getting these needs met
failure to navigate the “best-friend’s girlfriend” minefield
oneitis / over-investment
missed opportunities for a threesome bridge