20/20 Vision: cracking the code of Justin Timberlake’s countdown

UPDATE (Monday): I’m pleased to find out that the predictions in this post were correct, as announced on Justin Timberlake’s website. Buy “Suit & Tie,” from The 20/20 Experience, on iTunes: http://kwn.me/suitandtie


On Thursday at 9:01 AM Pacific time, Justin Timberlake‘s name spread like wildfire across social media and news sites, just as if we had stepped back in a time machine to 2002, with the revelation of a countdown that would all but certainly end with a new single and album from the former *NSYNC member. While the teaser video and website gave no clear indication of the project’s names, a few clues have appeared that indicate a title of “Suit & Tie” for the lead single from forthcoming album The 20/20 Experience. Read on for an explanation of these clues and feel free to draw your own conclusions — none of this information is confirmed yet.

Blurry Vision

Most of the conclusions to be made are seen on the countdown page itself, which showcases blurry figures masked behind the countdown clock. An animation reveals (at the time of writing) a bowtie on the top row, a “T” at the end of second row, an “E” to end the fourth row, and an “H” as the second character in the bottom row. The characters are laid out as follows:

(bowtie)
x T
x x x x
x x x E
x H x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

My first instinct upon seeing these characters was to check the page’s source code, designed by The Uprising Creative, to see if I could determine the filepaths for each unblurred letter. Unfortunately, Uprising thought that idea through before I could. While the heavily-blurred images had a clear URL structure — r#_c%_heavy_blur.png, where # represents the row number and % represents the character number in that row — the lightly-blurred and cleared images that had already been revealed contained a string of characters that could not be linked to any sort of recognizable formula. Hover over the three images of the bowtie below to compare their URLs:

Justin Timberlake bowtie with heavy blur Justin Timberlake bowtie with light blur Justin Timberlake bowtie with no blur

Clockwise from far left: bowtie with heavy blur, light blur, and no blur. Designed by The Uprising Creative.

With that idea foiled, I turned to analyzing the shapes of the blurred characters to see which letters they might resemble. While rows two through four are fairly well obscured behind the countdown clock, a quick tweak in Chrome’s element inspector removes that element from the page:

Justin Timberlake countdown characters with no clock

(click for full size — opens in new window)

A squinted look at the blurred shapes reveals that the bottom row has three words: THE, a five-character set whose third character is a forward slash, and EXPERIENCE. In addition, it is inferred that the top row begins with the letter “J” to spell JT, Timberlake’s initials.

(bowtie)
J T
x x x x
x x x E
T H E | x x / x x | E X P E R I E N C E

Suiting Up

This left us with eleven characters left to uncover: a daunting task — without the help of Internet rumors, that is. On a music discussion forum I frequent, Pulse Music Board, it was mentioned that “Suit & Tie” had been making the rounds as a rumored song title. One source of this title was popular blogger Kid Fury, who tweeted shortly after the Timberlake teaser:

Taking that as a hint, I tweeted back and got a response:

As a final confirmation, the characters from the proposed title were confirmed to fit within the pyramid. Note the radii of the blurred characters from the obscured image posted above: those that represent the “I” in “suit” and “tie” have small radii, while the radius is larger on the characters for the ampersand and “S,” both of which have a larger size.

(bowtie)
J T
S U I T
& T I E
T H E | x x / x x | E X P E R I E N C E

The Vision Test

With only the second word of the final row remaining, I and the other Pulse members analyzing the page looked toward the shapes of the blurs and the characters that would fit, which would presumably spell out the title of the forthcoming Justin Timberlake album. Sight came to mind for one poster and it clicked: the characters weren’t letters, but numbers: 20/20, the expression of perfect vision. Appropriate, no? This also connects with the design choices of a triangular layout, which resembles a vision chart, and the blurring of focus during the animation.

(bowtie)
J T
S U I T
& T I E
T H E | 2 0 / 2 0 | E X P E R I E N C E

As the adage goes, hindsight is 20/20, so I went back to take a look at Timberlake’s teaser video from Thursday afternoon to look for additional clues. While nothing was an overt reference to either title, two possibly-coincidental pieces of supporting evidence for the vision-related album title can be suggested:

Justin Timberlake teaser video glasses Justin Timberlake teaser video eyeball

In the first image, Timberlake removes a pair of glasses and places them in his back pocket. In the second, an object resembling an eyeball (possibly some sort of lighting fixture) sits in the corner of the room with the pool table that Timberlake crosses before entering the recording studio.

There’s one more mystery that has yet to be solved: in a number of tweets this year, particularly since the initial announcement of new music, Timberlake has used the hashtag #YouNeverKnow. While that may seem to be an obvious reference to the song title, I am making the bold guess that it either comes from a lyric (likely a hook) within “Suit & Tie” or is the name of the rumored Beyoncé collaboration, since there are no indications of the phrase within the other countdown materials. Once the countdown clock reaches zero at midnight on Monday, we’ll all find out for sure.

UPDATE: There’s one more piece of evidence that suggests not only “Suit & Tie” and The 20/20 Experience will be used, but that “You Never Know” could potentially be a title in use as well. All of the music releases on Timberlake’s website are accessible with a basic URL slug following the main justintimberlake.com URL: the name of the album (and featured artist ahead of that, if applicable) is written with hyphens between each word, such as futuresexlovesounds-deluxe-edition or sheryl-crow-100-miles-from-memphis. Attempting to put in an URL that does not exist results in a 404 error (“Page Not Found”). However, replacing the URL slug with suit-&-tie (note: & is the HTML character code for the ampersand symbol), the-20-20-experience, or you-never-know results in a redirect to the site’s privacy policy instead of the 404 landing page, which would suggest that the pages exist and are being redirected while the countdown is still taking place.

UPDATE (Sunday): All signs are pointing to “Suit & Tie” being the single. Searching on iTunes or the iTunes Link Maker for suit and tie feat jay z or suit and tie single fails to bring up the actual song, but does show Timberlake’s name under suggested artists:

Justin Timberlake Suit & Tie - iTunes Link Maker

(click for full size — opens in new window)

Future releases often appear on the iTunes Link Maker, and while most scheduled, upcoming albums and singles have link-ready listings in the results, one other known release shows only the artist when searching for the title: Jessie Ware’s If You’re Never Gonna Move EP, which has also been scheduled for a release this week. Note that no related results appear for you never know or the 20/20 experience, likely because the single will be posted under the album Suit & Tie (feat. Jay-Z) — Single, which would later be replaced with the album version once it’s available for pre-order.


Justin Timberlake’s video reveal on Thursday ended with two words: “I’m ready.” If these inferences are correct, the mystery behind his upcoming single and album have been revealed, with new single “Suit & Tie” to lead off his latest album, The 20/20 Experience. After the first tweet suggesting these titles from Pulse member Adam Soybel, the news has spread quickly, suggesting fans agree that the titles may be correct. With many people impatiently waiting, it’s now your turn, Timberlake — we’re ready for the new music you have to offer.

Do you have an alternate opinion on how Justin Timberlake’s countdown will end? Comment below or tweet me @KurtTrowbridge!

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