A penchant for Y2K sensibilities has been a hallmark of the 2020s, the low rise jeans and glittering sequins of yesteryear infusing its way into contemporary fashion, music and culture. The latest release from American producer Timbaland, whose discography helped define the early aughts, is no exception to this trend. Released on Sept. 1, “Keep Going Up” is early 2000s nostalgia at a low meridian: simultaneously at its peak and at a soporific low.
For the track, Timbaland brought on the vocal talents of fellow Y2K pop icons Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake. This is the second time the trio has collaborated, reuniting after a 16 year hiatus since its slinky club hit “Give It To Me.” Individually Timbaland has also produced for both stars, most notably on “SexyBack” (2006), which epitomized Timberlake’s particular brand of suit-wearing swagger, and Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” (2006), which reentered the Billboard Global 200 in 2020.
“Keep Going Up” opens with a reference to their early work, as Timbaland’s dark timbre purrs “How you been young lady? / Is that feeling still driving you crazy?” a near exact parroting of the hook that began “Promiscuous” almost two decades ago. This appeal to nostalgia is only amplified by the underlying beat, which comes in with a percussion reminiscent of the club hits his audience have come to expect. His words check in with the audience, indicating that after all these years, he’s still got it.
Unfortunately, these few spoken words make up the majority of his presence on the song. He offers a few adlibs here and there — getting in a “what you say, JT” midway through — but otherwise is largely absent. Considering that it has been over a decade since he last released a single as a lead artist, the absence of his intoxicating suave staccato stands out.
Only further augmenting what’s missing is the track’s lusterless production. While the intro’s beat shows promise, as the song continues, the punchy potential falls victim to monotony. Electric piano smooths over a beat that begs to be danced to, creating the sense that the song simply passes by. The lack of variety in the track numbs its momentum, making what could be an evolution of Timbaland’s sonic ability feel more like a dilution.
Lyrically, the track is another addition to the plethora of “feeling myself” songs that many pop musicians take a crack at over their careers. As the title suggests, “Keep Going Up” is an ode to self- empowerment. Furtado comes in singing “I been workin’ on my gains lately (Yeah) / I been lovin’ myself on the daily (Uh)” in her silvery mezzo-soprano.
Timberlake’s verse offers the song’s best vocal showing, offering some variety in rhythm as he dips into a quasi-rap with the lyrics “I’m a top-notch dresser, one-two stepper / Still got the belt, don’t buckle under pressure.” Any intrigue that these lines add to the song, however, are immediately stifled by the repetition of ”I keep goin’, I keep goin’, I keep goin’ up,” which drags through the majority of the last 60 seconds of the song.
Timbaland’s “Keep Going Up” is a testament to the near impossible task that the yearning for nostalgia creates. The track, a musing on personal growth, is embedded with a stilling irony. As the desire for a return to form intermixes with the inevitability of creative evolution, the song finds itself in a state of pop stagnancy — reaching uncontroversial and uninspired ends.