Justin Timberlake is now on tour with his new album, “The 20/20 Experience.” I was fortunate enough to see his kick-off show in Indianapolis, IN back in December, and one of the numbers he played was entitled “True Blood.” As the song began, the stage fell completely dark, and then was suddenly lit up with deep red. Not surprising, considering the subject matter – it was a dramatic choice, it incorporated elements of both sex and horror. This is nothing new, of course – fear and arousal are very closely related in the brain. In fact, a psychologist conducted an experiment in which she approached men and asked for their numbers both on a city street and on a suspension bridge that was swaying precariously in the wind. The men she approached on the bridge were far more likely to call her than the men on the street, leading the psychologist to believe that the sense of danger led to more heightened feelings of sexuality in the encounter.
And we need also to look no further than the namesake of Justin’s song for another example of this phenomenon: the HBO hit series “True Blood.” Poll any young lady and you are likely to hear that she has strong romantic feelings for at least one of the vampires on the show – either Eric or Bill, or both. There is something about darkness, about the treat to one’s life, that draws us us inexorably. Indeed, the vampire as sex object seems to be dominating the public consciousness these days. The rabid Twilight fandom is certainly a strong indicator. Perhaps it has something to do with the exchange of essential fluids as the ultimate intimacy.
This, in any case, is the vein Timberlake takes with his lyrics. Justin sings about a woman who “got a bite of my type she told me [and]s found her perfect blood mate.” He seems to indicate that not only does she have a taste for the gory, but that a certain ultimate intimacy can be reached through becoming acquainted with each other’s blood. He mixes horror with arousal when he claims that “the bones in my body start to quake/Straight up from my toes to my mind/She controls me but I don’t want to escape.” He plays with the way in which both passion and fear root you to the spot and take control of you – he finds himself surrendering to the seduction, and allowing it to possess him. He employs the sensual when his lyrics talk about how he can “smell it in you” – the “true blood.” It is as if, once exposed to this woman, his senses have become heightened and he finds himself seeking her out because of a certain quality to her inner fluids.
The song even includes an evil laugh towards the end, likely a tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” “Thriller,” too, exists within the tradition of the erotic mixed with fright. Jackson employs imagery of being frozen in place, of being taken over in the same way that Timberlake does – though with a far more masterful music video, and with the voice of the great Vincent Price. One only has to gace around to find a number of excellent examples of how we conflate both the fearful and the sexual throughout the media we consume.