No longer a boy, not yet a man, fer sure: Justin Timberlake’s sullen baby face and Michael Jackson falsetto make him seem less a womanizing pig than a castrated hamster. But listening to his solo CD, Justified (Jive), it dawned on me that his sub-Lionel Richie slinkiness and tippy-tap low end are so wimpy they’re ballsy–ballsier, maybe, than a slamming beat with bowel-busting bass. And wriggling around under his silk-sheets melodies are some seriously predatory lyrics: “Don’t fear me baby, it’s just destiny,” he murmurs in “Like I Love You.” If Timberlake’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Christina Aguilera’s a hyena through and through. It seems likely Timberlake asked her to tour with him to piss off Britney, but I suspect he or his people also think that having the aggressively sexual howler billed below him might make him look more like a man. But she’s still more butch than he’ll ever be, and I mean that in a good way: instead of pussyfooting around onstage she grinds like she means it and roughs up her diva flutters with gravel. She sweats until her too-orange makeup slides off her imperfect skin–though you barely notice she’s melting because her transfixing voice can redeem even the most banal melody. Last year’s Stripped (RCA), the most unapologetic and multifaceted (not to mention self-indulgent–20 tracks, and does anybody really prefer the slow jams?) of her three albums, was met with wolf whistles and guffaws–despite having lived through Madonna’s prime, the mainstream media just can’t figure out what to make of a young, talented female pop star who’s got cat scratch fever. Of course that might be because she’s humping them in the face. Tuesday, July 22, 7:30 PM, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim, Rosemont; 847-635-6601 or 312-559-1212. Wednesday, July 23, 7:30 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison; 312-455-4500 or 312-559-1212. Timberlake’s also doing a midnight show on Tuesday, July 22, at House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jive-CPI, Miranda Penn Turin.