The Long Strange Path to This Surprisingly Good Esmee Denters/Justin Timberlake Single, “Casanova”


Esmee Denters was a goofily pretty Dutch pancake house waitress who, in 2006, began uploading videos of herself singing covers of Beyonce and Alicia Keyes songs to YouTube. In 2007, she posted a clip of herself covering of Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around” in which, at the end of the video, the camera suddenly panned right–to an actual, baseball-capped Timberlake, who gave the camera a deadpan stare and then started cracking up. Denters’s manager had, in a coup, arranged an introduction at the right time: Timberlake was just getting together Tennman Records, his vanity label and UMG subsidiary. Denters ended up being the first artist he signed. A cheesy, unfortunate Polow Da Don-produced song, “Outta Here”–Timberlake helped write it–debuted in April, complete with requisite hair-tossing video in which a handsome Drake-lookalike scorns her affections. Score one for the euro clubs.

And now, I guess, score one for us: “Casanova,” Denters’s second single, turns out to be way more FutureSex/LoveSounds than after-the-fall Stargate leftovers. That’s no coincidence–“Casanova” is produced by Timbaland protegee Danja, who by most accounts did the majority of the work on Timberlake’s last record, while Timbaland was off lifting weights or adjusting his steroid cycle or attempting to sink Scott Storch’s yacht or whatever. Denters isn’t much of a singer, but Timberlake is, and their duet–Justin calls her “little sister,” which is pretty endearing–is kinda charming: Timberlake plays the older, wiser confidant, exposing Denters’s man as a bit of a player; Denters gets to play the aggrieved victim, a good look for R&B songstresses since the beginning of time. It ain’t relevatory, but these days, Timberlake can’t lose, and he definitely doesn’t here.