New Again: Justin Timberlake

In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present.

Boys are like buses, Justin Randall Timberlake included. After 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake took a break from music. It lasted five years. No sexy crooning, no Samuel Bayer-directed music videos starring Scarlett Johansson; just a handful of bad movies (The Love Guru, In Time), one good movie (The Social Network), and many marvelous Jimmy Fallon and SNL appearances. Now, in 2013 alone, Justin is releasing not one, but two albums, and going on tour with Jay-Z. According to The Roots’ ?uestlove, there is a The 20/20 Experience Vol. II slated for November.

To celebrate Justin’s return to his day job, we’ve reprinted our interview with the singer and actor from February of 2003, shortly after the released of his debut album, Justified. Things have changed a great deal for both Timberlake and the pop world in the decade since this interview. Don’t be alarmed if Timberlake name-drops Coldplay, or describes his style as “kind of a cross between a skate hippie and an R&B star” (Tom Ford was still at Gucci and YSL at the time), or if the interviewer brings up an American Idol runner-up, utters the words, “If you become a huge solo star,” or refers to “the biggest couple in pop… Nelly and Kelly Rowland.” —Emma Brown

Justin Timberlake
By Rebecca Wallwork

Pop’s biggest pinup said bye, bye, bye to the pack life, and hello to himself and respect.

Ever since unveiling his soloness at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Justin Timberlake has been feeling the liberating rush of coming of age. He has shaken off the boy band shackles, weathered the public’s thirst for details of his Britney breakup, and steered his solo debut, Justified (Jive), to Billboard’s dizziest heights. As one-fifth of the record-breaking ‘N Sync he knows the place well, but after spending half his life in the spotlight (her started out as an 11-year-old contestant on Star Search), Timberlake is finding that his defining moment comes as he enters his 22nd year—on terms entirely his own.

REBECCA WALLWORK: You worked with some great producers on this record—the Neptunes, Timbaland—but you co-wrote every track. I get the sense that you were the one in the studio waving the wand.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: Yeah. To make an album, it takes both those personalities: somebody who’s dictating what they definitely want and somebody to be the coach, who can sit on the sidelines and say, “Yeah, I think that’s it.” But I don’t want to cash in on the fact that I got to work with the hottest producers. I think that music is an experience, and people should experience it on their own. You know, if I had gotten so hyped up about the second Coldplay album, I probably wouldn’t have like it as much as I do.

WALLWORK: So it was a discovery for you?

TIMBERLAKE: Yeah! And, man, Parachutes, the first one, knocked me off my feet too.

WALLWORK: Do you find it inspiring or daunting when you hear such good stuff from other people?

TIMBERLAKE: Oh, it’s completely inspiring. I’m a  mutt as far as music is concerned, because I listen to everything. I think Jive should hire me as A&R.

WALLWORK: Now, if you become a huge solo star in your own right, can we expect to see a Justin Timberlake empire? Would you have your own sweats or maybe a fragrance, like J.Lo?

TIMBERLAKE: [laughs] I don’t know. I think my style is kind of a cross between a skater hippie and an R&B star. If there were something I was going to endorse, it would probably be something like sneakers. Something that would be me.

WALLWORK: You could make porn, like Snoop.

TIMBERLAKE: No, I don’t think that would work! [both laugh] But thanks for the suggestion, I’ll think about it.

WALLWORK: A lot of people say that Justin [Guarini] from American Idol is a dead ringer for you. Have you met him?

TIMBERLAKE: No. But I met Kelly Clarkson the other day. I hope something incredible comes out of it for these kids, but I think there’s something Satanic about that show, as if they’re herding them like cattle: “You will sing what we tell you to sing.”

WALLWORK: So even though ‘N Sync got a similar star, you wouldn’t recommend it?

TIMERLAKE: Oh, hell no. Hell to the no. We went through all that bullshit with [boy band impresario] Lou Pearlman. We’ve been in that situation where you’re just so happy to be doing what you love to do that you get taken advantage of.

WALLWORK: What do you think it was about ‘N Sync—and yourself—that ensured you would still be around five years later?

TIMBERLAKE: I just think everything we did was genuine. When we first got into this, obviously I wasn’t a songwriter. But I knew that I wanted to learn it. I didn’t let anybody tell me that I couldn’t. And now, I think I gave myself [on the record].

WALLWORK: What did you get out of it personally?

TIMBERLAKE: Well, I was dealing with so many things in my personal llife at the time. Making this was almost like therapy. You know, I have a little anxiety about doing this on my own, a little bit of a broken art. Half of this album is autobiographical and the other half is a fantasy.

WALLWORK: So was there any trepidation in putting something personal out there?

TIMBERLAKE: No. When I’m in the studio, there are no boundaries. You know, when you’re writing the song, it’s about what goes from the first bar to the last. It’s not about “Oh, am I going to hurt somebody’s feelings?” Right there, you’ve killed the whole thing that’s special about writing.

WALLWORK: One last question. Everyone’s still talking about the biggest couple in pop—

TIMBERLAKE: Who’s that? Who’s the biggest couple in pop? I have no idea who you’re talking about?

WALLWORK: Nelly and Kelly Rowland, of course.

TIMBERLAKE: [laughs] Oh! Okay. You can tell I’ve been asked that question before, huh?

WALLWORK: Well, I was trying to put a new spin on it.

TIMBERLAKE:  Yeah, but if I say something to you about any of it, and you write it, then everyone is going to hold you to that. That’s crazy. Gossip is called gossip because it’s not always the truth.


New Again runs every Wednesday. For more, click here.