Justin Timberlake: A 21st Century Icon
Justin Timberlake has been in the public eye for over 2/3 of his life or twenty years. In that time he has managed to go from wearing many hats as a young child star on Star Search and the Mickey Mouse Club to a young superstar on the rise as a member of N'Sync, to go becoming the biggest solo artist to make it big from a boy band since MIchael Jackson. And along the way he has managed to do many other things such as start a fashion label, open a restaurant, and star in quite a few movies.
Along the way there have been bumps on the road, however, he has managed to be one of the pioneers of using social media by using his name as a brand.
So we'll travel from Tennessee to Tinseltown to everywhere in between as we chronicle his life and career so far.
From Cowboy Hats to Mouse Ears
Justin Timberlake was born January 31, 1981- the first and only child born to Randy and Lynn Timberlake. His parents were only twenty years old at the time and barely out of childhood themselves. Nevertheless, young Justin found himself in the middle of his parents divorce by the time he was three.
For the next few years it was Justin and his mom trying to get by. Even though there were struggles, there was much solace found in the music Lynn played. A multi-instrumentalist herself, she played her favorite records from classic R&B artists such as Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Al Green. By the time Justin was a toddler, he could sing perfect harmony to the radio in the car.
At some point young Justin fell in love with music so much he persuaded his mom to let him take vocal lessons. At the same time, he was in love with basketball- however the pull between the two was causing friction as Justin would expose himself to the elements practicing. So his mom finally gave him an ultimatum between music and basketball. Fatefully enough, Justin chose music.
By the time he was nine, he was in several talent shows for his school. He eventually entered a pageant and was crowned the first ever Mr. Tennessee.
From there his vocal coach thought it would be good that he go to Star Search and compete. Under the name Justin Randall and with a ten gallon hat and Alan Jackson tune to boot, he did just that. Unfortunately he lost but it proved to be a fateful time. On the same set of Star Search was the All-New Mickey Mouse Club. And in 1992 they were holding open auditions.
Ten-year-old Justin begged his mom to allow him to audition. He did and that year he was part of the newest cast members of the All-New Mickey Mouse Club. Alongside young Justin was Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Ryan Gosling. Although they were only on the last two seasons of the show, this class of Mouseketeers would have the biggest impact on pop culture.
The Happiest Place in Florida
The MIckey Mouse Club was a breeding ground. Justin and his peers were exposed to the old Hollywood system of breading triple threats. Each Mouseketeer was expected to learn all of the song and dance numbers as well as the comedic bits for the week while being tutored for the time they missed in school.
But there was no shortage of fun onset. In fact, Justin was roommates with Ryan Gosling. Since the young Goz was a Canadian and his mom had to work to support them back home, Justin's mom, Lynn graciously offered to be his guardian for some time while they were at the MMC.
Justin was around fourteen when the Mickey Mouse Club ended and decidedly went back to Tennessee to finish school but kept in contact with an influential friend and fellow cast mate from the Mickey Mouse Club, JC Chasez. JC was five years older and in many ways the big brother that Justin never had.
The two clicked so well they decided to write songs together and see what would happen- as fate would have it another young man working at Universal Studios in Florida where interested in both JC and Justin for a new boy group he was forming.
Chris Kirkpatrick was working alongside Joey Fatone doing skits and shows in Orlando around the same time Justin and JC were on the MMC. The two crossed paths and when Chris decided to follow his dream of being in music, he called them.
With Joey on board alongside JC and Justin, all Chris needed was a bass singer. Thankfully, Justin's vocal coach, Bob (whatshisname) had another client with a suitable voice. The ironically named Lance Bass was intrigued by his coach's invitation and despite his mother's reservations was allowed to join the group. The rest they say was history.
The Seven Year Itch
N'Sync began in 1995 like most groups do, struggling to put together a show and a demo tape for record executives. They remained huddled in Florida perfecting choreography and vocals.
Word did get around and music impresario Lou Pearlman agreed to come on board alongside Johnny Wright and manage the fellas. Justin and Lance were not yet of age, so their moms tagged along to ensure their safety.
After inking a deal with RCA records, they began working on their debut album in the pop music capital of Europe, Stockholm, Sweden. Working with the same producers as the Backstreet Boys (who were also managed by Lou Pearlman), they produced some bubble gum ditties that are stuld held closely in the hearts of many young adults.
N'Sync then toured Europe through most of 1996 and 1997 before finally deciding to return stateside and launch their attack on teenage girls. While the Backstreet Boys had claimed many fans, there was still room for another boy band.
In 1998, N'Sync's self-titled debut dropped to little fanfare but quickly rose up the charts thanks to the charm and dance moves of the fellows. Justin, being the youngest got the attention of many young girls with his smile and trademark curls.
That being said, they spent a good bit of the next two years making appearances and touring. However, as they discovered their hardwork paid off, just not for them. Lou Pearlman, who later was found to be running one of the most elaborate ponzi schemes in history held N'Sync and Backstreet Boys in slave-like contracts.
Finally having enough of lots of attention but little money, Justin and the guys pursued legal action while recording their second album, No Strings Attached. The album broke records and showcased a talent of Justin's many fans did not know he had- songwriting.
The tour would also go on to gross millions and spur an HBO concert special. Soon after, Justin began to be under constant speculation for two things: his hair and his girlfriend. His trademark curls, were the bane of his young existence and he tried every way to avoid the issues of a curly main- even going so far to sport corn rows.
On the subject of his love life, he and fellow Mouseketeer Britney Spears made their debut as a couple at the 2000 VMAs and claimed their spot as the prince and princess of pop. While this was going on, Justin and the rest of the guys were hard at work on their third and what would be final album, Celebrity.
The album took many fans and critics by surprise by being strongly influenced by 2-step and R&B music. Justin took a hand in co-producing and co-writing with fellow lead singer JC.
And in 2002, after the last leg of their Celebrity tour, Justin made the one announcement that would forever change his life.
As we all know, 2002 was a monumental year in Justin's life. He announced that he and longtime girlfriend Britney Spears had split but even more devastating was the end of N'Sync.
Justin soon announced plans for a solo album. And he went to work on what would become one of the most celebrated debut albums since the likes of Off the Wall and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Instead of flocking to the producers that he had grown accustomed to working with as a member of N'Sync such as Max Martin- Justin decided to work with contemporary hip-hop producers, Timbaland and the Neptunes.
With Pharrell and Chad of the Neptunes, he rewrote and reworked the tracks Michael Jackson rejected for what would become Invincible, his final studio album. Songs such as "Rock Your Body" formed the basis for Justin's signature dance floor inducing sound.
However, it was his work with Timbaland that garnered the most attention."Cry Me A River", arguably the most autobiographical track of Justin's career was written under what Justin calls a blackout state. The song is rumored to be about the fatal demise of his relationship with Britney Spears. While we never know the truth, the video definitely spoke volumes.
It was in this moment that the world realized that JT was no longer the curly haired cute one but the swaggering icon of pop new millennium pop.
In his promotional tour for Justified, he hosted Saturday Night Live in 2003 and served as musical guest. This was a turning point as it turned many casting agents and directors on to the talents of Justin and would help jump start his acting career.
Controversy and Coronations
In 2004, still riding high from the release of Justified, Justin Timberlake was basking in a new contract with McDonald's for its new campaign I'm Loving It. He also joined Janet Jackson on stage for what would be the most infamous Super Bowl performance of all time.
Yeah, I'm talking about that one. While it is arguable who is to blame and what really happened, most can agree it was stupid to think that it would work without a flaw.
Also in 2004, he picked up his first two Grammys. One for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "Cry Me A River" and another for Best Pop Vocal Album for Justified.
Timberlake spent most of 2004 and 2005 pursuing acting. Instead of going for the bigger roles or vehicles that appealed to his demographic, Justin found bit parts in independent and lower budget films. Not all of them were memorable but he finally broke through with 2006's Alpha Dog- based on a true story.
He also went back to work with Timbaland for his second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. It was with this album that it was finally confirmed why JT had become our favorite boy bander to go solo since Michael Jackson. With his brazen debut single, "SexyBack"' which was number one for six weeks, Justin Timberlake took the world by storm again. The album would go on to produce several top ten singles including "My Love", "Summer Love", and "What Goes Around"...
His FutureSex/LoveShow tour would go on to be a best seller and give him his first special on HBO as a solo artist.
in 2007, he won two Grammys for best Dance Recording for "SexyBack" and best Rap-Sung Collaboration for "My Love" featuring T.I. And in 2008, he added two more to his mantle with Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "What Goes Around" and Best Dance Recording for "LoveStoned."
In the meantime, Justin showed no signs of slowing down.
New Blue Eyes
In 2008, Justin finished his second solo tour and began to go back to working in film. He also focused on expanding his fashion label William Rast.
He also worked with Timbaland on producing hits for other artists such as Madonna, 50 Cent, and Rihanna. Let's not forget he began his own record label, Tennman Records.
While through the years he had heard several Michael Jackson comparisons, he revealed that one of his biggest inspirations as an entertainer was none other than Frank Sinatra.
And it showed, his film credits grew and in 2010 he was part of the ensemble cast for The Social Network. Timberlake received the best reviews for his acting in his portrayal of Napster co-founder Sean Parker.
In 2011, he had his best acting year ever starring in Bad Teacher with ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz, Friends with Benefits with the oh so funny Mila Kunis, and In Time with the doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried.
He also got engaged to longtime girlfriend, Jessica Biel. They would marry in October 2012. However, it was during this time Justin began to discreetly work on his next album with longtime collaborator, Timbaland.
JT's third album, the highly anticipated 20/20 Experience will drop on March 19, 2013. The first single, "Suit and Tie" featuring Jay-Z is already outsold his previous best-selling digital single in its first week, "Sexy Back".
The single reveals a heavily R&B tinged sound that comes as no surprise to JT's core fans. He has said numerous times that growing up he fell in love with R&B music, especially Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson.
While the song has stirred controversy between fans about how good it is, there's no doubt many can agree that it feels good to have Justin back doing his day job!
Timberlake is slated to perform at the DirecTV Super Bowl Party on February 2nd. He also is geared up to co-star in the Coen Brothers feature, Inside Llewyn Davis which will open sometime in 2013.
It was also announced that Justin would perform at the Grammys on February 10th, his first time in four years.
At only 32, it's quite clear that this is just the beginning for Justin Timberlake and there will be more milestones to come from this 21st century triple threat.
JT's Peers and Contemporaries
Unlike female pop stars, male pop stars seem to be analyzed more on their music than their theatrics. Justin Timberlake came about in 2002 as a solo artist and since then his sound has been disected and compared to many- Michael Jackson being the most obvious. However, here are a few that are still making music.
Ne-Yo: Both have an affinity for suits, hats, and suave dance grooves. However, many haven't really compared them as much as others but there are distinct similarities. Ne-Yo, however is known for a certain polish to his sound and has not deviated much from it. Ne-Yo was recently quoted as saying he'd love to work with JT.
Robin Thicke: If you ask most fans of either or both of these gentleman, this is a very lazy comparison. While they are both torch bearers of blue-eyed soul, their music is vastly different. Thicke, who is the son of television icon, Alan Thicke is known for making R&B that appeals mainly to urban audiences. Even though both have taken the comparison in stride, it would be interesting to see these two working together.
Bruno Mars: A few years younger than JT and a lot newer to the music scene, there are similarities in the fact both are heavily influenced by retro styles and differing eras of music. Not to mention the whole fedora thing. Bruno Mars recently hosed SNL and drew even more comparisons to Justin for his ability to draw laughs and hit notes.
Usher: Arguably, Justin's biggest competition and closest peer, he could be the Prince to his Michael or the Michael to his Prince- Usher has been a solo artist even longer than Justin. However, they have both been on the pop culture landscape in some capacity for nearly twenty years. While they both have drawn direct comparisons to Michael Jackson, they both deny having more in common than that.
JT Fun Facts
- Though he grew up an only child, Justin is actually the oldest of his father's children. His half- sister, Laura Katherine died shortly after birth in 1997 and he dedicated N'Sync's first album to her. He also has two younger half-brothers on his father's side, Jonathan and Stephen.
- HIs favorite singer of all-time is Donny Hathaway, the late soul singer best known for such classics as This Christmas, Where is the Love, and A Song for You.
- JT is a Godfather! His lifelong best friend, Trace Ayala's daughter, Sophia is his goddaughter.
- His clothing line William Rast is named after Justin's and Trace's grandfathers. William was the name of Justin's grandpa who died in late 2012 and Rast is the last name of Trace's grandfather, John Rast. The two also have pairs of jeans named after each of their maternal grandmothers.
- He's hosted SNL a total of 4 times and has been the musical guest simultaneously three times.. His skits have been regarded as classic, even going viral. His most popular sketch was a tribute to 90s R&B with Andy Samberg "*** in a Box' won Justin his first Emmy.
- Justin is known to enjoy golf and basketball in his spare time, but he also bakes! He once shared how his Grandma Sadie made one of her famous recipes on Good Morning America.
- Justin plays several instruments including guitar, keyboard, drums, bass, and my personal favorite the keytar, as demonstrated on the FutureSex/LoveShow Tour.