Over the course of his career, Justin Timberlake has gone from being one fifth of America’s favourite boyband to the most sought-after man in pop to, well, a bit of a cringe-fest, really, via stints on pretty much everywhere else on the cool spectrum.
With the release of his fourth album, he’s stepping back into the spotlight at an interesting time, and while he’s previously been pretty much as untouchable as a popstar gets, we’re curious to see whether he’s still able to hold onto his credibility this time around.
Justin’s return to the scene has inspired us to look back over his illustrious career in entertainment, charting the peaks and troughs of his coolness...
⬆️ *NSYNC - ‘No Strings Attached’ (2000)
Compared to their pop contemporaries, *NSYNC was the boyband it was actually acceptable to listen to, and their credibility skyrocketed when their sophomore album ‘No Strings Attached’ came along, proving they were no flash in the pan.
Thanks to a live collaboration with Michael Jackson and an R&B crossover single featuring Nelly, they grew to be the band of the moment, particularly in the US, and Justin was at the centre of it all.
⬆️ His relationship with Britney Spears (2000)
When you’re already hot property in the celebrity world, nothing helps crank things up a notch by attaching yourself to another global megastar - just ask Brad and Angelina, Kim and Kanye or… erm… Stacey Solomon and Joe Swash.
Britney and Justin were the golden couple of the early 2000s, and public interest in their relationship certainly didn’t hinder either of their careers.
⬇️ That beatboxing bit at the end of ‘Pop’
The turn of the millennium was very much “anything goes” when it came to pop culture, as the worlds of music and fashion struggled to find their feet in the early 2000s.
But even in those go-go days, it was clear that JT’s beatboxing solo towards the end of ‘Pop’ was “a bit much”.
⬆️ ‘Justified’ (2002)
By the time *NSYNC split up, boybands had become rather passé, so ‘Justified’ - JT’s first time stepping out as a solo artist, having also recently split up with Britney Spears - had real potential to flop.
Fortunately, with a bit of production magic from Timbaland and N.E.R.D.’s Pharrell Williams, songs including ‘Cry Me A River’, ‘Rock Your Body’ and ‘Like I Love You’ wound up giving people grounds to take Justin seriously, as a songwriter and solo artist.
⬆️ This Rolling Stone cover (2003)
It was good, wasn’t it? It was good.
⬆️ Brit Awards 2003
While the Brit Awards has provided us with some iconic performances over the decades, they’re usually from homegrown talents. So it says a lot about Justin’s star power (and Kylie Minogue’s, for that matter) that he not only made a falsetto-heavy version of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ cool, but that it’s still looked upon as a great performance even to this day.
⬇️ Britney kissing Madonna (2003)
Later that year, an even more iconic awards show performance would take place, as Justin’s ex Britney Spears shared a kiss with Madonna during a rendition of the latter’s new single ‘Hollywood’.
Justin’s expression immediately after one of the most famous kisses in showbiz history said it all, and it definitely didn’t go unnoticed by either party’s fans.
⬇️ Super Bowl with Janet Jackson (2004)
Things hit a bit of a snag for JT when he was a surprise guest during Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.
You know the story by now, but as the two performed ‘Rock Your Body’, Justin attempted to tear off the front of Janet’s outfit, but inadvertently tore off the lace bra she was wearing underneath too, exposing her breast, which was covered by a nipple shield.
The incident lasted half a second, but led to an international scandal, from which Janet’s career never really recovered. And as for Justin...
⬆️ The Grammys (2004)
Did somebody say “double standard”?
A week on from the Super Bowl incident, Janet found herself blacklisted from the Grammys, despite having initially been scheduled to perform. Justin, meanwhile, found himself taking home Album Of The Year, even joking about the incident during his acceptance speech and actually getting laughs from the audience. All this while Janet was literally sat at home, banished from attending.
This moment was seen as Justin’s redemption, a sign that things for the new kid on the block were going to be alright after a scandal that he was every bit as involved in as the supposed villain of the piece, Janet Jackson.
All these years later, we’d like to think that a woman wouldn’t get chucked under the bus quite so nonchalantly without anyone really batting an eyelid. But then we think about the 2013 VMAs, and the different reactions Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke received when they performed together, grinding on each other throughout ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘We Can’t Stop’.
So yeah, we’ve marked this as moment with an “up” arrow, because at the time, Justin’s career was recovering from a PR disaster. But our thoughts now? It wasn’t cool, Justin.
⬆️ ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ (2006)
Can you imagine being given the opportunity to hear ‘SexyBack’ for the first time again?
Futuristic, experimental and yes, very sexy, this was the tune that launched Justin Timberlake’s second solo album, ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’, which we imagine will always be the musical offering he’s most closely associated with.
Released to rave reviews and huge commercial success, the album saw JT reuniting with music producer ‘Timbaland’ once again, with follow-up singles ‘My Love’, ‘What Goes Around…’ and ‘Love Stoned’ helping spark a whole new musical trend, making Timbaland the go-to producer of the mid-2000s. And with choruses that stayed with you for days, sell-out tours and music videos that had everyone talking, there was no questioning Mr Timberlake’s star power during this era.
⬆️ ‘The Social Network’ (2010)
Despite the success of ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’, Justin decided to put his music career on ice for a while when he was done promoting the album.
Things got off to a shaky start filmwise, with parts in ‘Shrek The Third’ and the Mike Myers comedy ‘The Love Guru’, but eventually good roles started to come in, perhaps most famously in ‘The Social Network’ as well as the romantic comedy ‘Friends With Benefits’ and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’.
⬆️ Justin heads behind the scenes (2010)
He never fully stepped away from the music world, but he did spend the majority of his time behind the scenes, producing and co-writing tracks for huge stars such as Rihanna, Madonna, Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
While this isn’t something we could imagine everybody getting away with, people seemed to love the idea of Justin in his new role as behind-the-scenes producer, though eventually people did begin to wonder when he’d be back at the helm of his own project..?
⬇️ ‘Suit And Tie’ (2013)
Well, in 2013 they got their answer with the release of Jay-Z collab ‘Suit And Tie’, which served as the lead single from JT’s two-part third album, ‘The 20/20 Experience’.
The track came as a surprise to many, particularly as his return to the pop scene didn’t quite get the warm reception many anticipated.
In fact, despite charting at number two and three in the US and UK respectively, ‘Suit And Tie’ left many pondering whether Justin had lost whatever it was that made him such a star.
⬆️ ‘Mirrors’ (2009)
They needn’t have worried, though.
Single number two was a return to form for Justin, and even though it wasn’t markedly different from past ballads like ‘Cry Me A River’ and ‘What Goes Around…’, the track proved the former *NSYNC singer would be going nowhere just yet, with a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance and the Video Of The Year gong at the MTV VMAs.
What followed was the second part of the ‘20/20 Experience’, filled with tracks well past the seven-minute mark, which you know is the real proof of how arty a singer really is.
⬇️ ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling!’ (2016)
While the mixed reception ‘Suit And Tie’ received was considered by many to be a blip, the first real stumble in Justin’s solo catalogue came in 2016 when ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling!’ was unveiled.
Admittedly a huge commercial success and obvious radio hit, ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling!’ was not as well-received with more serious music critics, who longed for the more experimental sound Justin showcased on ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ and ‘The 20/20 Experience’.
It didn’t help that the song was first performed live during the interval at the Eurovision Song Contest, nor that it was taken from the ‘Trolls’ soundtrack, seen by many as a cynical way for Justin to try and bag an Academy Award for Best Original Song (which would have been a lot easier had he not ended up going toe-to-toe with two different cuts from ‘La La Land’).
⬇️ ‘Man Of The Woods’ (2018)
And so we come to the present day. Having been accused of cultural appropriation throughout his career, when he announced ‘Man Of The Woods’ in 2018, many considered Justin’s sudden desire to return to his Southern roots in the age of Donald Trump slightly alarming, particularly when Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus got equally lukewarm receptions after making similar choices on their albums, ‘Joanne’ and ‘Younger Now’.
Lead single ‘Filthy’ was considered, by some JT fans, as being a little underwhelming, while the music video for album cut ‘Supplies’ was criticised for skirting around subjects, and making allusions in areas many of his cohorts were being more explicit and critical about, like the current political system and issues of social justice.
⬇️ Time’s Up (2018)
And then came his appearance on the Golden Globes red carpet, where Justin attempted to back the ‘Time’s Up’ movement, at a time when many women had come forward with allegations of sexual assault against key Hollywood figures.
However, many branded the singer hypocritical, having recently worked with Woody Allen, who in the wake of the movement, some actors have expressed regret at having worked with during their careers.
🔀 Super Bowl 2017 and the Brit Awards (2018 onwards)
If there’s one thing Justin has proved over the years it’s that you can’t keep him down for long, and as ‘Man Of The Woods’ is released to the world, we’re curious to see how both the new music and the man behind it are received.
There’s already a lot to look forward to, with his return to the Super Bowl stage sparking plenty of conversation over whether he’ll welcome Janet Jackson back to the stage, as well as his first performance at the Brit Awards in five years.
All we can say is, watch this space.
Justin Timberlake’s ‘Man Of The Woods’ is out now.