News Column

Justin Timberlake proves he can do it all

November 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 10--In the summer, Justin Timberlake received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award -- recognition comparable to a lifetime-achievement nod -- at the MTV Video Music Awards.

He is 32.

Sure, his age represents an eternity in pop-music years amid rapidly changing times, tastes and tweets.

Consider the broad accolade, uh, justified.

Just look at the many hats (beyond the ubiquitous fedoras) that Timberlake, scheduled to perform on Saturday in Nationwide Arena, has worn.

The Tennessean and former Mouseketeer has worked steadily since childhood, first as a country-singing Star Search contestant at age 11 and soon after as a teenage Disney Channel pop personality alongside then-unknowns Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling and Britney Spears -- his one-time storybook girlfriend.

He was recruited at 14 by Backstreet Boys mastermind Lou Pearlman to join the burgeoning pop quintet 'N Sync, the Beatles of mid-1990s boy bands -- in which an ebullient and Brillo-haired Timberlake fast emerged as, and has since remained, the clear star.

Seriously, can you recite the names of all other 'N Sync members? None has come close to matching the frontman's meteoric rise (although Lance Bass unsuccessfully tried to raise $20 million to blast off with Russian cosmonauts) since the group disbanded more than a decade ago.

Timberlake, though, continued to burn hot.

His solo debut, Justified, traded sugary melodies for the slinky, stuttering beats generated by inventive hip-hop producer Timbaland.

"If it succeeds, then that's great," Timberlake told Barbara Walters before the album's 2002 release.

"If it doesn't, then it just doesn't."

His brand prevailed. The triple-platinum work spawned four Grammy nominations and three hit singles -- including bitter breakup jam Cry Me a River, whose creepy music video portrayed the hoodie-clad singer stalking the home of a woman resembling Spears.

Adding more buzz was the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" slip that occurred during a 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance. While concluding his song Rock Your Body -- final lyrics: "Gonna have you naked / By the end of this song" -- Timberlake yanked away part of the costume of duet partner Janet Jackson, momentarily exposing her breast.

The live event generated more than 500,000 viewer complaints, Federal Communications Commission fines and a public apology from the performers. Jackson's career hasn't recovered.

The event was accidental and "completely, completely, completely regrettable," Timberlake told KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.

He didn't top the singles charts on his own until his spacey 2006 sophomore effort, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Consecutive No. 1 hits SexyBack, My Love and What Goes Around ... Comes Around continued the sonic trajectory on an album that sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

Timberlake then took a hiatus to focus on film -- most notably The Social Network (2010), in which the singer portrayed cocky tech entrepreneur Sean Parker.

Some Timberlake titles ( Bad Teacher, Friends With Benefits) won't make any best-of lists, and last month's crime drama Runner Runner failed to make a splash.

More promising is the Joel and Ethan Coen flick Inside Llewyn Davis (due on Dec. 20), in which Timberlake portrays a 1960s Greenwich Village folk singer.

He has also been a popular guest on Saturday Night Live -- those Barry Gibb sketches, anyone? -- where pre-taped collaborations sung with Andy Samberg ( D--- in a Box and Motherlover) went viral.

He co-founded the upscale William Rast denim line, which offered some items via Target in a 2011 partnership. And, last year, Timberlake married girlfriend Jessica Biel, an actress known for her role on the TV drama series 7th Heaven.

One thing Timberlake isn't: a loose cannon. He's poised, primped, produced, scripted.

"I am a performer," Timberlake said during a September interview with TheNew York Times Magazine. "I try to talk to people about how much acting goes into music. I'm not the guy I am onstage."

Timberlake returned in March with his third effort, The 20/20 Experience. Critics were mostly positive toward the No. 1-charting record, citing lush, diverse melodies that didn't overstay their falsetto-voiced welcome. (Most of the songs stretch beyond seven minutes apiece.)

The artist co-headlined a summer stadium tour with rap mogul Jay Z, setting the stage for an ongoing round of solo arena dates.

Timberlake, however, has hinted that music might not be a focus forever.

"I will not be the type of artist that puts out 10 to 15 albums," he told Rolling Stone this year. "Until you really feel that desperate need to shout from the rooftops and express yourself in that way, I just kind of keep it to myself."

That didn't prevent a 12-track follow-up -- The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2 -- from being rushed to shelves just six months after its predecessor. Reviews were lukewarm.

Fortunately, the ever-youthful performer is likely to have at least another 32 years in the spotlight to shape-shift.

And, in light of the huge buzz that an all-too-brief 'N Sync reunion performance at the MTV Video Music Awards received, might a full-on group tour follow?

After all, more than 15 years have passed since the group's debut single, I Want You Back, hit the airwaves.

For now, devotees of the boy band will be crying a river.

"That was it," Timberlake confirmed to Power 105.1 FM in New York after the surprise 'N Sync go-round.

"I've got my own tour to worry about."

kjoy@dispatch.com

@kevjoy

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(c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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