Women in Music 2016

How David Bowie Inspired Justin Timberlake's 'SexyBack'

Joerg Carstensen/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Justin Timberlake performs in Duesseldorf, Germany on Nov. 4, 2006. 

Ten years after pop superstar Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” was released, it's been revealed that the late David Bowie inspired the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit.

In Entertainment Weekly's oral history of the song, Timberlake admits that Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars inspired him while writing “SexyBack”. 

“I was listening to a lot of [David] Bowie at that time -- Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs -- and I played 'Rebel Rebel' over and over again, like, 15 times the day before I wrote anything for 'SexyBack,'” said Timberlake. “We were interested in taking those new-wave synth sounds that were made popular by bands like Tears for Fears and the Human League and seeing how much R&B we could add to that sound. We wanted to take those synth sounds and make them arpeggiated, almost like what’s very common with EDM now.”

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The track --nwhich was composed in conjunction with Timberlake, Timbaland and producer Nate “Danja” Hills -- was the artist’s first No. 1 song, from his second studio album FutureSex/LoveSounds. The single brought together variations of EDM with Timberlake’s R&B sounds. 

“When Timbaland and I first sat down to create the record, we really did want to make a statement. With me and Tim, the biggest rule in the studio is: How does the music make us feel? Does it excite you in that way? When people heard the rest of the album, even though 'SexyBack' sounds so different, all of it would make sense,” said Timberlake. 

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Recording engineer and “SexyBack” mixer Jimmy Douglass spoke on the idea behind the beat. “Danja had a basic root idea: four-on-the-floor kick drum,” said Douglass. “Back when they did disco [in the ’70s], the drummers, with their floor drums, would hit a beat on every beat in the bar -- and they called it a four on the floor.”