“This is a Grammy moment that millions of us have been waiting for,” Beyoncé said in her speech welcoming Justin Timberlake back to the stage at the 55th Grammy Awards on Sunday. Needless to say, his performance -- powered by a huge, Rat Pack-style band -- succeeded in drumming up even more excitement for his upcoming album The 20/20 Experience.
Timberlake immediately followed the awards ceremony with an appearance at the legendary L.A. venue the Hollywood Palladium, which sold out almost immediately after tickets went on sale. Other than an intimate performance during Super Bowl weekend, this was Timberlake’s first major concert appearance since touring his previous album, 2006’s multi-platinum FutureSex/LoveSounds – and one of his most exclusive, as the Palladium’s 4,000 capacity proves far more intimate than the arenas and stadiums Timberlake could fill with ease.
tonight he showed us again why @jtimberlake is the TRUTH!!! Incredible show and Incredible entertainer!
— Scooter Braun (@scooterbraun) February 11, 2013
“It’s the hottest ticket in town, and super hard to get – everyone wants to go there,” explained Cash Money recording artist Jay Sean, who, like many, rushed directly from the Grammys to the Palladium. Indeed, the V.I.P. areas in the Palladium’s Bud Platinum Lounge were soon crowded with boldface notables like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, OneRepublic frontman/Adele collaborator Ryan Tedder, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber/Psy manager Scooter Braun, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Neil Patrick Harris, and Black Entertainment Television president Stephen Hill, along with Timberlake’s current producing/writing collaborators James Fauntleroy II and Rob Knox and his former N’ Sync bandmate Lance Bass.
Hollywood Palladium's marquee (photo: Justin Timberlake's Facebook page)
As a result, it became the best place to get chatter on the Grammys, which Jay Sean found musically inspiring, but culinarily lacking. “I was hungry as hell at the ceremony – all they had was nachos and hot dogs,” he said. “I loved Bruno Mars’ performance, though – I’m a big fan. And it was amazing how they brought out Sting, Rihanna, and Ziggy and Damien Marley for the Bob Marley tribute.”
“I was watching the show from stage left, about halfway up, and it was incredible,” noted Rob McCarthy, vice president of Bud Light, the corporate sponsor of Timberlake’s Palladium event. “Besides Jay-Z and JT, of course, the Black Keys killed it, and both times Elton John took the stage were pretty special. But I have to say, there was a big cheer backstage when Mumford & Sons went up to accept their award [for Album of the Year].”
Despite the heavy celebrity and industry presence, Timberlake’s Palladium show was intended mostly as a gift to his longstanding fanbase; Timberlake even set up a Grammy viewing party for a select group of fans at the nearby W Hotel’s Hollywood outpost. By 9:00 pm PST, ticket holders had formed a line a block long down Sunset Boulevard, and thronged the entire Palladium parking lot, which was empty of cars to accommodate the crush. For over two and a half hours before showtime, audience members waited patiently, singing along to hip-hop hits spun by Timbaland’s self-proclaimed “official DJ,” Freestyle Steve. As the anticipation grew overwhelming, the crowd began chanting “JT!” At 11:35, however, the sixteen-piece band took to the stage (including a full horn section and a quartet of backup singers), followed by a tuxedoed Timberlake, replicating the styling of his Grammy appearance, down to the musician stands emblazoned with “JT & the Tennessee Kids.”
(Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Bearing an acoustic guitar, Timberlake launched into his smash hit “Let Me Love You” from his breakthrough solo album, 2002’s “Justified,” kicking off a 14-song set heavy on hits. For nearly hour-and-a-half, Timberlake played smashes like “Cry Me A River” and “Señorita” along with three selections from The 20/20 Experience (including sexy new R&B ballad, “That Girl”), and energetic covers of Michael Jackson’s “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and INXS’ “Need You Tonight.” From the moment Timberlake appeared, the audience roared its appreciation and didn’t let up, going predictably wild whenever the pop icon busted his trademark elastic dance moves during “Rock Your Body” and “My Love.”
Excitement proved at an all-time high, though, during the encore. Jay-Z came out to reprise the Grammy performance of “Suit & Tie” from earlier in the evening, while longtime Timberlake creative partner Timbaland bolted onstage for a climactic “SexyBack,” during which Timberlake puzzlingly yelled out “I love you, Los Angeles – don't let that stupid f---ing media tell you any different!”
If anything, the media has wholeheartedly embraced Timberlake’s live return, along with every element of a massive marketing onslaught that expertly utilized Timberlake’s Grammy triumph as launch pad. A new song, “Mirrors,” appeared online immediately following Timberlake and Jay-Z’s Grammy appearance; as well, two television commercials were broadcast indicating Timberlake’s commitment to a series of major branding initiatives – a Target ad highlighting the March 19th release date of The 20/20 Experience, and a spot for Bud Light Platinum (for which Timberlake was recently named the brand’s Creative Director) that stayed on message with the album’s sophisticated, retro black-tie imaging.
“This is really day one of our partnership with Justin,” explained Bud Light’s McCarthy. “The Grammys is the Super Bowl of music, making this the perfect night to do something like this. For Justin to play with Jay-Z, then release a song right after – to be a part of that is incredible. He’s more than somebody starring in our advertisements: Justin and his team were very much a part of writing and creating the commercial that dovetailed out of the Grammys. He’s going to help us evolve: it’s about bringing him into the process and building a brand with the consumers he knows so well. As consumers and lovers of music, you just want to experience it.”