They say hindsight is 20/20, but when it comes to Justin Timberlake's comeback, they're not taking any chances. Next week's release of Timberlake's beyond-highly-anticipated new album The 20/20 Experience is riding on one of the most effective global marketing/promotion campaigns in pop-culture history.
In the years since he put out his last album, 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds, JT and co. had been subtly stoking intrigue about if and when the all-around entertainer would make his return to music, with Timberlake even going so far as to sing a song called "Not Gonna Sing Tonight" on "Saturday Night Live" in 2011.
In January, however, that campaign burst out of its cage via a series of carefully orchestrated, carefully selected events designed to whip up excitement on a major scale.
"While it feels like he is everywhere, he has been going with less-is-more," said RCA Records president/COO Tom Corson. "The looks he has been getting have either been large events or strategic. He hasn't been doing every TV or print opportunity."
That approach has worked like a charm, highlighting not just his charisma as a performer and personality, but also his entrepreneurial pursuits, flair for corporate synergy, and widespread branding appeal. Here's a timeline outlining each and every meme-tastic stroke of Justin's ongoing 20/20 campaign so far:
October 17, 2008:
Rumors that JT might be taking a hiatus from his solo music career begin to bubble when he claims at a Las Vegas benefit that he is "officially retiring" his signature #1 smash hit "SexyBack."
September 23, 2009:
Timberlake is announced to be starring as infamous Internet entrepreneur/former Facebook president Sean Parker in David Fincher's "The Social Network."
November 25, 2009:
Timberlake says he's not rushing into another album, putting his focus on acting instead. "I just want to do interesting parts that are interesting to me," he tells JustinTimberlake.com.
January 10, 2010:
Tennman releases When Everything Breaks Open, the major-label debut of singer-songwriter Matt Morris (a former castmate of Timberlake’s on The Mickey Mouse Club during the early ‘90s). Co-produced by JT and Charlie Sexton, When Everything Breaks Open eventually rises to #99 on the Billboard 200.
January 22, 2010:
Timberlake and Tennman label artist Matt Morris memorably perform a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on George Clooney’s all-star “Hope For Haiti” telethon. The soundtrack from the event, Hope For Haiti Now, enters the Billboard Top 200 at #1 -- the first digital-exclusive album to do so in Billboard history; meanwhile, Morris and Timberlake’s “Hallelujah” shoots from #48 to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in its second week of release.
May 22, 2010:
Tennman releases Esmée Denters’ debut album Outta Here as a digital-only release. Despite being executive produced by Timberlake himself -- and production from hitmakers Stargate, Polow da Don, and Mike Elizondo -- Outta Here sells little more than 1,000 units, and Detmers is eventually dropped from the label’s roster.
October 1, 2010:
"The Social Network" opens, garnering critical raves (but, controversially, no Oscar) for Timberlake's portrayal of Parker.
December 12, 2010:
"[My fans are] looking at me like, 'Why aren't you staying with one path?'" Timberlake told the L.A. Times. "They look at me like I'm ungrateful for my music career because I want to do film. I don't necessarily crave to be a movie star. I just want to be an actor."
December 16, 2010:
Prestigious literary magazine The Atlantic publishes a blog post on its website with the headline "Dear Justin Timberlake, Please Return to Music. Now." In the piece, writer Hampton Stevens states, "Congratulations, Justin. You are officially a movie star. We knew you could do it. But before you vanish forever into the world of soundstages and green screens, could you please do one favor for your fans? Could you please sing for us? Could you please make just one more album?"
December 17, 2010:
Timberlake stars (well, his voice does) in the animated feature "Yogi Bear."
May 21, 2011:
Timberlake serves as the host "but not the musical guest" of "Saturday Night Live." In his opening monologue, Timberlake makes a point of the distinction, singing "I know you want me to sing and dance around/But I'm going to let you down/'Cause I'm not going to sing tonight," stoking further chatter that he's winding down his musical career for acting.
June 1, 2011:
Timberlake tells Vanity Fair that he has no plans to release new music in the foreseeable future: "I wouldn't say I'm not going to put out another [album]. I would say that would be a bad bet, if you were betting." He's more specific in an interview with Playboy: "People keep asking me when a new song or album is coming out, and I don't know what to say. Music is not my focus right now."
June 24, 2011:
Timberlake co-stars with Cameron Diaz in the comedy "Bad Teacher."
June 29, 2011:
Putting his entrepreneur fedora on, Timberlake makes an ownership investment in the relaunch of MySpace. He takes a creative role in the site's redesign and later takes part in press conferences promoting its new look.