Justin Timberlake Had to Push for 'SexyBack' to Be a Single: 'Everybody Told Me I Was Crazy'

Justin Timberlake
Courtesy of Apple Music

Justin Timberlake on Most Iconic Songs That Shaped His Career

Justin Timberlake sat down with Apple Music for a wide-ranging look back at the biggest hits of his solo career, in an interview released on Monday (Oct. 5).

During the chat, the superstar opened up to Zane Lowe about the creative process behind everything from "Señorita" and "Cry Me a River" to "SexyBack" and "Can't Stop the Feeling!," including the surprising pushback he received regarding the now-iconic lead single to his smash 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds.

"When I brought the album in, I said, 'This is the first single,'" he said of "SexyBack." "Everybody told me I was crazy. They're like, 'It's too fast.' I'm like, 'OK.' Like, 'It doesn't sound like you.' I'm like, 'OK.' They're like, 'It doesn't have your signature falsetto.' I'm like, 'OK.' And I say, 'Every reason why you think that that's why it's wrong, I think it's right.'"

Timberlake also revealed the musical references that inspired both him and Timbaland as they were crafting the song together in the studio. "If I give you the references, they won't make sense," he said. "I was listening to Bowie. And I was listening to 'Rebel Rebel,' and Tim was on a Talking Heads trip as well. That's why, he's basically doing his David Byrne.

"When I was writing that song, I wanted it to be ... I was listening to 'Rebel Rebel,' which essentially is about a cross-dresser, right?" he continued. "And so I was picturing guys, girls, all iterations of that, in a club, singing this to each other. And I said, 'This has to be so simple and a vibe and just, like, an attitude.' And I was like, 'What's the most audacious thing you could possibly say?' You know what I mean? And that was the first line of the song."

Ultimately, Timberlake's intuition about "SexyBack" paid off, with the song becoming his first solo No. 1 on the Hot 100, reigning atop the chart for seven weeks and eventually selling more than 17 million units worldwide.

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Watch the superstar's full sit-down with Apple Music below.