*NSYNC never quite did it for me. Back in the late ’90s when the boy band dominated pop radio, I just couldn’t get with that clique. They just seemed like a plastic version of the Jackson 5. But when Justin Timberlake, their former lead singer, rose out of that makeshift boom box more than 11 years ago at the 2002 MTV VMAs in a fedora and gloved hands (Michael Jackson part deux?) to make his debut as solo star and premiere the lead single from his first album “Justified,” I became a fan — instantly.
That 2002 R&B album, allegedly inspired by his breakup with starlet Britney Spears, damp with beat-box spit, smooth production from the Neptunes, and quirky yet quaking jams from Timbaland got Justin off to a chart-dominating start. Along with his 2006 follow-up “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” a more spacier, innovative Pop&B effort cemented his footing as a one of the industry’s top talents. Back then Usher was the only guy he had to worry about regarding male pop supremacy.
The funny thing is that while Usher has released three albums since Timberlake’s “FutureSex” — to the chagrin of his fans — Justin has stayed silent. What’s he been up to? Oh, a little bit this, that, and not making music.
That explains why Timberlake’s 15 million-plus Twitter followers let out a collective “Eeeek!” when he posted a YouTube clip last week declaring his intentions to make music again, and an even bigger one after the sartorially inclined singer released his Timbaland-produced single — “Suit and Tie” — late last night.
I missed Justin Timberlake so much as a singer that I’m mad his first single in years has a guest on it — even if it is the tremendous accessory that is a Jay-Z verse. It’s kind of like when a friend you haven’t seen in a long time visits and brings folks you saw yesterday. Jay’s always cool, but there’s some real catching up with Justin to be done.
Some on staff expected more, but it’s a solid single if not stellar. Some armchair record execs and members of the social media peanut gallery on Twitter last night were quick to point out that Timberlake’s cool, sultry vibe on “Suit and Tie” felt more like a Robin Thicke cut than a JT one. Sure, it lacks the urgency of his earlier singles (“My Love” or “SexyBack”). But it’s better than what Thicke has to offer, for sure.
And Justin has more to offer. There are plenty of singers out there to choose from. But how many of them are the showmen Timberlake is? Few. Justin isn’t just attached to a piano on stage, wiggling on beat. He dances. He performs.
There’s something to be said about a guy who’s waited six years to release new material, like Justin has. These days acts come with a new album at least every three years, fearing that their presence will be forgotten or fall to irretrievable depths in our mental timelines. Justin’s break is old school: live life and make music when he’s inspired. It’s not like anyone has taken Timberlake’s place while he was gone.
Justin Bieber is still a kid. And though he’s still hit-maker, Usher’s not the same Usher anymore. Timberlake doesn’t have to kick anyone off of his throne. It’s been empty and cold. This new single is him warming up the seat. When you’ve been sitting on the bench for a long time, it’s probably best one not to try andy dunk when they get back in the game. “Suit and Tie” is his layup, smooth and familiar.
Last night in a letter to his fans Timberlake revealed his forthcoming album, “The 20/20 Experience,” comes out this year and that it is “full of inspiration that I grew up listening to and some newfound muses that I’ve discovered along the way.”
Expect some big hits — ones reflective of the life he’s lived over the last few years (marriage, Hollywood), major performances, and some nasty slam dunks. Time will tell if it’s worth the wait. As a solo star, he’s two for two. His vision apparently is clear. The odds are in his favor.