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Rollingstone 2006

Sitting next to me at  Justin Timberlake’s show at Amsterdam’s Paradiso, front and  center on the balcony, is Timberlake’s mom, Lynn Harless.  She’s waving a skinny cigarette in one hand – sparked with a  cow-shaped lighter that shoots flames out of both nostrils –  and clutching a fresh Heineken in the other. Every now and  then, to cool down, she’ll whip out a hand-held electric fan,  which offers a multicolor circular light show when the blades  are spinning. “How many other moms you know with a rave in  their purse?” she asks.

Timberlake, 25, is playing a club gig  with his twelve-piece band to prep the faithful for the  release of FutureSex/LoveSounds (he chose the title,  he joked the day before in Paris, because Purple Rain  was already taken). The sound is big enough to fill an arena,  and his guitarist gets plenty of room, pushing the harder funk  into rock territory. In the middle of “Like I Love You,”  Timberlake bashes out the riff to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen  Spirit.” Before he plays his new single “SexyBack,” he says,  “This song is from my new album. If you don’t like it, fuck  you.” Harless sings along to her boy’s smash at the top of her  lungs.

She gave birth to Justin when she was  just twenty. Both of them told me, at different points, that  they “grew up together.” While Timberlake is singing, dancing  and sweating through his suit pants on the stage below, she  screams in my ear: “When Justin was a little-bitty baby, like  three or four months old, we’d sit him in those seats, like a  car seat, on the kitchen counter. He’d kick his legs to the  beat of the music. We’d change the music and he’d kick his  legs to the new beat. We’d say to our friends, ‘Dude! Look at  this!’ He was like a little toy.”

Lil’ JT didn’t get his rhythm from  Mom, though. Lynn credits his biological father – whom she  calls the “sperm donor” – for genetically instilling in her  boy perfect rhythm and perfect pitch. Randy Timberlake played  bass and sang the high harmonies in a bluegrass band with  Lynn’s brother. (Lynn raised Justin with her husband of  twenty-two years, Paul Harless, a banker who gave Justin his  sense of humor and his unflappable demeanor.) “We were coming  home from a bluegrass festival in Mississippi with my brother  and sister-in-law in a freakin’ Winnebago,” Lynn tells me,  “and all of a sudden my brother said, ‘Is anyone listening to  him? He’s singing fucking harmony parts!’ Justin was adding a  harmony to the songs on the radio. He was freakin’ two!”

Timberlake honed his singing skills  in church while growing up in Millington, Tennessee – a town  so small it actually had a general store – and his granddad  taught him a few guitar chords. Before long, at age ten, he  made the pilgrimage to Orlando, Florida, where he sang Top  Forty hits and performed sketch comedy on The New Mickey  Mouse Club. Even among future celebs like Britney Spears,  Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera, Keri Russell and JC Chasez –  most of whom, at one point or another, spent a night on Lynn’s  sofa – Timberlake stood out. At fourteen, with ‘NSync, he  signed his first record contract, and he immediately turned  into a little punk-ass. “I thought I was the coolest guy,”  says Timberlake. “You couldn’t talk to me. Nobody could tell  me anything, or I’d be like, ‘Bitch! I have a record  contract!’ ” That attitude extended to life on the road with ‘NSync.  “I think I used up all my lives as a teenager,” he says. “It’s  always more impressive, you know, drinking when you’re not  allowed to do it. These days, I try not to burn the candle at  both ends.”



You may or may not think  that Timberlake should be ashamed of his years  with ‘NSync – he certainly doesn’t play any of  those megahits in his concerts nowadays – but he  has no regrets, aside from some of his outfits and  hairdos. “They were great times, better than great  times – even though, in the beginning, I was being  monetarily raped by a Svengali,” he says,  referring to the group’s start with Backstreet  Boys impresario Lou Pearlman. “We were just five  really lucky bastards.” One of whom, Lance Bass,  was gay. Shortly after Timberlake’s European trip,  Bass came out. “I’d be lying if I said we didn’t  all know,” Timberlake tells me a few weeks later.  “It was never weird, though, and it was never  spoken about. I think it’s more about his  self-acceptance than anything. I’m happy for him.  At the same time, Lance is his own person, and the  question has been thrown my way plenty of times  since he announced it. At the end of the day, I  don’t feel like I should be bothered about it.  He’s my friend, and I’ll always support and  protect him.”

As for Timberlake’s own  love life, he’s not talking, though he’s happy to  take a swipe at the paparazzi, who have  relentlessly hounded him and Cameron Diaz since  they began dating three years ago. “They’re like  chromosomes that just keep multiplying,” he says.  “Sick fucks. It’s got to top the list of the  world’s creepiest professions.” He claims to be at  peace with the shutter rats now, but, he says,  “I’ve run the gamut with how I feel about it. I  had the confrontation, where I slapped a  paparazzo, and that was bad. I had to go meet the  district attorney, who slapped the back of my hand  and said I shouldn’t retaliate with violence. I  was like, ‘Of course, you’re right.’ We live in an  interesting time where everybody and everything is  completely accessible. And I love what I do, but I  also love my life and my privacy.”

In the weeks before I  meet Timberlake, the gossip columns are fooling  themselves with the idea that Timberlake is  dumping Diaz before he launches FutureSex/LoveSounds.  But they’re very much a couple. The night before  his Amsterdam show, Timberlake plays Paris’ La  Cigale theater, which is draped in velvet like a  burlesque club. Diaz is on her feet in the front  of the balcony, singing the words to every song,  including new ones like Timberlake’s pimp anthem  “Sexy Ladies,” “My Love” and a ballad called  “Until the End of Time.”

After the show, in the  lobby of the posh Le Faubourg Sofitel – around the  corner from Yves St. Laurent, where Timberlake  happily blew more than $13,000 that afternoon –  Diaz rests her hand atop Timberlake’s left pants  pocket. Together they contemplate a late-night  order from McDonald’s – a cheeseburger for her, a  fried apple pie for him – and with JT’s mom they  chat with manager Johnny Wright, who informs  Timberlake that “SexyBack” was played more than  85,000 times on his MySpace page on the day of its  debut. Harless and Diaz laugh about the girl in  the front row wearing the I HAD JUSTIN THREE TIMES  T-shirt. They hatch a plan to design two shirts  for Timberlake’s upcoming London show reading I  HAD JUSTIN FIRST and I HAD JUSTIN LAST.



Last  November, Timberlake entered the brand-new  Virginia Beach, Virginia, studio of hip-hop  producer Timbaland, who had produced four tracks  on Justified, the 2002 solo debut that  buried Timberlake’s image as a pansy boy-bander.  Justified was musically assured and  surprisingly sexual, opening with the  live-in-the-studio Latin funk of the Neptunes-produced  “Senorita,” with its leering tag, “Gentlemen, good  night/Ladies, good morning.” Another Neptunes  track, “Rock Your Body,” became a hipster guilty  pleasure (a chorus that referred to sharing a  joint – “The air is thick, it’s smelling right/So  you blast to the left and you sail to the right” –  helped as well), but it was the Timbaland track  “Cry Me a River” (along with a video that made it  clear it was his kiss-off to Britney Spears) that  sparked sales topping out at 4 million. Timberlake had been  working at fame from age eleven, when he lost on  Star Search in 1992. By the time he was twenty –  when ‘NSync’s No Strings Attached sold  2.4 million copies its first week out, likely to  stand as an all-time record – he had it pretty  well covered. Then came a quest to make credible  music, music that mattered to him. That took  another three years, but the credibility issue was  under control by August 2003, when Drew Barrymore  and her boyfriend, Strokes drummer Fabrizio  Moretti, turned up for one of Timberlake’s club  shows – word-of-mouth gigs that followed arena  concerts and featured Timberlake on keyboard  guiding his crack band through funk and soul jams.

Timberlake was better  than twelve years into a career that had gotten  him paid and laid. He was also twenty-three and at  a crossroads. “I was burnt,” he says. “My dad was  like, ‘You should enjoy your life – one day you’re  gonna be my age and you’ll want to do things that  you should have done when you had the body to do  them.’ I was like, ‘Damn, you’re right!’ ” He  spent twenty-four months just watching the wheels  go ’round. (By the way, John Lennon is his  favorite songwriter, Donny Hathaway his vocal  idol.) “When I took two years off, I was like,  ‘Oh, shit! This is what the world looks like at a  regular pace,’ ” he says. “That was amazing for  me. Just the little things, like sitting home on  the weekend or making a Sunday tee time. Play  golf, then come back home, have a beer and call it  a day.”

At his local clubs,  Sherwood in L.A. and Spring Creek in Tennessee,  Timberlake worked his way down to a two handicap,  and he indulged in his other athletic passions,  barreling down mountains on his snowboard and  surfing in Hawaii. Usually, Diaz was at his side.

But work came knocking.  Timberlake took another star turn, as the host and  musical guest on Saturday Night Live in  October 2003. He displayed serious acting chops in  sendups of Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Simpson (in  drag), as well as a memorable turn as an omelet  pitchman (“I dressed up in yellow tights like a  fucking omelet,” he says of his commitment to his  craft). The killer was Timberlake teaming with  Jimmy Fallon on The Barry Gibb Talk Show.  “He has great comic timing,” says Fallon. “We were  all impressed. We were about to go live – we had  our backs to the audience – and Justin said to me,  ‘Remember the harmony on that one part. Seriously!  Remember it.’ I’ll never forget that – I was  nervous I wouldn’t nail it. I felt like Joey  Fatone – I mean, I was getting Fatone pressure.”

After the show,  Timberlake was inundated with acting offers. “SNL  was like a playground,” he says. “And the reason I  got into film is because I needed something  inspiring, but more intimate, that I didn’t have  to do in front of 18,000 people every night.”  During his “downtime,” Timberlake tackled four  films: Edison Force, which headed  straight for the video rack, and three movies out  next year – Black Snake Moan, Southland Tales and Alpha Dog, where  Timberlake stars alongside Bruce Willis and Lukas  Haas in the complex role of Frankie Ballenbacher,  a murderous, weed-slinging gangbanger with a soft  side. “Justin’s got such an easy way of moving,”  says Alpha Dog director Nick Cassavetes,  “much like a young Travolta in Saturday Night  Fever.” And regarding his future on the big  screen? “The kid’s got a rocket ship tied to his  ass,” says Cassavetes. “One day, I hope to be his  assistant.”

A year ago, Timberlake  got the urge to record again. “I knew that I  needed something new,” he says. “I wanted to take  more of a chance – experiment.” He was also  spurred on by the sad state of pop radio. “I said  to myself, ‘I don’t want anything I do to sound  like that.’ I just didn’t think it was that good.”

No sooner had he gotten  back into a musical mind-set than the big shots at  his record label, Jive, were up his ass for new  tunes. “When I started messin’ around on this  album, Barry Weiss [president of Jive Records]  said to me, ‘When’s it gonna be done?’ ” says  Timberlake. “I said, ‘I don’t know, it could take  a year.’ ” Work on FS/LS started in  December 2005. Timberlake moved at a leisurely  pace: a few weeks in the studio, a few weeks off.  (He likes to joke that he suffers from ADD, hence  the cushy schedule.) He did a stint writing with  his friend Matt Morris, whom he first met when  they were both on The New Mickey Mouse Club  in 1993. And he produced a track with of  the Black Eyed Peas. (Timberlake sang the hook on  the Peas’ breakthrough hit, “Where Is the Love?”)  Then Timberlake turned to Timbaland.



“I asked him if he could do  five or six more ‘Cry Me a Rivers,’ ” he says.  “Tim is the kind of producer who doesn’t back down  from that kind of challenge.” On a cold day in  November, JT arrived in Virginia Beach. That  night, with no lyrics, melody or plan, Timberlake,  Timbaland and the producer’s protege Nate “Danja”  Hills created a classic called “What Goes Around.”   The song started with  Hills’ keyboards and Timbaland’s relatively  straightforward drum pattern, which were layered  with a recurring sitar figure, sublime strings and  hooks that pile atop one another only to cascade  into the chorus. Timberlake never writes down his  lyrics, so he attacked verses, bridges and  choruses in the vocal booth when inspiration  struck. “Everybody knows he’s talented, but this  dude wrote that whole album without touching a pen  or paper,” Hills says. “I’m like, ‘What type of  shit is this?’ I’ve heard stories about Jay-Z or  Biggie doing that, but I’ve never heard of a  singer doing that. I think it’s some sort of  superpower.”

With lyrics like “I was  ready to give you my name/Thought it was me and  you, baby/And now it’s all just a shame,” “What  Goes Around” seems like the sequel to “Cry Me a  River,” a final toss of dirt on the grave of his  ten-year relationship with Britney. But Timberlake  says that unlike on Justified, the lyrics  on FutureSex/LoveSounds “are not  autobiographical in any way – [“What Goes Around”]  was written about somebody else.” By which he  means he drew on a friend’s experience. “But I’d  be lying if I said I didn’t have the personal  experience to, you know, relay the message,” he  admits.

The music Timberlake  gravitates toward these days – the only place he  sees “real songwriting” and forward movement – is  rock & roll. (The drony guitar interlude that  follows the song “LoveStoned” was inspired by  Interpol.) “Everything else has a gimmick,” he  says. “These days, the names are bigger than the  songs – people want to see pictures, videos,  cameos, collaborations, fame association. . . .  It’s like some ubercool party that you can’t get  into.” He thinks for a second. “Now, I know my  name is on that guest list, but that’s not what  inspires me. There are a resurgence of bands that  just want to be who they are. I love the fucking  Strokes – ‘You Only Live Once,’ I couldn’t get  that fucking guitar riff out of my head for three  months – the Killers, Arcade Fire, Radiohead. And  you gotta give it up for Coldplay. Those are the  bands that I’m into.”

FutureSex/LoveSounds  resembles vintage Prince much more than the  Killers or Arcade Fire, but for “SexyBack,”  Timberlake was going for a David Bowie vibe. “I  said, ‘Let’s take a stab at Bowie or David Byrne  and see what we come up with,’ ” he says. “There’s  no doubt that it’s a club record,” he adds, “but  there’s a rock sensibility about it. It reminds me  of ‘Rebel Rebel.’ ” He also likens writing with  Timbaland and Hills to a garage-band-trio  mentality – essentially a drummer (Timbaland), a  hook man (Hills) and a singer.



He has said more than once  that his goal with FS/LS was “to capture  moments” with a vivid, raw, off-the-cuff sound. “I  don’t really think I’m bringing sexy back,” he  says. “But when a twenty-eight-year-old male or  female is standing in a club in New York City at  2:30 in the morning and that fuckin’ song comes  on, I want them to feel like they are. That’s what  music should do. When I was a kid and I heard ‘I  Wanna Hold Your Hand,’ I wanted to find someone’s  hand to hold. When I listen to ‘Hotel California,’  I feel like I’m on coke. Sort of.” In the course of just  three weeks, more genre-bending tracks piled up in  Virginia Beach – “Sexy Ladies,” “My Love” (a  rock-techno ballad that took two hours to imagine  and execute) and “SexyBack” – and the T word began  flying around the studio. “We were buggin’ out,  like, ‘Are we creating the next Thriller?’  ” says Hills. “It was so crazy how we was coming  up with these songs back to back to back.”  Timbaland agrees it’s a blockbuster, calling FS/LS Thriller 2006. The  day after his show in Paris, we board a private  jet to Amsterdam. The back cabin lounge is filled  with the women who travel with Timberlake: two  stylists and an assistant. They sing Eighties hits  a cappella, and occasionally Timberlake shoots  them a look of mock agony. Anticipating the  debauchery that lies ahead of us later in the  evening, Timberlake tells me that he was stoned  during the Justified sessions but has  since quit smoking weed and didn’t hit the pipe  during the recording of FutureSex/LoveSounds.

After Timberlake slays  the club crowd in Amsterdam, he poses for photos  with label reps. Once finished, he hovers near a  group of his friends, including his choreographer  Marty Kedulka, but stands unassumingly to the  side. He is the only one of them without a beer in  his hand, and he doesn’t appear celebratory at all  after his great gig. For five long minutes he just  quietly surveys his entourage with a steely gaze.  Suddenly, he cracks a joke and settles into the  group again.

With no shows booked for  the next couple of days, Timberlake cuts loose. We  hop into a black Range Rover and pull out of the  venue, through a sea of fans, across moonlit  canals and past the paparazzi who have somehow  been tipped off about our destination, a hip-hop  club in the center of town. The split second  Timberlake steps inside the club, the DJ announces  his arrival. We’re ushered into an upstairs VIP  area that’s littered with champagne. As the others  trickle in, Kedulka and I whip out pre-rolled  joints from an Amsterdam coffee shop. “I can’t  believe I forgot how much fun this is,” Timberlake  says before taking another drag from a joint mixed  with exotic White Widow, AK-47 and Kali buds.

The DJ spins “Another  Part of Me,” a Michael Jackson deep cut that was  part of Disney’s collaboration with Jacko, the  bygone 3-D extravaganza Captain EO.  Timberlake tells me that while working as a  Mouseketeer in Florida, he caught the Captain  EO show more than twenty times. For years JT  has been unabashed about his love for MJ – do you  remember his debut solo performance, at the 2002  MTV VMAs, when he performed “Like I Love You”  while dressed like the King of Pop? Even on FS/LS – as if he hasn’t heard us all  snickering about his devotion to MJ – Timberlake  name-drops him on “Chop Me Up,” scatting the line  “Like Michael Jackson, how you do me this way?” “I  wear my heroes on my sleeve,” he says.



After a fresh joint and a  bizarre, stoned dance exercise between Kedulka and  Timberlake – where Kedulka unleashes a move and  Timberlake either nods approval or ups the ante  with a spasm of his own – we’re ready to split  back to the hotel. In Timberlake’s penthouse  suite, the three of us reconvene to embark on the  six-inch journey to the bottom of a honey-flavored  blunt. Before he says good night, though, we sit  on his couch, where he plays me a rough mix of his  album closer, the Rick Rubin-produced tribute to  Donny Hathaway, “(Another Song) All Over Again.”  It’s a stunning ballad, simple and soulful. In  Rubin, Timberlake says he found a mentor, and,  when the time comes, a producer for his follow-up  to FutureSex. That would be the last  time I’d see Timberlake in Europe. I was still  wondering what was going through his mind that  night in Amsterdam, after his gig – when he stood  with us by the canal with that unwavering,  ambiguous expression – as we met up a few weeks  later at Encore Studios in Los Angeles. He answers  before I even have a chance to ask. Turns out he  was tired of hanging with girls in his crew and  was just waiting for boys’ night out to start. “Yo,  with all those freakin’ females around, they drive  me insane,” he says. “Insane! When we were  standing by the canal, and then me, you and Marty  hopped into the Range Rover, I was like, ‘Thank  you, God.’ ”

At Encore, JT is  road-testing the recently mastered tracks from FS/LS, literally – he’s listening to them in  the parking lot, in his A&R man’s Corvette. He’s  also there working on an upcoming track for rapper  Talib Kweli. He makes a point of telling me, in  front of various engineers, programmers and  friends, that he’s off the pipe again (prompting  one of them to say, “C’mon, Justin – you brought  sexy back, why don’t ya bring the chronic back  too?”). When he gets to work, he runs around the  studio like a madman, layering clavinet figures,  live drums, synth percussion and other assorted  flairs onto the track. As with FutureSex/LoveSounds,  his working process is distinctly improvisational,  and distinctly impressive. His former bandmate JC  Chasez – for whom Timberlake is also currently  producing tracks – calls him the “golden child.”  “The kid has stepped out,” says Chasez, who’s five  years older. “He’s grown by leaps and bounds. He’s  a Jedi.” In fact, when he’s in the studio,  collaborators refer to him as “Annie,” as in  Anakin Skywalker.

Timberlake has endured  the high highs and painful lows of the music  business. “I’ve had bottles thrown at me – glass  bottles full of piss,” he says. “And I’ve had  girls run onstage and try to tear my clothes off.”  So where do you go from there? “Ten years from  now,” he says, “I don’t want to be jumping around  onstage. I’ve been in this business for fifteen  years – which is kinda creepy – and I’m interested  in other things.” Among them, he and his best  friend, Trace Ayala, oversee their fledgling  clothing line, William Rast (the name is from JT’s  grandfather’s first name and Ayala’s grandfather’s  last name), and Timberlake is in the process of  reviving Memphis’ own Stax label – his first  signing was his pal Matt Morris.



Timberlake says that with  success and a happy personal life, he’s mellowed  out in the last few years. He brings up French  soccer star Zinedine Zidane, whom he was rooting  for during the World Cup this year. “When he  head-butted the guy in the chest, I was  perplexed,” he says. “The guy is a rock star,  close to winning the World Cup, and then he does  that and we all hate him. I’m always genuinely  nice to people, but there have been times when  I’ve gotten so invested in my seclusion that I’ve  pushed people away. But I’ve realized that the way  I act has an effect on people I meet.” He’s also conscious of  the commitment it takes these days to see an album  all the way through. “To do it the right way is to  commit to more than two years of my life. I admire  the Stones, but I don’t think I’d be cut out for a  career like that.” Recently, Timberlake had a  conversation with Jay-Z about all this. “I said to  him, ‘Haven’t you made, like, twelve albums?’ I’ll  be lucky if I get to six.” Timberlake imagines  growing old, splitting time between L.A.,  Tennessee and perhaps a place in Italy or Spain.  “Just float around – not too shabby, right?” he  says. “The dream is to be able to have a schedule  like I’ve had in the last five years, to put out a  record and tour, then take a little break, maybe  do some films. But I don’t want to work this hard  forever.”

Leading up to the release  of FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake says  that his dreams have often been nightmares.  “Before I go to sleep every night, I’m scared  shitless,” he says. “And right when I wake up in  the morning, I’m scared shitless.” He’s got a lot  on his plate: He’s committed himself to bringing  the sexy back for all of us, he’s got all the  friends and family he can handle, and he’s got a  brand-new image to sell to the world. Like his mom  told me – in the middle of a live performance of  “What Goes Around” – “Fuck this pop-star shit. I  can die a happy woman now. My baby’s a rock star!

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