JT’s back, this time in suit and tie. We reflect on two decades of the Trousersnake
1. Squeaky clean
Justin Randall Timberlake spent the formative part of life as a Mouseketeer on popular child factory TV show The Mickey Mouse Club. From 1993 to 1995 he wore waistcoats, covered UB40 songs and tried to out-swag future megastars Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling. JC Chasez was there too. Aged only 12, Justin was already a star – he had the voice of a helium-fuelled angel, the skin of a human carved from marshmallows and the black eyes of a harrowed soldier. Plus, he occasionally rapped.
The video: JT and co-star Ryan Gosling precociously interrogate R'n'B group Xscape.
2. He’s not a boy, not yet a man
In 1996 the streets were a frenzy of Backstreet Boys-loving, DiCaprio-worshipping teens – perfect timing for *NSync to appear, sporting tinted shades and putting out mindlessly pristine pop. With a debut album that sold 11 million copies, and Britney on his arm, Justin was established as the heartthrob of the late ’90s. It wasn’t until the band’s third and final album (2001’s Celebrity) that things really changed. Lead track ‘Girlfriend’, co-written by Pharrell Williams, marked a more credible direction for the singer. Soon after its release, Justin started to wear beanies.
The video: A visibly embarassed JT wins the Teen Choice Male Hottie award in 2001.
3. Justin time
With *NSync on hiatus and Britney alleged to have been caught behind the bike sheds with ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ choreographer Wade Robson, the next stage of the Timberlake tale is its most intriguing. His solo debut Justified was timed perfectly with the career peaks of super-producers Timbaland and the Neptunes, and tracks like ‘Cry Me a River’ brought JT to a new audience: men. They empathised with his heartache, celebrated his new-found cool and rejoiced in the leather jacket/hoodie/pork pie hat combo. One exposed Janet Jackson boob later, and you’ve got yourself a universally loved superstar.
The video: Justin shows up to Janet Jackson's Superbowl half-time show in 2004, chases her around the stage, and invents the concept of the 'wardrobe malfunction'.
4. Are you serious?
Having dabbled in acting throughout his life (remember 2000s made-for-TV movie Model Behavior? No?), Justin put music on hold to concentrate on film. It wasn’t until his slimy interpretation of Sean Parker in 2010’s The Social Network that he achieved the validation he’d been seeking. Desperate to shake off the tween poster boy status, Justin was now a glasses wearing thesp who referenced Greek literature in interviews and featured in cult comedy virals about having his dick in a box.
The video: Timberlake as Sean Parker teaches Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) a life lesson. 'I'm CEO, bitch!'
5. Smart move
In January 2013, Justin declared he was ready to make music again. Single ‘Suit & Tie’ – like the big brother of ‘Senorita’ on Justified – wasn’t the pop explosion we expected, but perhaps that was deliberate. The 32-year-old JT has a wife and his own homeware range, and doesn’t want to lock horns with Bieber and One Direction. Moreover, since former Mouse-mate Ryan Gosling’s become the human embodiment of female lust, Timberlake’s opted for an all-new cigar-smoking, big band-fronting, Rat Pack-alike image. His headline slot at London’s Wireless festival in July should prove this to be a classy comeback. Don’t think, however, that his pop bite has become lost inside that shiny leather tuxedo – the snake is still in the trousers.
The video: Older, wiser and more world-weary, JT comes over all Sinatra in classy monochrome.
The 20/20 Experience is out now.
First published on 2 Apr 2013. Updated on 25 Feb 2014.