Since he was 16 years old, Justin Timberlake has been a musical staple. His distinct sound and beautiful falsetto have helped define a generation. From *NSYNC to his most recent Man of the Woods era, JT has supplied us with an extensive catalog of hits. While he’s still got so much to offer, with today being his birthday it feels like the perfect time to take a look back. In celebration of his 38th birthday, join us as we take a familiar plunge down Spotify lane and take a retrospective look at JT’s sensational body of work.
A proper look at JT’s career has to start with his time in *NSYNC. Today, the group’s debut, self-titled album is full of hits. That wasn’t the case when it was initially released in 1997. Before it achieved success domestically, the album was exclusively available overseas. Because of that *NSYNC spent much of 1997 and 1998 away from the U.S., touring in Germany and Eastern Europe. Released domestically in 1998, their debut album sold meagerly until *NSYNC performed on the worldwide broadcast of Disney’s Summer Concert that year. From that point forward, a rocket ship was attached to the group. Along with friend and former Mouseketeer JC Chasez, Timberlake would provide all lead vocals for the album. The duo’s voices played well off one another and laid the framework for what could be expected from the group. *NSYNC would reach #2 on the Billboard 200 and would go on to be the fifth best selling album of that year (4.4 million copies sold).
Standout Tracks: Thinking of You (I Drive Myself Crazy), For the Girl Who Has Everything, Tearin’ Up My Heart, I Want You Back
No Strings Attached
Free from legalities and finally separated from their original label, RCA Records, *NSYNC’s second album was aptly titled, No Strings Attached. In an attempt to distinguish their sound from other popular boy bands, the group drew inspo from the realm of pop and R&B. Working with the likes of Teddy Riley, Kevin Briggs and Babyface helped them achieve that goal. Tracks like “Bye, Bye, Bye,” “This I Promise You” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” gained mainstream attention and were radio constants. No Strings Attached, would mark Timberlake’s first soiree into the role of writer and producer, as he worked extensively on the track “I’ll Be Good For You.” His love for the likes of Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye shined through and gave the track a real old-school groove. That one track showed off JT’s potential and displayed what could be expected of him if he ever decided to release a solo project. No Strings Attached debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 2.4 million copies in its first week, which was a record for one-week album sales. A record that stood for 15 years until the release of Adele’s third studio album, 25, in 2015.
Standout Tracks: I’ll Be Good For You, I Thought She Knew, Digital Get Down, It Makes Ill
Eager to shed themselves of the stereotypical boy-band sound and image that still plagued them, *NSYNC brought a varied effort to the table for their third and final studio album, Celebrity. Timberlake and Chasez took on a larger portion of the writing and producing, establishing themselves as credible stars at both. Further breaking out of the boy-band box, Celebrity is a grittier, more mature effort than No Strings Attached. Tracks like “Girlfriend,” “Gone,” “See Right Through You” and “Pop” showed the group’s evolution and put them light years ahead of similar acts. Like their second album, Celebrity debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. It would sell 1.8 million copies in its first week, which gave *NSYNC the first and second spots on the record for one-week album sales, at the time.
Standout Tracks: Girlfriend, Gone, Just Don’t Tell Me That, Up Against the Wall
As mentioned before, Timberlake began to take on more musical responsibility within *NSYNC, that experience prepared him for his first solo project, Justified. Largely R&B, the album also draws inspiration from elements of funk and soul. Working with the likes of The Neptunes, Timbaland, The Underdogs and Brian Mcknight, Justified was inspired by the old-school, rhythmic sounds you’d hear from the likes of Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire. Written and recorded during an *NSYNC hiatus, the project was familiar yet totally new and exciting. You could feel the inspiration from yesteryear but it was intertwined with a certain modern funk that made it all its own. Tracks like “Cry Me A River,” “Like I Love You,” “Rock Your Body” and “Senorita,” cemented Timberlake’s status as a bonafide star and ensured that his debut album wouldn’t be his last. For his efforts Timberlake was nominated for four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.
Standout Tracks: Like I Love You, Cry Me A River, Still On My Brain, Never Again
FutureSex / LoveSounds
Feeling a tad burnt out and lacking a true vision of where he wanted to take his music, Timberlake stepped away for a bit to recharge his batteries. It wasn’t until 2005, that the ‘sad-state’ of pop music gave JT his direction. Working almost exclusively with Timbaland, “Cry Me River” (their first track together) served as the barometer for which the two created Timberlake’s second solo album, FutureSex / LoveSounds. The two wanted to take that sound and produce an album of hits that sounded like the successful track. With songs like “SexyBack,” “My Love,” “Summer Love,” and “LoveStoned / I Think She Knows,” that mission was a success. FutureSex would debut at #1 on the Billboard 200. The album was sexier, moodier and more grandiose than Timberlake’s debut effort. From the clever writing, to the preludes and interludes, his second album was thrilling. Each track was laced with small details that music fans are still decoding today. Future Sex was nominated for five Grammy Awards in total.
Standout Tracks: What Goes Around… / … Comes Around, (Another Song) All Over Again, Losing My Way, Until the End of Time
The 20/20 Experience
Following the success of his second album, the anticipation for JT’s third project was mounting. Timberlake would make fans wait as he put his music on hold to focus on his interest in film. Citing that his love of music and the way he obsesses over it made it impossible for him to release an album every year like some artists. The seven-year hiatus made it all the sweeter when JT announced his return to music in January of 2013. After playing some songs from the album for his friends, Timberlake would hit on the name for his third album after one friend said: “this is music you can see.” Thus the 20/20 Experience was born. Released in two parts, the album consisted of 21 tracks. It was a true evolution, while the album was still sexy it was done so in a more charming, mature and refined way. Tracks like “Strawberry Bubblegum,” “Mirrors” and “You Got It On” hammer that home, providing a sophisticated elegance that is present throughout the whole album. Both parts of 20/20 would reach #1 on the Billboard 200 and the albums earned Timberlake an additional four Grammy Award nominations.
Standout Tracks: Strawberry Bubblegum, Tunnel Vision, Pair of Wings (Hidden Track) Cabaret, Only When I Walk Away, Amnesia
Man of the Woods
Potentially his bravest effort, Timberlake’s most recent album, Man of the Woods, strikes cords that his fans might not be quite used to hearing. Moving away from his traditional formula of success, Timberlake entrusted the majority of production of the album to The Neptunes, moving away from Timbaland who almost exclusively produced his previous two albums. Timberlake hadn’t been able to work with the duo in years due to a legal dispute between his label and a Neptunes act, Clipse (whom appeared on Justified). Subject matter for the able felt more personal as Timberlake openly writes and sings about his wife and first child. It gives you honest look at where he is as a person. Sonically the album returns Timberlake to his Memphis roots, as its heavy on elements of funk and features loads of southern guitars. The move made this project Timberlake’s most exploratory effort in quite some time. While the name and promo videos led many to believe the project would be a country album, Timberlake debunked that rumor and innuendo, citing that his son’s name, Silas, translates to Man of the Woods.
Standout Tracks: Supplies, Say Something, Higher Higher, Montana, Breeze Off the Pond
Hope you enjoyed this career retrospective. Join us in wishing JT a very happy 38th Birthday!