MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 91: NSYNC & JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

The other day NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian extended the lockdowns across NSW for yet another 2 weeks. With little change happening over the past few weeks of lockdown that NSW has had so far, freedoms are once again limited to exercising around the block and only one person going out to the shops for groceries. It remains to be seen whether the two-week extension of the lockdown will have any effect at all on case numbers and whether COVID-19 infections will decrease or not; but the fact of the matter is that we all are frustrated. Tired of staying at home, wanting more human interaction, and mingling with friends and co-workers. We long to go over to people’s houses for a barbecue and a cold beer, and we long to go to the movies or to a concert. In short, we as a nation and as people globally, long to get back to a life that is semi-normal, before COVID. Because at home, we don’t seem to be productive, and at times we think that we’re not doing anything. Yes, we’re listening to music, we’re zooming, we’re binging on all of our streaming shows, we’re sleeping in… but as we look abroad to other countries who have opened up the country a whole lot more than us Australians have (and it’s largely due to a supply issue of vaccines, which are more readily available overseas, plus people from other countries are generally more willing to receive vaccinations!); I reckon we’ve all become slightly envious. Envious and jealous of how many countries around the world have sprung back to normalcy (to an extent). Envious of how people are living overseas with apparent freedom. And though we know that there are still rampant COVID-19 deaths happening overseas… we choose to overlook them, in favour of our biases and preconceptions that other countries have it better than us because they have less restrictions. Are we envious and jealous though… unnecessarily? I mean, someday Australia will have opened up to the world, and for now we just gotta be patient and stay the course until more vaccines come, am I right?

Enviousness and jealousy haven’t been anything new. We’ve all experienced it at one point or another. Someone’s got a new car, a new job, a new house, a new spouse, some kids, a new holiday… and then we’re constantly looking all over our shoulder, wishing we were the next guy. Enviousness and jealousy, as well as discontentment even show up in the Bible. David killed a guy and married the widow… all because he wasn’t content, and he wished he was someone else. He was practically envious of the guy he killed. The Israelites weren’t happy nor satisfied when wandering through the desert for 40 years after Moses delivered them out of slavery from Pharoah, and so they built a golden calf and worshipped it instead of God. Joseph’s brothers weren’t content or happy with Joseph’s dreams about them bowing down to him, and so they kidnapped him and sold him to the Pharoah. Jonah’s disobedience to God and him being swallowed up by a gigantic whale, stemmed from him not being content with God wanting him to go to Nineveh (the place Jonah absolutely hated!) to preach the gospel. And there are many more circumstances in the Bible showing plenty of times how discontentment can stew and fester to become to be jealousy in time. Contentedness, satisfaction and happiness… should be what I reckon we ought to be striving for. However I firmly believe we all have overall lost sight of the picture.

We see the minute details of other people’s lives, of celebrities’ lives. Think about that. We only see… the minute details of other people’s lives, of moments in time. We see the tweets they post, the pictures they show us on Instagram, and we wish we could be like them or even be them. We are bombarded with pictures of smiling people all day on our social media… and then we get to wondering, is this all life is. ‘Me doing the daily grind for God knows however many years, and not being paid enough, not being credited, and not being acknowledged and not being recognised; and everyone else in the music industry or the acting industry on the other side of the world travelling and living it up and getting paid to partake in the job of their lives? Is this how the world is? Is that fair?’ And so then all of a sudden you’re spiralling, you’re discontented with your life, and you’re worrying about things that are out of your control. You’re envious about people who you only know a portion of their life. Social media and filters almost guarantee that they life you’re envious of isn’t really the life you want, and that celebrities are just as discontented as we are. But, no, these thoughts refuse to leave our brain, and we somehow think ‘if I could just make it big, then I’ll be happy’. But what then, everyone? When do the goalposts stop moving, and when do we stop and sit and reflect and be at peace with where we’re at? Even in the pandemic, when there was an extension of the lockdown the other day, the reporters were ripping into Gladys and not letting her get a word in. It’s because I firmly believe that they were discontented, and they were jealous of other countries. And they had to take out their frustrations on someone. To be fair, I’m of the opinion that Gladys is going too slow with restrictions and things should’ve been locked down quite harder and earlier, for us to get out of this pandemic sooner and back to life as per normal as can be. But regardless of the situation, I reckon that to wish you were somewhere else or someone else just because you think life may be better or life may be easier… that’s messed up!

Sure, we’re all still living under lockdowns. Sure we can’t go back out there and do the jobs that we would like to do. Sure, we’re stuck at home looking at social media and the seemingly perfect lives of perfect people who have the most perfect of relationships. But for a second, why can’t we think about everything that we do have. A bed. A family that loves us (hopefully). Food on the table. Technology so that we can communicate with our friends and loved ones. Electricity. Running water. Sunshine. The air. The breath in our lungs. Our gifts and talents that are somewhat buried deep inside of us. Our thoughts that are distinctly ours. Sure all of these things are cliché… but it’s true. We are all so blessed. And God has given us so much. So why aren’t we happy? Well I think that it all boils down to one fact. We want what we can’t have. It’s human nature. There’s sin in our hearts, and the devil constantly whispers to us that material possessions and instant fame and money will make us happy. That all we need to go is to get more and try harder and strive and strive and strive. Very rarely though, are we happy. And are celebrities really happy with everything they’ve earnt- their thousands of awards and their accolades and their critically acclaimed shows and movies and albums? Perhaps they are and that’s fine… but I’d wager that celebrities, like the rest of us, are searching for that something to fill them, and to make them whole; and their God-shaped hole is still yearning to be filled.

When I was younger, I was told (I can’t actually remember!) that I wanted to be an astronaut, and I also wanted to be a farmer. I vaguely remember me wanting to draw for a living, while throughout my life, I’ve also been told that I’d be a good writer. Added to that, there were times that I wanted to pursue music and song writing as a career. The point is, that there wasn’t a single moment in time that I knew I wanted to be ___ with no back-up plan. Some people can operate with having a single dream and having no plan B; but for me I reckon I don’t think I’ve worked that way. But as I’ve thought about the concept of envy and jealousy over the past week, I’ve come to this conclusion. That maybe my wanting to be in different jobs stemmed from me being subconsciously envious for some reason. I don’t know, but there is that possibility that I ‘wanted’ a job because of the lifestyle it presented and not because of the job itself. I don’t know. Perhaps I’m reading too much into my likes and dislikes as a kid; but the sentiment and the truth remains. Some people have a plan of ‘x, y, z’ and are discontented when the plan doesn’t come to fruition in the way that they hoped; and are hence envious of something else and someone else in their lives. And perhaps, that envy and jealousy is warranted and not misplaced. However, I reckon that when we covet celebrities’ lives because we believe they have it all together… that’s one way to divide all of us. And boy, when there is still COVID-19 raging on in many, many countries… don’t you think it’s better to be united than divided? Instead of coveting celebrities… here’s a crazy thought- why don’t we admire them, look up to them, and thank God for them, and encourage them in their walk? Can’t we build each other up instead of bringing them down?

Let me ask you this question, do you think Tim is influential, objectively speaking? Even without the rest of the songs that aren’t hits that have also resonated with and impacted many? Before we dive deep into the songs, and a number of hits and underrated melodies that have made his career; let me dive deep into everything Tim has done away from the spotlight. Because when you’ve been in the spotlight for so long and when you’ve recorded plenty of songs for so long, then what sets you apart from the next guy? Is it one song that blows up? Maybe. But I reckon that nine times out of ten, when you’re a veteran artist; what sets you apart from everyone else is what you do and how you conduct yourself away from the spotlight. I’ve very sure that I’ve mentioned this time and time again, in my other blog posts I’ve written- but let me reiterate again that I firmly believe that the measure of a person, whether that person stands the test of time in influence and popularity, or whether they fall by the wayside, is determined by how they handle themselves off the stage and their private life. Whether an artist is influential (to me at least) is magnified when that person is by themselves, when no one is looking. Also, I think I’ve also reiterated countless times that my belief or anyone else’s belief in the song, the authenticity, vulnerability and honest behind the song, and the heart of the artist behind the song is paramount in whether an artist’s mark is just popularity or popularity and influence. If I’m going to assert ___ as influential, then what do they have to show for it at the end of the day? Maybe it is a unique voice. I mean, a voice like Josh Groban means that it’s that voice that carries them through to stratospheric career heights until their career ends. But for Tim McGraw, who’s voice is admittedly and unfortunately only so-so… well apart from his lyrical genius that still stands the test of time, his influence I feel is determined by what he does outside of the spotlight. And boy, has Tim accomplished a lot besides music. For one- he is an actor, and a well accomplished one. Mind you, not to the calibre of Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Harrison Ford or Christian Bale; but Tim can hold his own somewhat- and I guess that’s what any multitalented and multiskilled artist/actor can hope for, I guess. Tim has acted in Country Strong (opposite Gwyneth Paltrow), The Blind Side (opposite Sandra Bullock), The Shack (opposite Sam Worthington), Four Christmases (opposite Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn) and Tomorrowland (opposite Britt Robertson and George Clooney)… and those are big films when you think about it. Sure, he’s probably not going to win any Oscars or Golden Globes. But is Tim dependable in his movie roles? Of course he is! Could he be cast as a lead in a TV show and carry it along with solid ratings? Quite possibly, I reckon! So I say kudos to him for spreading his wings all those years ago and taking a chance on acting when it may not have panned out- because I reckon the more multiskilled people there are in Hollywood the better. We can’t all be one-trick ponies, now, can we? If you think about icons like Jennifer Lopez or Will Smith or Jennifer Hudson or Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake or Selena Gomez; they’re all geniuses as singers AND actors. And now let’s invite Tim McGraw into this list now, shall we?

If you’ve read the paragraph above, I’m sure you can figure out that I was blogging about Tim McGraw earlier this year about his prowess as a movie star and actor, and how that affected whether I believed he was influential as an artist or not. But for the purposes of this blog, I’ve included this paragraph here because for some odd, strange reason, we’re all objectively envious of people who can sing and people who can act. We see Hollywood as this powerhouse of a place the Holy Grail of all things special and good and nice and it’s a place we all long to be. To mix in with the big heavyweights, and to be in the same room as iconic legends and superstars. We long to be like these people, so much so that some people surgically alter their face to look like their favourite celebrity, while others stalk their idol. Whatever the case, we’re obsessed with being famous, and it’s almost compounded on an exponential basis with people who are actors AND singers. The people who have multiple talents and seem to use them all for good in the community- we all look up to them, don’t we? Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, Tim McGraw, Selena Gomez, Mandy Moore, Nick Jonas, Rihanna, Madonna, Harry Connick Jr, Ludacris… the list goes on and on and on. We religiously follow these people and hope that someday we’re at least in any one of these people’s inner circles. But that’s all we focus on. We go hard and we go deep and we probably act a bit out of the ordinary when it comes to celebrities we try to emulate. However this next artist- a multitalented singer and actor, and someone who is called the King of Pop, the President of Pop, and the Prince of Pop; is a timely reminder that we all shouldn’t be envious of our celebrity idols. Because we all have different talents and different likes and dislikes… can’t we just simply appreciate the raw talent of another? Can’t we simply be in awe that we’re living and breathing on the same planet as this person? Sure, we can strive to be recognised by a celebrity, but if it doesn’t happen, is it the end of the world? Should we be crying about it? Singer/songwriter/pop artist and actor Justin Timberlake has been in the business for more than 20 years… and his inclusion on this list was a no brainer. It’s common knowledge that Justin is one of the greatest entertainers in the world today, and even in a 2016 article of The Hollywood Reporter, it is stated that Justin is “widely regarded as one of the greatest all-around entertainers in the history of show business.” Pop sibling quintet Cimorelli even covered Justin’s song “Mirrors” (the first time I heard a JT song!) and even then I knew, Justin was special. Yet originally, when stepping into this installment this past week, I thought that Justin would still be another somewhat superficial pop artist that wouldn’t impact me in my walk and how I viewed how pop music should sound like. But can I say that well and truly Justin is one of the most inspiring pop artists I’ve ever heard? From *NSYNC to his roles in Trolls, Trolls: World Tour and The Social Network; all the way to him composing the score to the movie The Book Of Love, and his many, many song collaborations and guest spots… Justin’s popularity and influence beyond music and film is remarkable and worthy of mention. His work ethic and his down-to-earth-nature is inspiring as well- and even when releasing pop songs just for entertainment, the way he does them is all-around quite impressive. Justin may not be writing the world’s most lyrically deep melody. But he is changing the world one pop song at a time, and for that reason, his discography needs to be examined and analysed by everyone. For I believe that JT is an example of someone when they allow determination and hard work to lead them to where they want to be. If you’re unmotivated, look at Justin’s life, and guaranteed, you’ll be reinvigorated and revitalised to move and to actively do something. And Justin’s life and achievements are something to be in awe of, not to be envious of at all.

It was weird. Music came easier to me, so I didn’t take it as seriously. I wanted something that was challenging, and I found acting and everything that I could explore with that to be more challenging. [and *NSYNC], It was a jarring change for me personally,” he says. “I look back at that time and it was like nothing could go wrong. We were all kids in a candystore. I mean, I bought my first house before I bought my first car. But I do think the thing that centered us was we really cared about being good.

[but in 2001] We had all come to a place, I feel like, where I think people wanted to try different things, you know. It’s that thing like when you get out of high school and you’re like, ‘What do I want to major in in college?’ Except we were like in the biggest group in the world at the time. I just remember saying, ‘I want to continue,’ but I knew I had something that I wanted to do that, quite honestly, I didn’t think any of them would be interested in doing. At that time, I don’t think they were interested in making that type of music. I wanted to make something that was different from what we had done. I think the world of those four guys.

FutureSex/LoveSounds was such a statement for me — you know, three or four No. 1’s in a row — and it felt like I had to walk away from it for a second because I didn’t want to get poisioned by outside influences. And the other thing that seemed so pure to me was exploring drama and comedy as an actor… [but] I think that I maybe subconsciously have used skepticism and criticism and other people to fuel myself and to validate myself…

My life has changed a lot in the last three or four years. Having a child — it just changes you. I used to feel like when I would go to sleep, ‘What did I achieve today?’ And now I feel like when I go to sleep, ‘What did I appreciate about today?’ That’s obviously a different place to be. And, to be honest, what it does is it reinvigorates you in a totally different way. And the funny thing is, I feel like I’m just coming into my own. I really do. I’m excited. I want to make a ton of movies, and I want to make a ton of music. There’s nothing else in the world that I could do.

It is in these quotes above that you can sort of read Justin’s excitement, his humility and his overall gratitude and appreciativeness for life in general. Born in 1981 and married to Jessica Biel since 2012, Justin got his start, like Christina Aguilera, in the All New Mickey Mouse Club from 1993-1994. With the boyband NSYNC forming in 1995, I guess on the surface, Justin is most famous for his stint in NSYNC, which I can only presume was created as a ‘rival’ for boyband Backstreet Boys. Yet for all of the massive hits that the group has racked up (singles like “Bye Bye Bye, “It’s Gonna Be Me”, and “This I Promise You” spring to mind!), Justin’s influence and popular stretches beyond NSYNC, even though his roots are firmly planted in the boy-band world. According to Wikipedia, NSYNC’s second and third studio albums created and generated plenty of top-five singles such as “Bye Bye Bye”, “Girlfriend” and “This I Promise You”; and upon the completion of the 2001 Celebrity Tour, the group went into hiatus in 2002. Although NSYNC did perform at a variety of special events- at the Academy Awards in 2000, the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show; while NSYNC sold more than 70 million records worldwide, becoming the fifth-best selling boy band in history. Yet it is these songs and what they invoke to us all lyrically, musically and thematically, that firmly place Justin and his former bandmates in popular culture and in folklore as being impactful and influential, even with only 4 albums to their name.

Before we get to Justin as a solo artist (because his prowess and impact there is probably second to none!), we need to look at Justin the band mate and Justin the team player. Was the success of Justin Timberlake the solo artist dependent on or caused by the success of NSYNC the band? Maybe, maybe not… why don’t you all be the judge? “I Want You Back”, the group’s lead single, dropped in 1996 (when Justin was only 15 years old!), and features Justin in lead vocals, as the group earnestly and passionately implore a girl to reconcile with them. As far as lyrics go, this track is nothing that special… but the melody was a relative hit. So I guess the track about wanting a girl back, reminds us of the very real issues that teenagers face (given that they were teenagers at the time). “Tearin’ Up My Heart”, another radio friendly pop song with lyrically not that much inventiveness, reminds us all that the guys and girls can feel distant from each other even when they’re close to each other and also when they’re away from each other; showing us that you can feel pain and hurt at any time, and that even in a toxic relationship, you can feel raw emotions of missing each other. It’s not healthy, but the song is super catchy, and if it brings to the fore the notion of dichotomous and conflicting feelings of loss of familiarity with a toxic person… then I’d say the song has done it’s job.

Piano led ballad “(God Must’ve Spent) A Little More Time On You”, NSYNC’s first big hit, is as emotional as it is vulnerable, as Justin and JC lead vocals and powerfully relay to their partner that ‘…your love is like a river, peaceful and deep, your soul is like a secret that I never could keep, when I look into your eyes, I know that it’s true, God must have spent a little more time on you…’, concluding that their partner is the reason they’re living (a love song at its purest and most impacting!); while the heartbreaking “Thinking Of You (I Drive Myself Crazy)” is sung from the point of view of a guy who has dumped his ex, and then later on regrets it. A song that reminds us to always be certain of the consequences on ourselves and on the people around us, before we undertake something so monumental and significant; “Thinking Of You (I Drive Myself Crazy)” warns us that decisions can’t be hasty, and we need to ensure that we think things through first. Sometimes I forget that these guys are teenagers when the debut album released in the late 90’s… so for them to be singing these emotional and heartfelt songs… I guess that is definitely a job well done. Subject matter wise- do these guys even have the experience to be singing about love, relationships and heartbreak? Regardless, we are still met with moving and encouraging melodies, as “For The Girl Who Has Everything”, a slower paced piano ballad, passionately and ardently relays to us that people can have all the possessions and money in the world, but if they don’t have love, they have nothing (similar to 1 Corinthians 13); whereby the party pop tune “Here We Go” is fit for the dance floor and is a song about letting go and living it up. “Together Again”, a compelling and hard-hitting ballad whereby the band are pleading for a girl to get back together with them, is similar in theme to “I Want You Back”, and was exclusively released in the German market; while “Forever Young” (not the 80’s song by Alphaville), is an original melody about dancing because you’re young and you’ll forever be young at heart if you act like it. All in all, the debut self-titled album is inspiring and solid as far as a boy-band album goes… but the real popularity for NSYNC came from the second album No Strings Attached.

But before we dive into the 2nd album from the popular boy-band, why don’t we speak about the group’s holiday album Home For Christmas? Yep, this holiday album on the surface seems or powerful and moving… however there certainly is something off here. I mean a boy band Christmas album? This project by *NSYNC is probably one of the poppiest holiday albums I’ve ever heard- and though I myself haven’t personally connected with the project as I would have liked (shows you how much I resonate with pop music and boy-band music period!), I am positive that the toe tapping, the head bobbing and the body moving will be the reactions to many around the world when they spin this iconic holiday album! If you love *NSYNC or wish they were back together, then Home For Christmas is for you. Seriously, more than half the material here is radio friendly original Christmas material- and there’s not that much of a Christmas-y vibe (moreso a 90’s pop vibe!)- so more times often than not, you’re thinking that you’re just listening to a 90’s pop album (if you’re not listening clearly to the lyrics!) rather than a distinct and engaging Christmas album. For me though, I wouldn’t buy this album. It’s ok, but not that ground-breaking. Am I in the minority here? Maybe… but if you agree with me, then cherry picking on Spotify is the way to go! If you personally hate the overproduced pop on the radio now, and if you detest boybands, and if you loathe the 90’s music vibe; if the answer to all of those is yes, yes and yes, then holiday Christmas albums from Blake Shelton or Gwen Stefani or Train will resonate with you instead!

For this Christmas album, it’s even hard to tell if these guys have passion and heart. The delivery of boyband songs generally have always been captivating in the sense that they all vocally do a good job. But do they mean these songs that they’ve written? That’s the million dollar question, and one that I’m still unsure about even after listening to this album for the past week or so. But does the project have a Christmas-y atmosphere? Sort of. Like I mentioned above, on many songs, there is a strong Christmas atmosphere but at the same time, there’s a 90’s atmosphere that permeates through in the same song. And on other songs there’s just this 90’s atmosphere and no Christmas vibe… And as such, this release isn’t really that unique. This album isn’t that different from Avalon’s Joy or any Christmas album from Pentatonix. That’s what I would liken this project to if I’d liken this to anything… and the others are far superior to *NSYNC’s effort. Maybe I just don’t like boybands that much? As for the 2 tracks (The First Noel, O Holy Night) which speak about Jesus… well they’re buried deep underneath the relational family aspect of Christmas. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if the mainstream market is where your target audience is… but I’m just trying to say that the real Christmas message is lost here amongst the superfluous bells and whistles. I’ve zoned out many times when listening to this album. Something just isn’t right and I can’t figure out what it is. How about I let you all listen to this project at least once (and then some more if it resonates with you!) while I dive into another Christmas album like Peace On Earth (Casting Crowns) or The Heart Of Christmas (Matthew West)?

Thankfully, No Strings Attached more than makes up for the holiday album mishap, as NSYNC proves a forced to be reckoned with. It’s a shame they split up a couple of years after this project, but then we wouldn’t have the genius of Justin Timberlake the solo artist, now would we? “Bye Bye Bye” is as poppy a song as you could get, and the song rose to number 4 on the US charts. Lyrically it’s a pretty simple song, and is about a guy who is at the end of his patience with a girl, hence him saying ‘bye’ to her (reminding us all that we can and should remove ourselves from toxic relationships as soon as we can!); while the biggest song of the group’s career is “It’s Gonna Be Me”, a pop song that speaks about waiting for a girl who is insecure, and that the persona isn’t like the other guys, reassuring the other person that ‘…baby when you finally get to love somebody, guess what? It’s gonna be me…’.

These two songs alone carry the entire album of No Strings Attached, while other standout tracks include “I’ll Never Stop” (a catchy tune about a guy’s love for a girl… although on second listen it’s a bit creepy like “Every Breath You Take”!), “If Only Through Heaven’s Eyes” (a radio friendly ballad about a friend that died who changed all of the band member’s lives); and the Diane Warren penned “That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You” (whereby the band earnestly relay that there’s never a time that they’ll stop loving their partner, that ‘…when winter comes in summer, when there’s no more forever, when lies become the truth, oh, you know then, baby, that’s when I’ll stop loving, that’s when I’ll stop loving you…’). Yet for me personally, “This I Promise You” by Richard Marx is the heartbeat of No Strings Attached and perhaps the heartbeat of the group overall. Written and produced by Richard Marx, the acoustic guitar and piano led melody was a hit for the band, coming in at #5 in the US charts, and #1 in the US Adult Contemporary charts. Even back then, Richard believed that Justin would be a superstar, as ‘Timberlake would be playing music or working on songs, while the other guys would play ping pong or talk on their cell phones’; while lyrically the melody described an authentic promise to be there for your significant other. It’s an emotional song that I guess anyone can have as a wedding song- and with a song of devotion, commitment and dedication; what more could you want?

NSYNC’s final album was Celebrity in 2001- and boy did they sure make a statement about the state of pop and the music industry. I don’t know if Justin was actively planning on going solo while the group was preparing for their third album. But if it all was planned that this was going to be the group’s swansong, then what a way to go out! The catchy yet confronting “Pop” criticises music critics and listeners trying to put pop music in general in a limited box, as the group implores listeners to be more flexible and to just go with the flow, to like what they like regardless of genre and to not question if you like a genre that is seen to be a ‘guilty pleasure’ or not. “Girlfriend”, another single from NSYNC, is an R&B mid-tempo melody, whereby the group ask a girl to be they’re girlfriend, and question the ex’s motivations and the ex’s love to the girl; and is a song that sounds extremely creepy, but is a warning for all of us not to be so intense and obsessive with relationships, otherwise you’ll scare prospective spouses away with what could appear to be neediness and clinginess. Both “Selfish”, which is basically the theme “Girlfriend” in ballad form, and “The Two Of Us”, also the theme of “Girlfriend” but much more direct, in the sense that the group ask a woman to have sex with them, remind us that perhaps sometimes we can be too direct with those we love, and maybe subtly is key to ensuring a relationship lasts; while the in-your-face and no-nonsense title track passionately asks the age-old question of whether people like us for us or for the fame and money. It’s a sobering track that is sure to be a topic of discussion at the dinner table.

Yet I believe that it is “Gone” that had a major impact on the band- for good and for bad. “Gone”, a piano ballad whereby Justin wrote the track for Michael Jackson, was cut by the band after Michael’s team didn’t get back to him, and is a song about Justin missing his partner (Britney Spears at the time). And though Michael Jackson got back to Justin later on and wanted to cut the song again; this time Michael wanted it to be with the both of them and not the band. It was the first time that Justin entertained the idea of being a solo artist (though I don’t know if he made any active decisions towards that in the immediate future or not); yet Michael ultimately didn’t record the track: It was one of those songs where, it felt a little more personal to me, because I had written it for the biggest artist of all time. I guess Michael did hear it, and called me on the phone and said that he wanted to cut the record, but he wanted it to be a duet between himself and I. And I said, ‘Well, it’s already out, we’ve already cut the song as an ‘N Sync record … could we do, like, an ‘N Sync featuring Michael Jackson, or Michael Jackson featuring ‘N Sync?’ And he was very absolute about the fact that he wanted it to be a duet between himself and I. I think it’s the first idea that I ever got about doing something on my own because it was the first time I ever really felt the confidence to do it. Could Michael have played a part in Justin ultimately going solo? Perhaps… regardless, Justin’s venture into being a solo artist resulted in him not being finished as an artist- there was no animosity between any of the group members… or so they all claimed.

A band splitting can be amicable (Tenth Avenue North, Third Day, Delirious?, Downhere, Spice Girls) or messy (One Direction, David Crowder*Band, The Beatles, ABBA). In the case of NSYNC, it was… well I don’t know what it was. Justin claimed that he was amicable with everyone, and that the group was going on a hiatus in 2002. The band went on their Celebrity tour in 2002, and then they went on hiatus, because Justin wanted to record a solo album. The hiatus was meant to be temporary, but the group never recorded music nor toured together again. And although Justin downplayed the split of the band, relaying that he was being true to himself: It started as a fun snowball fight that was becoming an avalanche. And, also, I was growing out of it. I felt like I cared more about the music than some of the other people in the group. And I felt like I had other music I wanted to make and that I needed to follow my heart; it seemed as if other members remember the events very differently. Joey Fatone thought that the group was reuniting sometime in the future, and thought a comeback was only being prolonged while Justin’s debut solo album Justified was climbing the charts: I said ‘Listen, I’m all good with everybody doing their own s***. I’m totally fine with it, just let us know next time.’ Meaning: I could’ve done a lot more s*** than sit around waiting for your dumb ass while you’re going out on tour. I could’ve, honestly. ‘Cause the minute we parted our ways in the sense of a group I was like ‘Shit, I went and did Broadway – I did Rent on Broadway, I did Little Shop of Horrors.’ I started doing things at first, I was waiting ‘cause I know that when you do an album and you’re doing stuff with a group it takes a long—it’s a long, i-it’s a process. So it was interesting. I was just like ‘Dude, just let me know next time,’ I said. ‘Cause next time I ain’t waiting for nobody. While Lance Bass was more philosophical about the break-up and was more bitter about the process than about Justin going solo: Me and the guys were never…on bad terms at all, you know, it’s just life goes on and you know you have more interests; you have to focus on your career and it’s great. Uh, the thing I was most disappointed in was not just Justin leaving the band, um… it’s that our whole team – our record label, our management, everything like that – they all knew. They all knew it was over for three years before they told me. And so for three years I’m sitting there getting ready for a new album as everyone else knows we’re moving on. And so, I didn’t get –  I turned down, you know, there was a sitcom I was doin’. Had to turn it down. Uh, I mean, all kinds of stuff that I really wanted to do and focus on but I knew I couldn’t because, you know, my first commitment is *NSYNC. Like, this is my life. And so… is there animosity between Justin and the rest of the band? Are you all an NSYNC fan or do you all like more of Justin Timberlake’s solo stuff? Would you want the band reuniting with or without Justin, or shall we let sleeping dogs lie? Regardless on your thoughts around the breakup… let’s dive into Justin’s solo career shall we? Because, my friends, his personality is larger than anything I’ve ever seen in a while, and Justin’s excitement and charisma when talking about music and songwriting is off the charts. It’s hard not to be happy and smiling when you’re listening to Justin’s music- so what are we all waiting for?

Justified in 2002 dropped shortly after NSYNC went on their last ever tour. It was only ever meant to be a solo album as a side project (although that was what the label told the rest of Justin’s former band mates), but once the album gained momentum and the songs climbed higher and higher in the charts… the band split up and Justin continued on his merry way. Now whether you’re a hard core NSYNC fan may determine how you view Justin’s career as a solo artist- you may hate him for betraying the band and you might never want to listen to his music ever. However I’m of the opinion that we cannot hold onto grudges, especially of people we don’t know personally. And that’s because grudges will grab a hold of you and kill you slowly from the inside, and make you into a bitter person. And thus I myself, who wasn’t that wowed by NSYNC’s career aside from a few songs, and much preferred Backstreet Boys and Westlife, decided to give Justin a chance with no preconceptions of what I might find. The result is me discovering one of the most moving and impactful singer/songwriters and pop stars of our generation; with Justin reminding us all that pop is a large spectrum of music (deep and meaningful pop, pop for entertainment’s sake and anything else in between)- the reminder comes in the form of Justin being able to easily move between many versions of ‘pop’. It’s like he took the theme of “Pop” from Celebrity and ran with it for the rest of his career. And to me it’s turned out extremely well.

The most instant of success that Justin has had with Justified is with “Cry Me A River”. Although now I know Justin’s song from the melody and some of the chorus lyrics of Halsey’s “Without Me” (that’s where I heard the melody first!); Justin’s ground-breaking R&B/pop tune shook the world up in 2002. “Cry Me A River” was written about Britney Spears, whom Justin claimed cheated on him. Though there are two sides to the story and Britney has since claimed that she never slept with anyone other than Justin at the time, Justin claims that a heated phone call between him and Britney was the inspiration for the song. However, since the 2021 documentary Framing Britney Spears, Justin has apologised for his actions and has supported Britney in her conservatorship and longing to have her father removed from his hold of her. So could Justin have played a part unknowingly in Britney’s whole ordeal with her father and the conservatorship? Perhaps… however this song, though maybe not based in reality but based in emotion and heightened feelings, still presents to us a well-thought-out message. and it is this: that sometimes your partner moves on and cheats, and maybe you need to retaliate. I know we aren’t to be coming down hard on anyone who doesn’t need reprimanding, but this song is a warning for those in relationships where one person doesn’t respect the other. Perhaps it’s time to be even and time for them to have a dose of their own medicine. Even though I don’t like calling people out overtly, this song is a warning for us to stay away from people who won’t respect us… so in that sense, it’s good?

“Rock Your Body”, another hit single, is a R&B/pop song about wanting to get a girl into bed to have sex with, and is lyrically very questionable, and definitely not for kids, but this song propelled Justin as a bonafide pop star instead of only being thought of as having a squeaky-clean image. With the song being originally written for Michael Jackson, and then rejected by his team, Justin took it instead and ran with it. With the song also having a history at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime performance in 2004, whereby there was a wardrobe malfunction; Justin became rather infamous because of this song, so maybe it’s a sign that the message is quite out there and not that wholesome for us all to dwell upon? Viewers and critics believed the ‘nipplegate’ performance was a stunt, and both Justin and Janet Jackson had to apologise… but hey, even bad publicity is publicity, am I right? At least “Rock Your Body” became popular that way…

“Like I Love You”, Justin’s actual first single from Justified, is a groovy, danceable R&B duet with rap duo Clipse, as Justin sings about wanting to be the man for a girl- it’s an intense song lyrically along the veins of “Every Breath You Take” from The Police, and is a warning to us all to never be that intense over a girl who may or may not be interested- over-obsessing can scare someone off. While I don’t think the song at the time meant it in a way that was stalker-ish, in light of the Me Too Movement, that’s how the song comes across now. Which is fine because that means there’s a message to be learnt- don’t be super intense to someone you just met. But if the song actually means what is says, something like ‘I want to have sex with you’… then that’s a problematic song, don’t you think? But for Justin’s first single where he was trying to express himself… I guess we can give him leeway, don’t you think? “Senorita”, similar in theme to “Like I Love You”, could come off as Justin being pretty confident that a girl will fall in love with him, or maybe the song is about him being foolish, ignorant, out of touch and dreaming in another reality. And it’s because we’re to presume that a girl will love the persona merely based on flirtatious comments; yet we are inspired on the contrary to actually respect a girl and get to know her first before making wild claims like the persona in this song… so perhaps this is how the song was intended and it was something to do with reverse psychology?

“Still On My Brain”, a heartbreaking ballad led by the piano, is a break up track about a girl Justin used to know, and still has feelings for after they go their separate ways (reminding us all that healing from breakups take time); while the slower-paced chill and laid back melody “Nothin’ Else” further dives deep into the persuading of a girl to date the persona- a tactic often shown in this album to be a tactic of craftiness or desperation. Again another reminder that we all need to treat women with respect and dignity; Justin showcases another song about Britney (other than “Cry Me a River”) in the emotional and personal “Never Again”- probably one of the most personal songs from his discography. “Right For Me”, a pop song also similar to “Like I Love You” and “Senorita”, reminds us all of a conceited, arrogant man who ghosts a woman who is interested in him- simply because it’s not convenient or right for him; and this song is another warning melody letting us know to not associate with characters like these. And at this point we can tell that Justin has crafted a mix of emotional, personal songs as well as fun sensual pop songs (that can also double up as songs about life and warning songs of how to treat people!)- the fitting title of Justified reveals that we may not think Justin is justified in creating a debut album that makes us all think and think deeply. Yet this project is a winner, and has Justin shedding his boy-band image. Gone are songs about bubbly things, and here are songs about deeper issues.

When I brought the album [FutureSex/LoveSounds] in, I said, ‘This is the first single [“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.’ If I give you the references [of SexyBack], they won’t make sense. 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? 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.

When I put it [‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’] out, everybody was laughing at me – critics, radio programmers and to their credit, I understand why. But I wanted to do something different at that time. I wanted to do something that was like, this is like nothing I hear on the radio. That was my effort with that one.

I got like terrible reviews on that record, and so to talk about it now… I just think that Tim [Timbaland] and I were onto something different and I just think that anytime you put out something different, it’s polarising. And polarising is good, I think, because polarising starts a conversation.

Over the past week, I’ve had a bit of trouble listening to FutureSex/LoveSounds. In the sense that I flat out avoided it like the plague. The 2006 album was Justin’s first album in 4 years, and his second as a solo artist… and yet it was extremely explicit in nature. I hadn’t listened to the album, and I guess I didn’t plan on it. I thought I could pass over it and skip it all together. It was to do with my values and morals and principles as a believer that I wasn’t going to expose myself to such intense and ‘worldly’ talk… But as time went on, I decided to take the plunge a couple of days ago. Who knows, there might’ve been some gems, am I right? After all, my faith in Jesus is stronger than a few sexualised songs and cuss words… the result is listening to an experience like no other, and a revolutionary album in light of what the album is about. According to Wikipedia, FutureSex/LoveSounds contains songs that are thematically based on and, according to Timberlake, were motivated by sex and love; while the album is seemingly divided in two- the sexy, saucy side and the sweet, reflective and contemplative side. MTV also claims that the album is about the very nature of how sex and love are interchangeable and immutable and contradictory and complementary all at once, so that the same words mean different things depending on what music is played or what mood is set. In short, the album is very layered and complex… and though on the surface this project seems to be like a vapid look at sexual relationships, a deeper listen reveals a thought-out project that is littered with emotional and personal truths. Though the album isn’t autobiographical, FutureSex/LoveSounds does create discussion- and in that sense, let’s say that it’s succeeded in its goal.

Lead single “SexyBack” is a melody that I personally couldn’t stomach at all, and a song that I found served no purpose. I’m definitely in the minority here (because the song reached number 1 on many platforms, and won many awards, inclusive of a Grammy Award and a People’s Choice Award!), but I like my songs to have a deeper meaning and to impact me for a long time. “SexyBack”, with its over electronic production, didn’t hit me at all unfortunately, and the subject matter was frankly quite juvenile. Ah well, that’s what mainstream music is these days, am I right? “My Love”, fortunately, brings the lyrics back to reflective and contemplative, as Justin earnestly relays to his partner that she is his love, and there’s no one who’s going to take her spot… although the 6 minute duration is a tad on the long-ish side. Again, musically, the track is another R&B/electronic mash-up and I personally feel like I gravitate more to the piano ballads and straight up pop songs, but Justin needs to be commended for his efforts for stepping out of the box musically and doing something different. “What Goes Around / Comes Around” is a 7-minute medley of sorts, as the laid-back R&B/pop ballad details a relationship crumbling because of cheating (based on Justin’s fallout with Britney?). And as we are inspired and encouraged to actively treat women with respect, which will hopefully ensure our own relationships stay intact; no doubt many listeners and critics felt as if the song means something too, with the 9:22 music video/mini-movie winning the 2007 MTV Video Music Award for Best Direction. “Summer Love”, a dance/EDM track that describes Justin’s longing for his partner to be more than a summer love, encourages us to be more serious with our partners and to not string them along; while “LoveStoned”, a single, was another disappointment, the song never connecting with me, and the lyrics on the border of being too vivid and too explicit.

The title track, another song that musically is revolutionary in that I don’t think there was an artist around that time doing pop and R&B and dance and EDM in the same album, is another song that I was indifferent by; but “Until The End Of Time”, a duet with Beyonce, is as honest, earnest, moving and powerful as any JT track, with Justin and Beyonce passionately singing in perfect harmony, and relaying that they’re both going to love each other to the end of time, regardless of the hardships and adversities in their lives. It’s a sweet, emotive and beautifully sung melody; yet for me the pinnacle of the album (and ironically the song that doesn’t fit with the theme of sex and love!) is the gospel-tinged “Losing My Way”. With Justin taking on the role of a fictional character named Bob, who yearns for help amidst his pain and hurt, and then sends out a blanket prayer asking God to save him from himself; quite possibly this track may have worked as a stand alone single and not on this thematically specific album. But as explained by Justin, he couldn’t let this song not be on the project, because the song was based on someone he sort of knew from a documentary: All of these songs are obviously motivated by sex and love, and then I watched that documentary and I just sat there and soaked up all of it. It was a specific story about someone who had lost his family and lost his relationship with his wife and daughter, but on the surface, he didn’t look like someone you would assume someone with an abuse problem would look like. It just struck a chord with me. FutureSex/LoveSounds is an album that changed the perception of mixing genres within the same album- and Justin Timberlake needs to be congratulated for expanding his musical horizons and letting us all be privy to his innermost thoughts and emotions. This album was an authentic place of where he was at, and although I personally only connected with a few songs, that’s not to say the entire album is a failure. It’s just that we all need discernment when consuming something like this. and if we ‘eat the meat, and spit out the bones’ then I guess FutureSex/LoveSounds has its place, doesn’t it?

7 years between albums is normally a recipe for an artist’s failure, but not for Justin Timberlake. Because in between FutureSex/LoveSounds and The 20/20 Experience, Justin stepped away from music, and expanded his repertoire to acting (films like The Social Network, In Time, Bad Teacher, Yogi Bear, Friends With Benefits, Trouble With The Curve), while also still collaborating with a bunch of artists on features and duets (more on those tracks later!). The result is critics and the general public actually being very eager and highly anticipating the new album when 2013 rolled around. And so since the bar was set very high, did Justin disappoint? In my opinion he didn’t disappoint at all, as this project (and the companion album The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2) to me is of superior musical and lyrical quality to the second album. I guess critics agreed with me too, as the album set a digital sales record for being the fastest-selling album on the iTunes Store and debuted at number-one on the charts by moving just over 968,000 copies in the U.S., the biggest sales week of 2013. It eventually became the best-selling album of 2013 in the country.

Lead single “Suit & Tie” featuring Jay-Z, is a slick, confident, and suave big band/R&B melody in which both Justin and Jay-Z compliment a girl on being well dressed, and then later on reveal that she may be out of their league, but ‘…and as long as I’ve got my suit and tie, I’ma leave it all on the floor tonight, and you got fixed up to the nines, let me show you a few things…’; revealing to us that we can’t go after a girl if we’re sloppily dressed- we have to look the part of a potential suitor. While “Tunnel Vision”, a mid-tempo jazz/R&B melody that stretches for close to 7 minutes, is a track that champions a girl because ‘…a crowded room anywhere, a million people around all I see is you there, and everything just disappears, disappears, disappears, disappears, yeah, a million people in a crowded room, but my camera lens’s only been set to zoom, and it all becomes so clear, comes so clear, becomes so clear, I got that tunnel vision for you…’, although the music video was blocked by YouTube for being too explicit; as Justin and Timbaland vibrantly and emphatically declare their devotion to a girl (a sweet track as it’s presumably dedicated to Justin’s wife Jessica).

“Don’t Hold The Wall” (an innocent, playful danceable melody that is perfect for clubs and bars), “Take Back The Night” (a Bee Gees and Michael Jackson-esque disco/dance melody that is extremely catchy about cutting loose and letting go on the dance floor), “Drink You Away” (a rare rock song that Justin performed at the 2015 CMA Awards with Chris Stapleton, about an ex who’s still on his mind that he wants to forget about by ‘drinking away’), “TKO” (a track with lots of boxing metaphors about a messy breakup) and “That Girl” (a jazzy, slower-tempoed love song to a girl- maybe Justin’s wife!), all are melodies which struck out at me and were standouts across the two discs; however to me it is both “Not A Bad Thing” and “Mirrors” that impress me the most and impart to us quite a lot of inspiring and encouraging truths. “Not A Bad Thing” was a song that I personally heard a lot of on the radio when it released a number of years ago, and the radio friendly pop melody is where Justin passionately tells a potential partner to ‘…don’t act like it’s a bad thing to fall in love with me, ’cause you might f*** around and find your dreams come true with me, spend all your time and your money just to find out that my love was free, so don’t act like it’s a bad thing to fall in love with me…’, reminding us all that we need to put ourselves out there on the ‘singles market’ in order for us to be noticed as potential partners; while to me “Mirrors” is Justin’s most impacting and inspiring track of his career. A pure love song that could be Justin singing to his wife, we are met with Justin comparing their love to two halves of the same whole and to a mirror. Heavy on the metaphors, this song is sweet and radio friendly, and… let’s just let Justin speak about this powerful and emotive track, shall we?: It’s definitely a special song for me. ‘Mirrors’ is a love song to someone that you feel like is, sort of your other half. And it became a play on that. Not specifically about looking into a mirror. One of the most valuable things in a relationship is being able to constantly change and be individual, but look to the other side to the person that you’re with and know that they’re changing as well individually, but somehow you two can mirror each other and be the other half of that world that you both create. I think a relationship, when it’s working, is constantly evolving because we as individuals evolve. You want to know that the person you’re with is evolving with you. People change like seasons. We’re always growing, always evolving, and to know that the other half of a special part of your life is, like I said, mirroring you, but also being an individual in their own way.

A gap of 5 years between The 20/20 Experience and 2018’s Man Of The Woods… I guess was nothing new considering the 7-year gap between albums #2 and #3. When you consider though that in between that time, Justin was heavily involved with the animated film Trolls (2016) and scoring the entire movie The Book Of Love (2017), then I guess 5 years gap between official albums is ok. On this record Justin apparently went back to his roots in country, Americana and folk (and that’s supposedly what the album was classified as genre-wise)- and though this record is a departure from anything he’s done before (Justified was R&B, pop, FutureSex/LoveSounds was pop/EDM/dance, and The 20/20 Experience was pop mixed with jazz), somehow I found this project to be fully representative of who Justin is as an artist right now. I didn’t care much for the technopop opener “Filthy” (which in essence speaks about having filthy sex! But it’s Justin’s trademark to have a couple of songs on each of his albums about the gratuitous pleasures in life so, what to do, huh?); however “Supplies” is lyrically quite universal and sweet and downright relatable, as Justin sings to his girl, assuring her they he’ll be providing for her every need even at the end of the world- ‘…I’ll be the light when you can’t see, I’ll be the wood when you need heat, I’ll be the generator, turn me on when you need electricity…’. The title track, named after Justin’s son Silas (in fact the entire album is named after Justin’s son, as Silas means ‘man of the woods’ in Latin!), takes the tempo down a notch, as the folk/Americana melody openly celebrates Justin’s love for his wife Jessica, earnestly declaring that ‘…I brag about you to anyone outside, but I’m a man of the woods, it’s my pride…’; while the album closer “Young Man” is as personal and emotional as anything Justin has done- with him imparting sage wisdom and advice to his young son. In fact, having his wife and son heavily involved in the making of this album shows, as there’s the type of vulnerability and honesty in these melodies.

That brutal honesty is also evident in the reflective “Livin’ Off The Land”, as Justin declares that he’s doing the best he can- trying to live sustainably and as natural and organic as he can, also declaring to us that whether we’re a ‘saint’ or a ‘sinner’, sometimes we can be happy and satisfied when we’re doing our best; while Justin once again champions and elevates his relationship with wife Jessica in “Breeze Off The Pond”, declaring that she keeps him grounded and the negative comments he receives are just like ‘breeze off the pond’ and wind that is always there. The 1-minute interlude “Hers” features Jessica voicing a soft spoken word message of love to Justin (and that’s absolutely adorable to hear, that such a loving couple can exist in Hollywood!), while the R&B/reggae inspired “Morning Light” features Alicia Keys and is a vulnerable love song in which the duo relay their love for their respective partners, that ‘…I’m in love with you, laying here, in the morning light, and all I want to do is hold you tight, just one more night…’. Yet it is “Say Something” with Chris Stapleton that is the highest point of what I feel is Justin’s best body of work so far. With the melody being strongly country and roots influenced, with not a lot of pop and electronic sounds, Justin and Chris trade vocals superbly a sing about the concept of when and in which situation they need to speak out. Whether it be issues on politics, race, religion and other relevant issues, Justin emphatically concludes that even though critics want him to ‘say something’ on a certain issue, he’s rather stay silent and say nothing if he had nothing to add to the conversation. A song that is probably one of the most important songs Justin has done in his career, this melody is well worth the listen, and elevates my respect for Justin, and further confirms for me that Chris Stapleton is an awesome musician.

Justin Timberlake has grown on me throughout the past week that I have listened to his music. His R&B and pop tendencies and the blatant explicit nature overall of the 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds is indicative of pop artists of today, but for me it is Man Of The Woods that sets Justin apart from his peers and contemporaries, as he has released this deep, introspective album that we all knew he could record. The public… well  I guess they all voted in accordance with how I was feeling, as Man of the Woods topped the Billboard 200 with the biggest first week sales of the year at the time, with the album also marking Justin’s fourth consecutive No. 1 album. Man Of The Woods has since been certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). However there are some things that Justin has undertaken and accomplished outside of music and acting that has cemented how influential I reckon he is to music as a whole. For I’ve mentioned many times that any artist’s influence is determined partly by what they do away from the spotlight… and in the case of Justin, he’s done a lot… so bear with me while I ‘list’ these accomplishments.

Justin unveiled his space-age themed concert film Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids via Netflix in 2016, as well as at the Toronto International Film Festival; while Justin dedicated the film to Prince for influencing his music. In 2017, Justin composed the entire soundtrack, as well as serving as musical supervisor in the film The Book of Love (which Jessica produced and starred in), while Justin was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in October 2015, becoming its youngest member. In 2018, Justin reunited with his NSYNC bandmates to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, while Justin received a Contemporary Icon Award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019, as well as an honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music. Considered a pop icon by countless media outlets, his body of work has influenced a wide array of artists, including Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Olly Murs, Maroon 5, Britney Spears, Lorde, Joe Jonas, Thomas Rhett, Ed Sheeran, Jason Derulo, Tori Kelly, Liam Payne, Bridgit Mendler, Hunter Hayes, BoA,  Seungri, Taeyang, Rain, Lloyd Banks, Maluma, Rosalía, Nick Jonas and Jungkook; while Justin was also ranked 41st on the 2019 Celebrity 100 list by Forbes, with earnings of $57.5 million in 2019. Even TobyMac has stated that Justin’s work has inspired him, letting us know that he’s an artist from the mainstream that he admires, that “…I just respect him. He makes very smart moves. He’s setting himself up to be a classic. So for the long term, he’s not chasing after anything. He’s making decisions and moving on them. That’s a great place to be.  He’s not thinking, ‘Oh this star’s going to dim soon I’ve got to hurry and do this,’ he’s taking his time to do things right. That’s impressive…” Justin and Jessica also own 3 residences; while multiple music publications have deemed Justin’s debit album Justified as the standard for post boy-band solo albums and teen pop stars seeking credibility. Billboard also published a list of “Greatest of All Time Pop Songs Artists” in 2017, where Timberlake ranked at number 5, being the top male soloist. The magazine also ranked him 25 on their “The Top 60 Male Artists of All-Time” list in 2018, and 64th on “The Hot 100’s Top Artists of All Time”. In 2019, Billboard ranked him 20th on their decade-end chart for “Top Artists” of the 2010s, and 74th on “Top 125 Greatest of All Time Artists Chart”

Justin is also no stranger to business opportunities. He has co-owned or provided celebrity endorsement for three restaurants in the United States (“Chi”, “Destino” and “Southern Hospitality”), while Justin and Jessica are minority owners of the Memphis Grizzlies. In 2005, Justin and friend Trace Ayala launched the William Rast clothing line (containing cord jackets, cashmere sweaters, jeans, and polo shirts), while Justin also purchased the run-down Big Creek Golf Course in his hometown of Millington, Tennessee in 2007. Justin in turn redeveloped that course and turned it into an eco-friendly Mirimichi Golf Course at the cost of about $US16 million, yet in November 2014, he sold Mirimichi to Three Star Leasing LLC for $500,000. Also in 2014, Justin partnered with Sauza Liquors to re-launch his own version of the beverage as part of the Sauza franchise; and in 2016, Justin became an investor in the beverage company Bai Brands. In 2017, Tiger Woods and Justin acquired an ownership stake in the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour… and though all of these business opportunities are great and showcase a business-savvy side to him that we all would not have known; I reckon that out of everything in Justin’s career, it is the movies Trolls and Trolls 2, as well as his latest hit single “Better Days” with Ant Clemons and Kirk Franklin, that will forever ensure that he’s immortalised in pop music history in our hearts.

There are plenty of collaborations and guest appearances that Justin Timberlake has been a part of throughout the years. Probably even more than any other artist in modern music history… and I’m deadly serious about this fact. I’ve already written a lot about Justin (and essentially written 2 blogs in 1- Justin with the band and Justin the solo artist), and so you can all read about Justin’s collaborations here, here and here. Artists like Madonna, Snoop Dogg, The Black Eyed Peas, Duran Duran, 50 Cent, Ciara, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Sheryl Crow, Reba McEntire, Michael Jackson and Pharrell Williams, are just some of the heavyweight artists who Justin has collaborated with throughout his career, while he has also featured in the remix version of “Where Is The Love” by the Black Eyed Peas- an updated 2016 version featuring a number of artists, which in my mind is superior to the original recording in 2003. Yet I think the younger kids of today, the people younger than 20, will probably know and love Justin for years and years to come, on the basis of his role in Trolls and Trolls 2, as well as the political, inspirational gospel hit “Better Days”. And not to mention one song that has completely taken off… yep, it’s that song. It’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling”.

Trolls and its sequel have revolutionised animated films. There’s no other way to say it, and “Can’t Stop The Feeling”, the song of the first film, has been high on the charts ever since. A pop song at its core, this melody needs to be heard and seen (as the two music videos) to be truly experienced. This is my favourite Justin Timberlake song ever recorded- and one listen will undoubtedly show you why. It’s not that introspective and the song caters to all ages. Justin is well known for putting sex in his lyrics on previous albums (like “Filthy, “SexyBack”, “Rock Your Body” and “LoveStoned”), but this song speaks about dancing just to have fun. “Can’t Stop The Feeling” is a BOP earworm in a really good way, and overall the entire album of the soundtrack of Trolls (and the soundtrack to Trolls: World Tour) has me bobbing my head, swaying my hips and tapping my toes to the infectious and contagious beat. There’s nothing better than a clean pop song, and Justin has delivered plenty in these two soundtrack albums. And as Justin has mentioned, he himself wouldn’t have recorded a song like this if not for Trolls. I guess everything panned out, didn’t it? On the flipside, I reckon “Better Days” is one of the most important songs Justin has ever recorded…even if it’s not yet receiving recognition and accolades. Together with Ant Clemons and gospel extraordinaire Kirk Franklin, Justin Timberlake has created a heartfelt emotional uplifter for the ages. Jon has reviewed the song here, so there’s not much needed to say as I agree with everything Jon has mentioned; but let me say that this part political, part social, part inspirational, part spiritual melody… will be very polarising to some of us. Depending on whether you voted for Trump or Biden, this song will be an encouragement or a bit of a downer. But regardless of which end of the political spectrum you fall under or whether you’re in the middle, “Better Days” nonetheless encourages us all to hold tight to the fact that there will be better days coming. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know it to be Jesus… and I think the song subtly alludes to this fact as well (especially the Kirk Franklin version of the song!)

Usually when a band breaks up, the lead singer often isn’t that successful, or maybe not as successful as the band before. But for Justin Timberlake, who as of 2016 was only one of 4 artists in the world to have receive over 1 billion streams on Spotify and other digital platforms (the other 3 artists are Chris Tomlin, Garth Brooks and Pitbull); well he’s just getting started. It isn’t known whether Justin will reunite with his former bandmates for another NSYNC album (I’m guessing no, and that the band isn’t as tight as they say they are!), however… I’d say sky is the limit for this pop star with a message. Although I’m not too fond of Justin’s songs about sex, the most recent album really impressed me, so I am curious as to what another album of his would sound like. But really, Justin has done it all. He’s been part of a respected and popular band, and has climbed up the charts as a solo artist. He’s an accomplished actor, and he’s only 40 years old. There’s so much more that I reckon he’ll do in the music industry and in the acting industry within the next few years. And so… this brings me back to what I was saying earlier. As people, do we need to be envious of celebrities? Do we need to be envious and jealous of Justin, despite everything he’s done? Can’t we be hapoy for him and bask in his success alongside him? Most definitely we can. Once we all can fully understand that we’re all part of one body- even non-believers (1 Corinthians 12:12-27); then I reckon we’ll find coveting what we don’t even have a hope of having… a bit silly really. For me, Justin has opened my eyes to the fact that pop can be cool, and can also be objectively appreciated even if I don’t resonate with every single thing that is said and mentioned. And that’s the beauty of different artists, am I right? You’ll love some, dislike others, and many more fall in between. And now, as I finish this blog, and urge you all to find some decent pop music in the world (can be Justin, doesn’t have to be!), let me ask you this. What is it that you are jealous of? Is it unattainable? How about instead of bemoaning, we come to God with our worries and fears. No doubt he’ll give us peace. And then, let us read this 2018 Billboard article below in full, which is an argument between writers about whether and how Justin is considered one of best male pop stars of the 21st century. And then… let’s crank up “Can’t Stop The Feeling”! That’ll certainly bring a smile to all of our faces!

Does Justin Timberlake and/or NSYNC make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of all Time’ list? Is there any song (other than “Cry Me A River”, “My Love”, “Mirrors”, “Not A Bad Thing”, “This I Promise You”, “Bye Bye Bye”, “Can’t Stop The Feeling” and “Better Days”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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