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Justin Timberlake has been in the spotlight since starring on “The Mickey Mouse Club” reboot at age 12.
“I have some faint images from my childhood”, he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, “but no, I can’t really remember not being famous”.
Now 39 years old, Timberlake has an impressive resume: 10 Grammys, multiple starring film roles, a 4-year-old son, and a long career full of triumphs, controversies, and iconic moments.
Here’s a look back at Timberlake’s eventful life and biggest achievements.
Timberlake told The Hollywood Reporter that he learned to sing in the Baptist church of Shelby Forest, Tennessee, where his father was the choir director.
After his parents divorced when Timberlake was in kindergarten, he moved to Memphis with his mom, whom he often calls his “best friend” in interviews.
“There’s nothing in this world that I’ve done that my mother does not know about”, he told Rolling Stone in 2001.
Eleven-year-old Timberlake — then going by his first and middle names, Justin Randall — had his first brush with fame on the storied talent search show.
He was beat by a young singer named Anna Nardona. According to CBS, Nardona didn’t even realize the Justin she beat was Justin Timberlake until decades later, when she was contacted by VH1 for a flashback special.
At 12 years old, Timberlake was introduced as a cast member of the famed Mickey Mouse Clubhouse alongside fellow future superstars like Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling — and even his future girlfriend Britney Spears.
“We were at the age when you just soak in everything”, Timberlake told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “We were taking acting classes, music classes, dance classes. We were learning how coverage and editing and cinematography work. And being put in front of a live audience, learning how to engage the crowd to get a laugh. Honestly, it was like ‘SNL’ for children”.
After the show was canceled, Timberlake went back to school for a year, but admits he acted like a “delinquent” and said he’s glad he never made it to “regular high school”.
“I would’ve gotten arrested by now”, he told Rolling Stone in 2000. “I was kind of like Ferris Bueller”.
Former Mouseketeers Timberlake and J. C. Chasez were already writing songs and recording demos together when Chris Kirkpatrick came knocking to form a pop group.
As the legend goes, the three of them moved to Orlando; coincidentally ran into an old acquaintance, Joey Fatone, on Seventies night at the club Pleasure Island; brought in Jason Galasso before deciding he wasn’t the right fit; and finally replaced Galasso with Lance Bass, who they recruited from a high school in Mississippi, thanks to a connection with Timberlake’s vocal coach.
The boy band released their debut self-titled album in the US on March 24, 1998. Following a disappointing debut, it peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 after they performed on a Disney Channel concert special that summer.
Timberlake, 14 years old when the group formed and 17 when their debut album was released, was the youngest member by far. He took on lead vocals alongside Chasez and went on to shoulder much of the songwriting responsibilities.
In a 1998 feature in Rolling Stone, Chasez noted that each guy brought something different to the group, and Timberlake was “the all-American guy”.
“He’s restless, driven, polite and pleasant — especially pleasant, positive, and encouraging when coaching Chris on his vocals”, Rolling Stone reporter Touré wrote about Timberlake in 2001. He was the only member interviewed when *NSYNC nabbed one of the magazine’s “people of the year” distinctions.
Although Timberlake had been romantically linked to Britney Spears as early as 1998, he played it coy when asked about their relationship in 2000. (Timberlake later said they were together for four years.)
“Britney’s a good friend of mine; I’ve known her since I was 12”, he told Rolling Stone in 2000 when asked if they were dating. “I don’t like to comment on my personal life anymore. Everything gets blown out of proportion. I’ve been in the tabloids, and I don’t enjoy it”.
They stepped out as a couple, however, less than six months later at the MTV Video Music Awards.
“I think my girl is fine”, he told Rolling Stone a year later in 2001. “I scored. What can I say? The thing is, so many girls you meet in this business are so into themselves, and Britney is not. She’s as down-home as she was before she got into this. That’s the best thing about her. I got the cream of the crop, man!”
After leaving RCA and counter-suing their management company, the group produced and released “No Strings Attached” largely without the help of a major record label.
“This is our record. The record company didn’t send anyone to us”, Chasez told Rolling Stone at the time. “It was a sticky situation. A lot of creative people we approached didn’t want to work with us. We didn’t have a contract saying that any of these songs would make it on the album when we did get a new deal. So the people who worked with us were straight up about the music. And that was amazing”.
“No Strings Attached” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 2.42 million copies in its first week. It held the record for the largest sales week for any album until Adele’s “25” was released in 2015.
Timberlake played a male model named Jason Sharp, who was saving up for grad school so he could become an astronomer. Maggie Lawson played two strangers who looked identical, one a model (Jason’s girlfriend) and the other a high school student (Jason’s true love), who switch places.
They cemented their status as a power couple — and their future as the perfect Halloween costume for couples — at the 2001 American Music Awards.
*NSYNC kicked off the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show with a stirring rendition of their hit single “Bye Bye Bye”.
The boys were then joined by Aerosmith. Timberlake and Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler even had a dance-off. Finally, Spears showed up — followed by special guests Mary J. Blige and Nelly — to shut down the show.
Timberlake joked about their relationship when Spears was the host and musical guest on “SNL”.
While breakup reports swirled around the power couple, their publicist issued a statement on March 20: “They love each other very much and have not broken up”. Just five days later, however, Spears declared she was single at a press conference in London.
“The breakup was absolutely heartbreaking for me”, Timberlake admitted to The Telegraph six months later.
It’s been widely reported that Spears cheated on Timberlake.
While promoting his solo music in November 2002, Timberlake told the New York Post that the band’s “break” was “a conscious move”, assuring fans that it wouldn’t be permanent.
“We all wanted to do it, and we were ready to do it”, he said. “Performing at stadiums every night for 50,000 fans takes a little out of you. I was 14 when we started, and we’ve been touring for the last seven years. The time was right; we were all in the same zone. This album is what I wanted to do”.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Bass confirmed the “hiatus” was, indeed, permanent, writing in his 2007 book “Out of Sync” that “Justin made it clear that he wouldn’t be interested in discussing another album any time soon”.
Timberlake later explained that he left the band because he was “growing out of it”.
“I felt like I cared more about the music than some of the other people in the group”, he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “I felt like I had other music I wanted to make and that I needed to follow my heart”.
Timberlake took the stage at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards to perform his debut solo single, “Like I Love You”, which went on to hit No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The album was well received upon its release (Rolling Stone praised the album’s “brilliant, impertinent, full-body funk” sound), but has also aged well over time. In 2018, Billboard’s Dan Weiss called it “his greatest record”.
“It’s no embarrassment to say that the powerful transition captured on ‘Justified’ could never be duplicated by him again, or anyone else”, Weiss writes. “That’s the 21-year-old captured on his debut album: ready to take over the world, and not unaware of how ridiculous that is”.
“Cry Me a River”, the second single from Timberlake’s debut album, was a clear standout thanks to his impressive vocal range on full display, Timbaland’s thumping production — and, of course, the scathing, petty lyrics about a cheating partner, whom everyone assumed to be Spears.
The video further sensationalized the breakup. It features Lauren Hastings, a model many described as a “Britney look-alike”, clearly dressed to look like Spears with a newsboy cap and tinted pink sunglasses.
While spying on his girlfriend, Timberlake catches her getting into a car with another man. He then breaks into her house and films himself hooking up with another woman on her bed.
“It’s a good-ass video”, Timberlake told Rolling Stone. “I didn’t want anyone to come off smelling like roses”.
Timberlake has repeatedly denied that Spears inspired the song or video, but his ex tells a different story.
“He called me up and wanted to supposedly get back together or whatever, but behind it was, ‘And by the way, you’re in a video that’s coming out’. That kind of got slipped in. ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal'”, Spears told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I had the power to say no to the video. But I didn’t, because I thought, ‘Hey, it’s your video'”.
“I hadn’t seen it. Then it came out, and I said, ‘I should’ve freakin’ said no to this s—!'” she continued. “And I said, ‘Why did you do this?’ He goes, ‘Well, I got a controversial video’. And I was like, ‘You did. Yay for you’. So he got what he wanted. I think it looks like such a desperate attempt, personally. But that was a great way to sell the record. He’s smart”.
Timberlake starred in iconic (and reoccurring) sketches like “The Barry Gibb Talk Show” and “Omeletville”. He has now hosted the comedic variety show five times.
The infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime performance began with Janet Jackson and her dancers performing “Rhythm Nation” and “All For You”. Timberlake then rose up on a platform and launched into his song “Rock Your Body”.
When Timberlake delivered the final line, “Hurry up, ’cause you’re taking too long / I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song”, he performed a choreographed move to rip away the front portion of Jackson’s black Alexander McQueen-designed costume that was covering her right breast.
For 9/16ths of a second, Jackson’s breast — complete with a sun-shaped piece of nipple jewelry — was displayed to the entire viewing audience.
Both Jackson and Timberlake later characterized the moment as “a wardrobe malfunction”, saying that it was only meant to further expose the red lace bra that was already peeking out over Jackson’s bustier throughout her entire performance.
The blame was disproportionately placed on Jackson, however, who was accused of “engineering” the controversy. Timberlake said in a 2018 interview with Zane Lowe that he and Jackson eventually made up.
At the 46th annual Grammy Awards, Timberlake took home two trophies: best male pop vocal performance for “Cry Me a River”, and best pop vocal album for “Justified”. The latter was also nominated for album of the year, but lost to “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” by Outkast.
Timberlake’s previous work with *NSYNC had received major nominations — such as record of the year for “Bye Bye Bye” and best pop vocal album for “Celebrity” — but the group never won.
During his acceptance speech, Timberlake issued a scripted apology for the Super Bowl performance, which he agreed to do in order to avoid exclusion from the event.
The lead single from his forthcoming album, which remains highly popular to this day, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent seven weeks atop the list.
“FutureSex/LoveSounds” has been listed among the 100 best albums of the 2000s by a myriad of major music publications, including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and Complex.
It was nominated for album of the year at the 2006 Grammys, but ultimately lost to “Taking the Long Way” by the Dixie Chicks. Timberlake did, however, win best rap/sung collaboration for “My Love”, best dance recording for “SexyBack”, best dance recording the following year for “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows”, and best male pop vocal performance for “What Goes Around… Comes Around”.
With “Summer Love” (following the successes of “SexyBack”, “My Love”, and “What Goes Around… Comes Around”), the album became the only one by a male artist in history to generate four No. 1 songs on the Billboard Pop Songs chart.
The “Dick in a Box” digital short with Andy Samberg— the first of multiple Lonely Island songs that would feature Timberlake — instantly went viral and effectively cemented the pop star’s reputation for comedy.
Timberlake met Biel at the Golden Globes in January 2007. Biel’s “7th Heaven” costar and pal Beverly Mitchell later talked about the initial encounter, revealing that she got to witness the sparks fly firsthand.
“It was very, very sweet”, she told “Access Hollywood Live”. “They were definitely flirting. They were really cute”.
They remained very low-key for a number of years, rarely stepping out in public. They split briefly in 2011 before he proposed to her at the end of that year.
Timberlake scored a role in Facebook’s highly anticipated origin story. The pop star was cast as Sean Parker, who co-founded the music sharing website Napster and went on to become Facebook’s founding president,
This was not Timberlake’s first foray into acting: He acted alongside Mike Meyers in “The Love Guru” and starred in the largely unseen father-son drama “The Open Road” with Jeff Bridges. Neither were particularly well-received, so expectations were not high.
But “The Social Network”, directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, was nominated for best picture at the 2011 Oscars. (It won three other awards, including best adapted screenplay.)
The acclaimed film dramatically altered the trajectory of Timberlake’s acting career — or, as he put it to THR, “There are two parts to my acting career: before ‘The Social Network’ and after”.
“Bad Teacher” hit theaters on June 20, 2011, which featured Timberlake in something of a heartthrob role alongside Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. It was fine.
“Friends With Benefits” with Mila Kunis was released on July 22, 2011 and generally received in a more positive light.
“Friends With Benefits” director Will Gluck told The Hollywood Reporter that he cast Timberlake thanks to his stints on “Saturday Night Live”: “On ‘SNL’, he was so funny and natural and likable and encapsulated so many different characters. I just knew this guy was really good”.
Timberlake also starred in the sci-fi thriller “In Time”, released in November 2011, alongside Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy.
The couple tied the knot at the castle-like Borgo Egnazia resort in Puglia, Italy. Timberlake serenaded his soon-to-be wife as she walked down the aisle in a pink custom-made Giambattista Valli Haute Couture gown.
“It was a really special evening”, Timberlake told People for an exclusive cover story.
“I think I’M READY”, Timberlake wrote on Twitter in early January, posting a link to a YouTube video that shows him walking into a studio and explaining why he hadn’t released new music in seven years.
The lead single from his third studio album, “Suit & Tie”, featuring Jay-Z, dropped on January 15. It peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“The inspiration for this really came out of the blue and to be honest, I didn’t expect anything out of it”, he wrote in an open letter on his website. “I just went into the studio and started playing around with some sounds and songs. It was probably the best time I’ve had in my career… Just creating with no rules and/or end goal in mind and really enjoying the process”.
“Suit & Tie” was later nominated at the 2013 Grammys for best pop duo/group performance and won best music video.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s folk music drama, which also starred Oscar Isaac in his breakthrough role as the titular character, was universally praised by critics and audiences. The film won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
During his Video Vanguard performance, Timberlake sang a medley of his greatest hits and even reunited *NSYNC.
Timberlake’s third studio album, “The 20/20 Experience”, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album charts. He followed it up with “The 20/20 Experience (2 of 2)” later that year, which also shot to No. 1.
“The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience” was nominated for best pop vocal album at the 2013 Grammys. Two of the album’s singles, “Suit & Tie” amd “Mirrors” — as well as the collaboration “Holy Grail”, which appeared on Jay-Z’ s album — also received nods.
The couple later revealed that Biel had undergone an emergency C-section to deliver their son.
While the 35-year-old already boasted multiple No. 1 singles, each of them had to climb there. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” was the 26th song in Billboard history to debut at the top of the chart.
Timberlake penned the song for the “Trolls” movie soundtrack. He voiced the lead character in the animated musical comedy, which was released in November 2016, opposite Anna Kendrick.
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!” also earned Timberlake an Oscar nomination for best song.
For “Man of the Woods”, Timberlake continued to distort R&B sounds and work with reliable collaborators like Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, and The Neptunes — but he also leaned into country and folk more so than ever before.
“It sounds more like where I’ve come from than any other music I’ve ever made”, he told THR while working on the album. “It’s Memphis. It’s Southern American music. But I want to make it sound modern — at least that’s the idea right now”.
The album was met with mixed reviews, though it debuted atop the Billboard Hot 200. Pitchfork called it a “a huge misstep”, while Rolling Stone praised its first half as “cosmopolitan future-funk of the highest caliber”.
The extended medley of his greatest hits was met with generally negative or lukewarm reviews from critics, who called it “lifeless” and “anti-spectacular”.