El cantante ofrece una entrevista a la publicación canadiense para hombres “Sharp” en su edición de mayo. La revista publica el artículo “El Libro de Timberlake”, titulado bíblicamente, con un pie de página que reza “Cómo Justin consiguió los milagros más grandes de la cultura pop”. El motivo de la misma es la reciente llegada del nuevo perfume de Givenchy, “Play Sport”, del cuál Justin Timberlake es imagen oficial.
The Book of Timberlake
How Justin pulled off the biggest pop culture miracle of all.
“For behold, it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Paris that because of the grace of him who did bring Sexy Back, we would see Justin face to face, and speak with him as a man speaketh to another. And it came to pass that we did go down, even unto New York, to see the man of whom Givenchy did speak. And lo, it was good”. The Book of Timberlake 1:3-4
Justin Timberlake is No Ordinary Man
Justin Timberlake is no ordinary human. I know, for I have met him. And yet, having done so, I can also say that Justin Timberlake is entirely ordinary. He is a man, and nothing more.
It’s a paradox of almost religious proportions. And it’s the mystery behind one of the biggest pop-cultural miracles of our time: Justin Timberlake has stayed relevant years longer than he had any right to, because he has changed the genetic makeup of his fans. Girls into men, water into wine. Like the loaves and fishes. Worlds without end. But how was it done?
When the Gospel writers tackled the life of Jesus, they dropped the narrative thread after little Jesus chatted up some rabbis when he was 12 years old. They picked it up again when JC was in his 30s. That didn’t happen for Justin Timberlake, we saw every step he took, from boy to man.
And yet, Timberlake has moved so far beyond any other personality he came up with—his *NSYNC band mates, other boy bands, even Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera—that it feels sacrilegious to discuss him in that context. He’s made real music. He’s done real acting, real comedy, and, it would seem by his brand extensions, he’s become the kind of man other men want to be associated with.
But the point is, like everyone else in my generation, I witnessed each step of his transformation. And yet, it’s been so complete, so authentic, so subtle, that it’s hard to square the Justin of today whom I admire for his talent, success, charisma and impending marriage to Jessica Biel, with the curlicued pop dreamboat of old. So, when the opportunity came to meet him, I vowed to investigate this miracle.
The Hour I First Believed
Some background: As a man coming of age during the late nineties—the boom time for boy bands—it was impossible for me to have anything but disdain for Timberlake and the men with whom he was perpetually in sync. It wasn’t until later that I became a believer.
In 2002, he wrote and sang lead on “Gone”, a soul-aching ballad that made the other dudes in the band seem like little more than session singers, while JT sounded like the heir to Michael Jackson. While Timberlake was always the standout in the group, after “Gone” it was clear that he would one day eclipse them all.
A year after that, while under a religiously imposed two-year sabbatical from secular music, I heard he was making a solo record. My brother-in-law happened to be a VP of marketing at Sony at the time. He told me the record was the most exciting thing he’d ever worked on. (He didn’t say the same thing about the offering from Justin’s Backstreet counterpart, Nick Carter).
After two years of nothing but hymns and sermons, Justified was the first bit of music I bought. It changed my life. I was converted, whole-heartedly.
“Behold, should you not praise them who did carry you unto Justin? For did you not fly on the wings of their generosity and marketing savvy, unto New York? Yea, and did they not give you all manner of things, yea, did they not feed you, even wine and meats, and give you shelter in SoHo. Did they not give you scented waters, infused with Amyris wood and citrus, yea even Givenchy Play Sport? And what is more, was not Justin seated before you? And did you not speak unto him?” The Book of Timberlake 3:12
I get talk to Justin Timberlake because he is the face of Givenchy’s new fragrance Play Sport, and Givenchy (understandably) wants people to know this. I consider all this serendipity—a capitalistic miracle that will allow me, a Timberlake proselyte, to finally understand the Mystery of Justin.
Once, as it happens, I sat in the same chair that Justin sat in the week before. Stupid as it was, I felt the frisson of theoretical proximity. That was more than four years ago, when Timberlake was mostly just a pop star. The depth of the Timberlake’s transformation has only deepened since then. He’s not only a dude who’s album I had made out to (tell me you haven’t), he’s become one of those charming, omni-present personalities you’d hate out of jealousy, if you didn’t respect him so much. You can imagine the nervousness I felt knowing I was about to shake his hand.
He looks like he could be a young rabbi. His usually manicured facial scruff has grown into a full beard, and he’s wearing a black fedora and dark-framed eyeglasses. I’m completely underdressed in my blazer, tie and jeans. He’s wearing a three-piece suit. His tie is blue. I sit down across from him. He’s leafing through a coffee table book someone has given him about the best golf courses in the world—it’s a passion of his (golf, not the coffee table book). He runs a celebrity golf tournament, owns a course. Nearby, a publicist starts a stopwatch. It’s a blessing to talk with him one on one, but that blessing has a time limit.
I ask about the book. “I probably golf more than I should”, he says, then clarifies, seeing an opportunity for charm, “I should be better than I am, for as much as I golf. And in that respect, I golf more than I should”.
A confession: unfairly hoping for special treatment—more time with Timberlake, or more honesty—the first few minutes with Timberlake are wasted trying to create a personal six degrees of separation with him, via my brother-in-law at Sony. It doesn’t work. A diligent seeker would have dove right into the Mystery of Justin, but I had personal questions that only he could settle.
Then: I ask him the secret, the Mystery—How has he stayed relevant? He answers: “Sexual favours, probably”.
We both acknowledge the joke in that way men do. Then he continues, “I would say, honestly man, when I was young, I don’t think I ever really wanted to be one thing. I find that with a lot of people from our generation; I think it’s even more so with the generation behind us, and the one behind that”.
He says, for instance, that when he was young he was sure he was going to be a sitcom actor, or a cast member on SNL. “The irony is I had to become a musician to become funny in people’s eyes. You never know where things are going to go. I think the fact that I’ve never wanted to be one thing, that I always went in thinking I’m going to evolve and change has helped”.
“And to be honest with you”, he continues, “I’ve been pretty lucky. I would attribute a lot of luck to it. Probably sheer ignorance as well”.
Ah, I think. Mystery solved.
He Who Has Ears, Let Him Hear.
“And whatsoever ye shall ask, if it be relevant, and if it be according to the pre-arranged details which thou has discussed with my publicist, behold, I shall answer thee. And behold, there is not a question that I have not received, nor are there answers to all questions. Nevertheless, thou shalt ponder the answers I shall give thee”. The Book of Timberlake 4:23
Only, the mystery isn’t solved, is it? He sounds down to earth, humbled by his opportunity and good fortune. He’s normal, except he’s not.
Ponder: Like a regular person, he has more than one talent and interest. And the degree with which his talent affects his profession changes with his focus and opportunity. But unlike a regular person, Timberlake has an incredible amount of luck—audiences willing to embrace nearly every thing he does (a few straight to DVD releases notwithstanding).
On the other hand, a regular person might have many interests, but only excel at one—and even then, it’s qualified. No so for Timberlake. He seems to have copious talent in every field he’s interested in (music especially, but he was damn good in The Social Network, and charming as hell in Friends With Benefits, wasn’t he?) So much so, that it calls into question the role of luck.
So, what does that mean for those who want to understand Justin Timberlake, or who want to walk in his footsteps? Do they work to increase their talent, or their luck? We return to the paradox. He’s a regular man, and he’s more.
“It really is crazy and weird, and like I said, my ignorance has a lot to do with it, because honestly, I’m not the most confident person in the world. If I had to look back on the things that I tried, I probably wouldn’t have the balls to try them now”.
“Like what?” I ask him.
“Look, I’m glad I did it, but the first two times I hosted SNL, I was the host and the musical guest, because I was like, why not? There are things that you try on the show that you just don’t know any better. You have to have the level of comfort where you are willing to try things in front of people. I’m a firm believer that moments happen because there was a clash of extenuating circumstances”.
“But, to answer your question, I have no idea”.
That brings up something, doesn’t it? If he’s being honest—and I think he is, to the extent any person can be honest with the fifth or sixth stranger they have been forced to talk to in the last two hours—he doesn’t quite know how he’s maintained his success. Ignorance like that could either fuel the kind of career-killing over-confidence seen by any number of personalities looking to add a ‘slash’ to their job title, or it could cause some serious anxiety when undertaking a new project.
“I wouldn’t call it fear, but there is always a level of excitement and nervousness because you are trying something new”, he says. He’s feeling it right now. He’s making a film with the Coen Brothers, playing a folk singer in the 1960s. “It’s the first time that I’m doing real, not joking, music in a movie”. A blending of his talents, sure, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Just as his first solo album wasn’t necessarily going to be a sure thing (remember that Nick Carter album?), and just like his first forays into movies weren’t universally praised (remember 2005’s Edison Force?).
Knowing your luck and knowing your skill doesn’t grant you special knowledge of your future.
In The Name of Justin Timberlake…
“For, lo, I am Timberlake, and there is nothing that I cannot do”. Book of Timberlake 5:4
I don’t know what I was expecting him to say. Asking to know how someone has stayed relevant is like asking an artist where they get their ideas—it’s impossible to answer accurately. “I more closely fit society’s definition of attractiveness”, he could have said. Or, “I have artistic sensibilities that preternaturally conform with the tastes of a greater number of people”, and, “Also, I’m just more likeable than most of my contemporaries”. But even those wouldn’t have answered the question.
But still, after the interview, I traveled back down to my hotel room disappointed. I wanted more, even if I didn’t know what exactly it was.
Which, if you want to know, is where this whole religious element comes in. There’s an entitlement to journalists—and their readers—that mirrors the entitlement of the religious seeker. “Ask, and it shall be given”, God apparently said. And so, the believer asks and asks and asks, waiting for wisdom and blessings and who knows what else. But it turns out there’s a difference between a star and a deity. In so many ways, we worship Justin Timberlake, singer, actor, men’s fragrance pitchperson, but he doesn’t have to answer just because I knocked, especially since Justin Timberlake, regular person, might not know the answer. It turns out the Mystery of Justin is a mystery even to Justin.