JUSTIN TIME by Dennis Hensley

Most boy band fans are happy to show their devotion with a homemade ‘Marry Me’ sign and a series of rafter-shaking screams. Some, however, go a bit further. ‘N Sync frontman Justin Timberlake remembers once such encounter like it was yesterday. Actually, it was yesterday. “Some girl somehow got on stage in San Diego last night,” says Justin with bewildered shake of his newly-buzzed head. “I turned around and she was right there. She just threw her hands around me and had a death grip on my neck.” Though Justin is careful not to seem ungrateful for such attention, he’s clearly spooked by the surprise attack, as anyone would be. “My arm got hyper-extended because it was caught between the security and the girl,” he says, giving himself a quick shoulder massage. “It feels better today.”

Though it’s impossible to condone the San Diego fan’s WWF-style stage rush, you have to admit the girl’s got excellent taste. At this moment in pop culture history, Justin Timberlake is arguably the most-desired member of the planet’s most-desired band…and he happens to be dating the planet’s reigning pop princess, Britney Spears. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” he says reflectively when asked what it feels like to be a superstar. “It feels like fate, like it was supposed to happen. The only thing that I can’t do comfortably is just go out alone in public. But I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone.”
At the moment, the 20 year-old prince of pop is kicking back the in the deserted cocktail lounge of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s an ironic interview locale--and one that was well scoped-out by his bodyguard, Eric before Justin came down from his suite—considering that if the bar were open for business, which it won’t be for a few hours, Justin would be too young to buy a beer. So does he carry a fake I.D.? “No,” he says, “but I don’t ever have a problem getting into clubs.” He cracks a self-deprecating smile and adds, “I know that’s shocking to you.”

Timberlake and his bandmates have come to Phoenix to strut their stuff for an audience of over 50,000 as part of their massive PopOdyssey stadium tour, in which they showcase songs from their new CD Celebrity. But these boys don’t just stand there and sing. They fly in on harnesses 8 stories above the crowd, surf along giant conveyer belts, and, at one point during the kitschy but catchy “Space Cowboy” straddle five futuristic-looking mechanical bulls and grind their little asses off. It must be exhausting. “This tour is much more relaxing than our last one,” reveals Justin. “The stage is so big that it takes a day to set up which gives us a day or two off in between shows so I can have a good time. I actually went golfing this morning with a couple of guys from the band.” Has having more time off between shows allowed him to see more of Britney than in the past? “Oh yeah,” Justin says. “When you get to the point where you realize that you’re your own boss, you make time to see each other. I mean, she’s here with me now.” In that case, it must be killing him to do this interview. “Oh, dude, it’s okay,” Justin says reassuringly. “She’s out shopping.”

If Britney’s anything like most girls her age, she’s probably out picking up N’ Sync’s latest CD Celebrity, the follow-up to their No Strings Attached, which sold a record-breaking 2.4 million copies in it’s first week in stores and went on to sell over 12 million. Timberlake admits it’s a tough act to follow, but hopes people will focus less on the disc’s Soundscan numbers and more on its sound. “Sonically and lyrically, I think this record is way more advanced than our past records,” says Justin, holding his only copy in his hands. “This album is pretty special.”

It’s no wonder Justin is proud of Celebrity. He co-wrote and co-produced seven of its thirteen tracks, a huge leap forward from his one song contribution to No Strings Attached. Taking a more active part in writing and producing is one way this multitalented multi-tasker is ensuring that he’ll still be standing when the teen pop boom is over. “I can’t tell you what the next trend is going to be,” says Justin with a shrug. “All we can do is do the music that we feel at the moment. With No Strings Attached, I felt like I really had a lot to prove. But with this album, I feel like we’re in a situation where we are just comfortable being who we are. I don’t feel like we have to impress anybody. We have our fan base and if we can manage to grow with them, then we’ll be fine.”

It also helps to learn from the best. In the last few years, Justin and his fellow N ‘Sync-ers have been able to work with such industry A-listers as Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan and Aerosmith. The latter was at this year’s Super Bowl in front of a TV audience of 80 million people. Yet, he says he knew he made it when R & B legend Stevie Wonder agreed to record the harmonica part for the Britney-inspired N ‘Sync ballad “Something Like You.” “I almost cried when I was in the studio with him,” says Justin. “I mean, he taught me how to sing, you know, and here he was playing on a song that I wrote. It was a definite milestone.”

 

A MOUSE IN THE HOUSE

Justin doesn’t remember a time when making music wasn’t part of his life. “If I could talk, I could sing,” asserts the heartthrob who was born in Memphis, Tennessee on January 31, 1981. Though his parents divorced when Justin was one, both later remarried, giving Justin two sets of parents who he’s very close to. “I have pictures of my family that I keep with me,” says Justin, who has two younger half brothers from his father’s second marriage. “My mother is my best friend. There’s nothing that I’ve done my mother does not know about.”

Justin’s first public performance was at an assembly his elementary school where he crooned “I’ll Be Loving You Forever,” a song made famous, ironically, by the definitive boy band of the era, New Kids On the Block. “My mom videotaped it,” says Justin, whose early musical influences included Michael Jackson and The Beach Boys. “It’s pretty funny, man.”

Not long after, Justin donned five-gallon cowboy hat and boots for a losing appearance on Ed McMahon’s Star Search. “That wasn’t the greatest experience,” he says, laughing. “I wanted to sing Percy Sledge’s ‘When A Man Loves a Woman’ but they but they said, ‘If you don’t do country song, then you can’t go on the show’.” Justin had better luck at his audition for The New Mickey Mouse Club. Not only did he land the gig, but he wound up working with his future bandmate J.C. Chasez, future girlfriend Britney Spears and fellow Grammy nominee Christina Aguilera. Does he have a favorite memory from him days as a mouseketeer? “I remember when Brian McNight came on as the musical guest star,” recalls Justin. “It was a moment you never forget. And then I just did a duet with him for his new album. I was just like, ‘Wow,’ you know.”

Justin’s membership in the MMC came to an end in 1993. N ‘Sync formed in 1995, but it would be two years later before they’d release their first CD, N’ Sync. “We practiced in an old warehouse, where it was like 110 degrees,” recalls Justin fondly. “We did the grind, you know, a lot of club shows where the audiences just wanted to go to the club. They don’t want to see five guys get up there and try to do their thing.”

Like the Backstreet Boys before them, the band broke first in Europe. “The first time we heard ourselves on the radio we were in two vans on the autobahn,” Justin remembers. “This German guy was talking on the radio and all of a sudden our song “I Want You Back” came on. Me and Chris were in one van and we could see the rest of the group bouncing up and down in the van behind us. We got off on the next exit and got out of the vans and started freaking out. It was like that scene in That Thing You Do.” Justin says he still gets taken aback when he hears his music on the radio. “I was in the grocery store and heard a Muzak version of ‘God Must Have Spent a Little More Time On You’,” he says, laughing. “I was like, ‘I thought that was supposed to happen in about five years from now’.”

Of course, things get a little crazy when you’re moving at the speed of pop. In just a few short years, the band has broke all kinds of sales records, sung on the Oscars and even headlined in their own Imax movie. “That was cool,” says Justin, “but I definitely have a big head.” Through it all, however, the quintet continues to exude the kind of frat brother chemistry that can’t be faked. “You have to have a sense of humor about everything, especially when you’re us and everybody makes cracks about you,” says Justin who admits to getting a laugh out of the Eminem video that poked fun at the group. “Even if we weren’t N ‘Sync, we’d still be friends.” Asked about the group’s various solo projects, like Lance and Joey making a movie, Chris starting a clothing line, and JC getting into writing and producing, Justin says, “We’ve come to a place where we just can have fun and explore different things and do solo projects. We’re different people going in the same direction.”

 

BRITNEY BABY…ONE MORE TIME

Justin Timberlake admits he was sweet on Britney Spears during their time together on the Mickey Mouse Club but things wouldn’t really heat up between them until years later when they were both on their way to becoming superstars. “I went through a period of almost a year when I was 16 or 17 where I thought girls were disgusting,” reveals Justin. “I had just been burned twice so it was like, ‘Okay, I’ve had enough and I don’t want to go to three strikes.’ I didn’t want to date anybody but that phase came to an end really abruptly when I met her.” Still, Justin wasn’t sure he wanted to risk getting his heart broken again. “I really did try to fight it,” he confesses, “but one day I just said, ‘I’m completely enamored with you and there is nothing I can do about it’.”

When asked what connects the pair, Justin’s eyes light up. “It’s absolutely chemical,” he confesses. “When we were younger it was that we were both from the south (Britney hails from Lousiana). Now, it’s just that we enjoy each other so much. She’s kind of like my safe haven, as far as all this hoopla goes.” Ironically, when the pair go out together, the hoopla seems to quadruple. “We have to take an army with us,” Just says. “We usually take 3 or 4 bodyguards but sometimes just two, one for me and one for her.” Like a double date? “Yeah, there you go,” he says with a laugh.

Though the pair have been together for about two years, they didn’t go public with their relationship until last year’s MTV Awards. “It just got to the point where we were like, ‘This is ridiculous’,” reveals Justin. “In the beginning, we didn’t just want to be known as that guy-who-goes-out-with-that-girl or girl-who-goes-out-with-that-guy. But then we got to the point to where it’s like, ‘Let’s just do whatever we feel at the time’.”

But going public did nothing to curb the public’s fascination with their relationship and more specifically, what they like to do behind closed doors. “I just take it all with a grain of salt,” says Justin, who shares a house with Britney in the Hollywood Hills when they’re both in L.A. “I have to do what makes me happy. I can’t change the way I live for the press.” Still, there are times, he admits, when it sucks to be famous. “Something that really upset me is someone saying that both of us had died in a car crash,” scoffs Justin referring to an erroneous news report that aired on a Dallas radio station in June. “It really scared me because we had just left each other and I thought maybe something actually did happen to her so I called her I was freaking out. She was kind of freaking out too but as soon as we kind of heard each other’s voices, we were okay. Then the phone calls from the parents and the grandparents and the cousins started. It just sucks that my family has to go through that.”
Given their crazy jet set schedules, Justin must have some good advise on how to deal with long distance love. “You just have to realize that there’s nothing normal about it,” he says emphatically. “You can’t let distance come between you.” Justin knows that when he’s missing her, he can just turn on MTV and get a quick fix, but he prefers looking at snapshots of the two of them together over seeing his main squeeze frolic on screen with other guys, “That’s probably the weirdest thing about this,” Justin says when asked what he thinks of Britney’s super-steamy video “Don’t Let Me Be the Last To Know.” “Like it comes on TV and I’m going to sit there and watch it? Same with things that I do, like dancing onstage with girls. I’m sure that doesn’t make her feel like a million dollars. That’s a real test, man. That’s when you know that you really love someone, when they tell you it doesn’t mean anything. You have to believe them.”

Justin says the pair might record together in the future, but their immediate plans include checking out a movie later this afternoon and cuddling up tonight in front of the TV (Sex and the City and The Sopranos are current faves). His idea of the perfect date? “Relaxing at home. Candles. Talking.”

Justin Timberlake may have the world at his feet--with private jet rides, exotic vacations (see sidebar) and enough money to afford multiple homes (one in both L.A., one in Orlando)—still he says the simple pleasures are what matter most. “Throw all this away,” he says, picking up a magazine with his face on the cover and tossing it across the table, “and I’d still have her. In the end, that’s what matters in life.”

 

COSMO LIST

Tell us about your first kiss.

My first real kiss was in the 5th grade. It was good and lasted several Mississippi’s. I saw the girl last year when I went home. She’s still in my hometown. It was a bit nostalgic. She was just the same as she ever was, a sweet girl.

What’s your favorite make out music?

Anything old, like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green. II also like the new India Arie album. She’s really good. And Tory Amos. I could go on and on about what CD’s mellow me out.

What’s the most romantic thing a girl’s ever done for you?

Britney surprised me for my last birthday and took me away to this remote Caribbean island. We stayed for a week and it was so cool. It was spiritual. You felt like nobody else was on the earth. It definitely had a Blue Lagoon vibe to it.

Did you return the favor?

Yeah. I scored for Christmas. I did the same thing except I took her to Aspen. We went snow boarding and skiing. It was just us, shacked up in a cabin.

What’s your most regrettable fashion statement?

I had the short bleached Eminem haircut before Eminem. It looks good on him but it was not working for me. I don’t know what I was thinking.

What was the first record you bought?

Thriller by Michael Jackson

What’s your favorite tabloid story about N’Sync?

The funniest was that Kathie Lee Gifford was falling in love with Lance. Hilarious.

What’s something about women that you just don’t get?

I don’t get how you can be forgiven for a wrongdoing, but you are not really forgiven. Three months later you will hear about it. I believe it you’re going to forgive somebody, forgive them. Don’t bring it up again. It doesn’t do any good. It just shows insecurity.

What should women know about men?

Something that women should know about men is that no, no, no, hell no, we cannot read your minds. That’s the other thing I don’t get about women. How they say something that means something else. Like when a woman says, “I’m not going to get upset about it,” think twice because they probably are. When I say something, damn it, I mean it.

Did your parents give you a talk about sex?

No. I always just knew what sexuality was and the number of things that it was used for. I just understood that for some reason.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to autograph?

Boobs.

When was the last time you stood in line for something?

When Brit and I went to see Moulin Rouge in New York. It was a pretty long line, all the way outside the building. It was cool. I like doing normal things. I’m trying to hold onto this concept that I can still be me.