Inside Justin Timberlake's '20/20 Experience' Sequel

Studio chemistry resulted in one album growing into two

Justin Timberlake performs in London.
Neil Lupin/Redferns via Getty Images
Justin Timberlake performs in London.
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In March, Justin Timberlake returned to music after a seven-year absence with The 20/20 Experience. On September 30th, he will release another 11 songs from those same sessions, The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2. What prompted such a flood of new material?

Ben Affleck.

"We had a month prior to Justin shooting a movie with Ben, Runner Runner, so the idea was to get into a studio and see if the chemistry was there," Timberlake's manager, Johnny Wright, tells Rolling Stone of the sessions, co-produced by Timberlake with Timbaland and Texas hip-hop producer J-Roc. "The first thought was just a single or an EP."

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One night, Wright joined Timberlake for dinner at the singer's mother's house in Memphis. There, the manager heard that the chemistry was proving exceedingly productive. "Those guys got into a groove and cut a record every day," Wright says. "In the end, they had more than 20 songs."

Wright says he and Timberlake knew from the start they had too much material for one album. "Because the songs weren't just three minutes long, if we put all this on one record, we'd probably have a three-hour experience, and that's too much music," he says. "So we had the conversation about splitting it up and putting them both out in one year."

According to Wright, the songs were chosen for their respective releases based on mood and lyrics. "Some of the songs to him felt happy and lively, and some felt kind of dark," he says. "So we turned the two pieces into, like, seasons. Everyone's going to have a different opinion. But for me, the first half is about new love, the honeymoon, when you're just getting into a relationship. And when you get to the second part, the relationship is established and things are going on."

In other words, the first half is about the seduction and the second half is about the reality of a day-to-day relationship? "Yeah," Wright says, chuckling, "you could say that. There's a song called 'Not a Bad Thing,' where he goes through the whole scenario, about how if the girl has any doubts, 'you gotta get to know me, because I am a good guy.' I remember having that conversation once with a girl."

Wright says the album isn't a dance pop record ("it's the lyrical content"), but points to uptempo tracks like "True Blood" as examples of Timberlake's attempt at sophisticated dance pop. "Even the midtempo songs have a groove to them," he insists. "You can still dance at 98 beats – it's just a different kind of dance."

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