Although both former teen-pop stars aim to show the world how grown-up they are, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera are going at it in opposite ways. Timberlake's stage set looked like a jazz lounge, while Aguilera's resembled a strip club. His band suggested Kool and the Gang (real horns, actual guitars, audible live percussion), while hers was very Paula Abdul (harsh synth blasts, pseudo strings, canned beats).
Aguilera came out in a teased black fright wig and leather pants with orange strips sewn on the crotch – it was more ridiculous than sexy. She ran through her superior Stripped material and rearranged her earlier hits, but tacked on too many "ooh-ooh-ohs" and "whoa yeahs" – and her dancers matched her vocal excess with clichéd abandon. At least she left the pole-dancing to a guy.
Timberlake's demeanor was as relaxed and as playful as Aguilera's was strained. Grooving through most of Justified as well as 'N Sync hits "Gone" and "Girlfriend," he found what was once great about Michael Jackson: a sense of joy and belonging on-stage. It seems likely he'll stick around for a while.
This story is from the July 10th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.