Sitting next to me at Justin Timberlake's show at Amsterdam's Paradiso, front and center on the balcony, is Timberlake's mom, Lynn Harless. She's waving a skinny cigarette in one hand – sparked with a cow-shaped lighter that shoots flames out of both nostrils – and clutching a fresh Heineken in the other. Every now and then, to cool down, she'll whip out a hand-held electric fan, which offers a multicolor circular light show when the blades are spinning. "How many other moms you know with a rave in their purse?" she asks.
Timberlake, 25, is playing a club gig with his twelve-piece band to prep the faithful for the release of FutureSex/LoveSounds (he chose the title, he joked the day before in Paris, because Purple Rain was already taken). The sound is big enough to fill an arena, and his guitarist gets plenty of room, pushing the harder funk into rock territory. In the middle of "Like I Love You," Timberlake bashes out the riff to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Before he plays his new single "SexyBack," he says, "This song is from my new album. If you don't like it, fuck you." Harless sings along to her boy's smash at the top of her lungs.
She gave birth to Justin when she was just twenty. Both of them told me, at different points, that they "grew up together." While Timberlake is singing, dancing and sweating through his suit pants on the stage below, she screams in my ear: "When Justin was a little-bitty baby, like three or four months old, we'd sit him in those seats, like a car seat, on the kitchen counter. He'd kick his legs to the beat of the music. We'd change the music and he'd kick his legs to the new beat. We'd say to our friends, 'Dude! Look at this!' He was like a little toy."
Lil' JT didn't get his rhythm from Mom, though. Lynn credits his biological father – whom she calls the "sperm donor" – for genetically instilling in her boy perfect rhythm and perfect pitch. Randy Timberlake played bass and sang the high harmonies in a bluegrass band with Lynn's brother. (Lynn raised Justin with her husband of twenty-two years, Paul Harless, a banker who gave Justin his sense of humor and his unflappable demeanor.) "We were coming home from a bluegrass festival in Mississippi with my brother and sister-in-law in a freakin' Winnebago," Lynn tells me, "and all of a sudden my brother said, 'Is anyone listening to him? He's singing fucking harmony parts!' Justin was adding a harmony to the songs on the radio. He was freakin' two!"
Timberlake honed his singing skills in church while growing up in Millington, Tennessee – a town so small it actually had a general store – and his granddad taught him a few guitar chords. Before long, at age ten, he made the pilgrimage to Orlando, Florida, where he sang Top Forty hits and performed sketch comedy on The New Mickey Mouse Club. Even among future celebs like Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera, Keri Russell and JC Chasez – most of whom, at one point or another, spent a night on Lynn's sofa – Timberlake stood out. At fourteen, with 'NSync, he signed his first record contract, and he immediately turned into a little punk-ass. "I thought I was the coolest guy," says Timberlake. "You couldn't talk to me. Nobody could tell me anything, or I'd be like, 'Bitch! I have a record contract!'" That attitude extended to life on the road with 'NSync. "I think I used up all my lives as a teenager," he says. "It's always more impressive, you know, drinking when you're not allowed to do it. These days, I try not to burn the candle at both ends."
You may or may not think that Timberlake should be ashamed of his years with "NSync – he certainly doesn't play any of those mega-hits in his concerts nowadays – but he has no regrets, aside from some of his outfits and hairdos. "They were great times, better than great times – even though, in the beginning, I was being monetarily raped by a Svengali," he says, referring to the group's start with Backstreet Boys impresario Lou Pearlman. "We were just five really lucky bastards."
One of whom, Lance Bass, was gay. Shortly after Timberlake's European trip, Bass came out. "I'd be lying if I said we didn't all know," Timberlake tells me a few weeks later. "It was never weird, though, and it was never spoken about. I think it's more about his self-acceptance than anything. I'm happy for him. At the same time, Lance is his own person, and the question has been thrown my way plenty of times since he announced it. At the end of the day, I don't feet like I should be bothered about it. He's my friend, and I'll always support and protect him."
As for Timberlake's own love life, he's not talking, though he's happy to take a swipe at the paparazzi, who have relentlessly hounded him and Cameron Diaz since they began dating three years ago. "They're like chromosomes that just keep multiplying," he says. "Sick fucks. It's got to top the list of the world's creepiest professions." He claims to be at peace with the shutter rats now, but, he says, "I've run the gamut with how I feel about it. I had the confrontation, where I slapped a paparazzo, and that was bad. I had to go meet the district attorney, who slapped the back of my hand and said I shouldn't retaliate with violence. I was like, 'Of course, you're right.' We live in an interesting time where everybody and everything is completely accessible. And I love what I do, but I also love my life and my privacy."
In the weeks before I meet Timbertake, the gossip columns are fooling themselves with the idea that Timberlake is dumping Diaz before he launches FutureSex/LoveSounds. But they're very much a couple. The night before his Amsterdam show, Timberlake plays Paris' La Cigale theater, which is draped in velvet like a burlesque club. Diaz is on her feet in the front of the balcony, singing the words to every song, including new ones like Timberlake's pimp anthem "Sexy Ladies," "My Love" and a ballad called "Until the End of Time."
After the show, in the lobby of the posh Le Faubourg Sofitel – around the corner from Yves St. Laurent, where Timberlake happily blew more than $13,000 that afternoon – Diaz rests her hand atop Timberlake's left pants pocket. Together they contemptate a late-night order from McDonald's – a cheeseburger for her, a fried apple pie for him – and with JT's mom they chat with manager Johnny Wright, who informs Timberlake that "SexyBack" was played more than 85,000 times on his MySpace page on the day of its debut. Hariess and Diaz laugh about the girl in the front row wearing the I HAD JUSTIN THREE TIMES T-shirt. They hatch a plan to design two shirts for Timberlake's upcoming London show reading I HAD JUSTIN FIRST and I HAD JUSTIN LAST.
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