The day after the show in Paris, we board a private jet to Amsterdam. The back cabin lounge is filled with the women who travel with Timberlake: two stylists and an assistant. They sing Eighties hits a cappella, and occasionally Timberlake shoots them a look of mock agony. Anticipating the debauchery that lies ahead of us later in the evening, Timberlake tells me that he was stoned during the Justified sessions but has since quit smoking weed and didn't hit the pipe during the recording of FutureSex/LoveSounds.
After Timberlake slays the club crowd in Amsterdam, he poses for photos with label reps. Once finished, he hovers near a group of his friends, including his choreographer Marty Kedulka, but stands unassumingly to the side. He is the only one of them without a beer in his hand, and he doesn't appear celebratory at all after his great gig. For five long minutes he just quietly surveys his entourage with a steely gaze. Suddenly, he cracks a joke and settles into the group again.
With no shows booked for the next couple of days, Timberlake cuts loose. We hop into a black Range Rover and pull out of the venue, through a sea of fans, across moonlit canals and past the paparazzi who have somehow been tipped off about our destination, a hip-hop club in the center of town. The split second Timberlake steps inside the club, the DJ announces his arrival. We're ushered into an upstairs VIP area that's littered with champagne. As the others trickle in, Kedulka and I whip out pre-rolled joints from an Amsterdam coffee shop. "I can't believe I forgot how much fun this is," Timberlake says before taking another drag from a joint mixed with exotic White Widow, AK-47 and Kali buds.
The DJ spins "Another Part of Me," a Michael Jackson deep cut that was part of Disney's collaboration with Jacko, the bygone 3-D extravaganza Captain EO. Timberlake tells me that while working as a Mouseketeer in Florida, he caught the Captain EO show more than twenty times. For years JT has been unabashed about his love for MJ – do you remember his debut solo performance, at the 2002 MTV VMAs, when he performed "Like I Love You" while dressed like the King of Pop? Even on FS/LS – as if he hasn't heard us all snickering about his devotion to MJ – Timberlake name-drops him on "Chop Me Up," scatting the tine "Like Michael Jackson, how you do me this way?" "I wear my heroes on my sleeve," he says.
After a fresh joint and a bizarre, stoned dance exercise between Kedulka and Timberlake – where Kedulka unleashes a move and Timberlake either nods approval or ups the ante with a spasm of his own – we're ready to split back to the hotel. In Timberlake's penthouse suite, the three of us reconvene to embark on the six-inch journey to the bottom of a honey-flavored blunt. Before he says good night, though, we sit on his couch, where he plays me a rough mix of his album closer, the Rick Rubin-produced tribute to Donny Hathaway, "(Another Song) All Over Again." It's a stunning ballad, simple and soulful. In Rubin, Timberlake says he found a mentor, and, when the time comes, a producer for his follow-up to FutureSex.
That would be the last time I'd see Timberlake in Europe. I was still wondering what was going through his mind that night in Amsterdam, after his gig – when he stood with us by the canal with that unwavering, ambiguous expression – as we met up a few weeks later at Encore Studios in Los Angeles. He answers before I even have a chance to ask. Turns out he was tired of hanging with girls in his crew and was just waiting for boys' night out to start. "Yo, with all those freakin' females around, they drive me insane," he says. "Insane! When we were standing by the canal, and then me, you and Marty hopped into the Range Rover, I was like, Thank you, God.'"
At Encore, JT is road-testing the recently mastered tracks from FS/LS, literally – he's listening to them in the parking lot, in his A&R man's Corvette. He's also there working on an upcoming track for rapper Talib Kweli. He makes a point of telling me, in front of various engineers, programmers and friends, that he's off the pipe again (prompting one of them to say, "C'mon, Justin – you brought sexy back, why don't ya bring the chronic back too?"). When he gets to work, he runs around the studio like a madman, layering clavinet figures, live drums, synth percussion and other assorted flairs onto the track. As with FutureSex/Love Sounds, his working process is distinctly improvisational, and distinctly impressive. His former bandmate JC Chasez – for whom Timberlake is also currently producing tracks – calls him the "golden child." "The kid has stepped out," says Chasez, who's five years older. "He's grown by leaps and bounds. He's a Jedi." In fact, when he's in the studio, collaborators refer to him as "Annie," as in Anakin Skywalker.
Timberlake has endured the high highs and painful lows of the music business. "I've had bottles thrown at me – glass bottles full of piss," he says. "And I've had girls run onstage and try to tear my clothes off." So where do you go from there? "Ten years from now," he says, "I don't want to be jumping around onstage. I've been in this business for fifteen years – which is kinda creepy – and I'm interested in other things." Among them, he and his best friend, Trace Ayala, oversee their fledgling clothing line, William Rast (the name is from JT's grandfather's first name and Ayala's grandfather's last name), and Timberlake is in the process of reviving Memphis' own Stax label – his first signing was his pal Matt Morris.
Timberlake says that with success and a happy personal life, he's mellowed out in the last few years. He brings up French soccer star Zinedine Zidane, whom he was rooting for during the World Cup this year. "When he head-butted the guy in the chest, I was perplexed," he says. "The guy is a rock star, close to winning the World Cup, and then he does that and we all hate him. I'm always genuinely nice to people, but there have been times when I've gotten so invested in my seclusion that I've pushed people away. But I've realized that the way I act has an effect on people I meet."
He's also conscious of the commitment it takes these days to see an album all the way through. "To do it the right way is to commit to more than two years of my life. I admire the Stones, but I don't think I'd be cut out for a career like that." Recently, Timberlake had a conversation with Jay-Z about all this. "I said to him, 'Haven't you made, like, twelve albums?' I'll be lucky if I get to six." Timberlake imagines growing old, splitting time between L.A., Tennessee and perhaps a place in Italy or Spain. "Just float around – not too shabby, right?" he says. "The dream is to be able to have a schedule like I've had in the last five years, to put out a record and tour, then take a little break, maybe do some films. But I don't want to work this hard forever."
Leading up to the release of FutureSex/ LoveSounds, Timberlake says that his dreams have often been nightmares. "Before I go to sleep every night, I'm scared shitless," he says. "And right when I wake up in the morning, I'm scared shitless." He's got a lot on his plate: He's committed himself to bringing the sexy back for all of us, he's got all the friends and family he can handle, and he's got a brandnew image to sell to the world. Like his mom told me – in the middle of a live performance of "What Goes Around" – "Fuck this pop-star shit. I can die a happy woman now. My baby's a rock star!"
This story is from the September 21, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.
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