Ten years ago, Justin Timberlake destroyed any doubt of his artistry or potential with the mature, innovative FutureSex/LoveSounds. For his second post-boy-band solo outing, the pop star experimented with R&B, funk and rock to create a piece of music well ahead of its time. Today, the LP’s influence can still be heard in everything from the worldly electro-soul of Zayn Malik to the moody sound of newcomers like Bryson Tiller. The album also signaled Timberlake’s transition from pop hitmaker and Hollywood It Boy to a legitimate force as a musician and actor.
Since then, Timberlake has continued to explore acting and took a lengthy break before releasing his double-album FutureSex follow-up The 20/20 Experience in 2013. Now, Timberlake has a summer hit with the pop tune “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from his upcoming animated feature Trolls and has teased a fifth solo album with some songwriting and production assistance from Little Big Town, Justified collaborator Pharrell Williams and his most frequent musical partner-in-crime Timbaland. In celebration of the album that changed the course of his career, here are 10 little-known facts about FutureSex/LoveSounds.
1. Recording the album was a slow process after Timberlake took two years off to pursue acting and lead a slower, more “normal” life.
Timberlake’s debut solo outing, 2002’s Justified, was recorded in only six weeks and released a year after ‘N Sync’s Celebrity, which, at the time, made fans feel like the wait for FutureSex was nearly glacial in comparison. The pop star ended up utilizing the four-year gap between albums to launch his acting career and recover from the burnout of heavy touring and promotion of his debut, as he stated in a 2006 Rolling Stone cover story. He spent the break snowboarding and playing golf with then-girlfriend Cameron Diaz and launched his acting career after a surprisingly adept, hilarious turn as both host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live. “SNL was like a playground,” he told RS. “And the reason I got into film is because I needed something inspiring, but more intimate, that I didn’t have to do in front of 18,000 people every night.”
Following his two-year “break,” Timberlake then spent a full year working on FutureSex, a new experience for the growing artist. “I felt pressure, which is why it was more considered,” he told The Guardian. “For the first record I didn’t know what to expect, I was flying by the seat of my pants. Now, I thought, I need to make an epic record, a consistent sound, a body of work. I didn’t have to make an amazing record before, but now I have to. It has to be better than the last one.”
2. Timbaland’s hefty production role happened on accident.
As Timberlake slowly eased himself back into the recording process, he reached out to both tried-and-true collaborators as well as new ones. When he called up Timbaland — who had produced four songs on Justified and 10 songs on FutureSex — he merely asked the famed Aaliyah and Missy Elliott collaborator “if he could do five or six more ‘Cry Me a Rivers.'” In the end, Timbaland and his protégé Nate “Danja” Hills became a major creative force behind the album. Timberlake ended up recording with the pair in Virginia Beach at the then-brand-new Thomas Crown Studios, and the first song the trio masterminded together was the sweeping, ominous ballad “What Goes Around.”
3. Timberlake did not write down lyrics for many of the album’s songs and often improvised in the vocal booth.
“Everybody knows he’s talented, but this dude wrote that whole album without touching a pen or paper,” Hills told Rolling Stone in 2006. “I’m like, ‘What type of shit is this?’ I’ve heard stories about Jay Z or Biggie doing that, but I’ve never heard of a singer doing that. I think it’s some sort of superpower.” When inspiration struck, he would enter the booth to work through the song’s structure and lyrics, the latter of which he claims are more inspired by the experiences of people around him than his personal relationships or history.
4. David Bowie, Interpol and the Strokes were bigger influences than the R&B artists the album is often compared to.
While the album is often cited as a pinnacle of forward-thinking R&B, the singer was looking to rock music as his songwriting and musical muse. “Everything else has a gimmick,” he told RS at the time while claiming that the only “real songwriting” occurring in popular music in that era was coming from rock musicians. “These days, the names are bigger than the songs – people want to see pictures, videos, cameos, collaborations, fame association. … It’s like some übercool party that you can’t get into. Now, I know my name is on that guest list, but that’s not what inspires me.”
More specifically, Timberlake cited Interpol as a reference point for the droning guitar of the “I Think She Knows” interlude that follows “LoveStoned” and was a huge fan of the Strokes, Arcade Fire, Coldplay and the Killers at the time. Even though hit single “SexyBack” was seen part of the lineage of freaky, experimental Prince-esque funk-R&B, the song was actually Timberlake’s attempt at imagining James Brown’s “Sex Machine” as sung by David Bowie and David Byrne, as he told MTV. “There’s no doubt that it’s a club record,” he told RS, “but there’s a rock sensibility about it. It reminds me of ‘Rebel Rebel.'”
5. Prince did not approve of Timberlake’s claims to have brought sexy back.
The style of “SexyBack” clearly drew inspiration from Prince – who still was a huge influence on the album according to Timbaland and Danja, who have noted that they listened to mostly Prince while in the studio – and the now-late artist felt compelled to weigh in on the song’s message. “For whoever is claiming that they are bringing sexy back, sexy never left!” he reportedly said at an Emmys after-party. For Timbaland’s 2007 album Shock Value, Timberlake shot back at his hero, singing “Now if sexy never left, they why’s everybody on my shit/Don’t hate on me just because you didn’t come up with it” on the track “Give It to Me.”
6. Before the EDM boom that would follow a few years later, producer Danja was intrigued with where techno and trance would go in mainstream music.
What made FutureSex feel so innovative at the time was its clubby, gritty sound, which separated the pop album from the more straightforward synth or hip-hop influences in mainstream music during that era. Danja told Vibe later that songs like “My Love” came from his experiences watching people react to techno and trance music in clubs. “I went to a club one night and saw that people were losing their mind to these dance tracks,” he explained. “It wasn’t really that I wanted to mimic that sound. I just wanted to have that energy and have people going crazy. So I knew the fusion was putting R&B with trance. As soon as I put the boom-boom-kat, I knew it.”
7. Chris Rock introduced Timberlake to Rick Rubin, whom Timberlake thought would end up producing his follow-up to FutureSex/LoveSounds.
Legendary rock and rap savant Rick Rubin contributed to one song on FutureSex, and his link-up with Timberlake happened because of comedian Chris Rock. “Interestingly enough – this is funny how our community works – I saw Chris Rock out one night and he said, ‘You know who you should work with? Rick Rubin. He never does anything bad,'” Timberlake told MTV. “I was like, ‘You’ve got a point.’ I never thought about it myself. I saw [Rubin] at Coachella. I was standing in the middle of the crowd and I went up and approached him.”
Rubin’s contribution was to Donny Hathaway tribute “(Another Song) All Over Again,” and the singer was so inspired by his time in the studio with the man behind legendary albums from Public Enemy, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash that he thought the pair would work on his FutureSex follow-up together. Seven years later, Timberlake ended up creating the entire double album The 20/20 Experience with Timbaland once more.
8. Timberlake and his team referred to the album as “Thriller 2006.”
Both the artist and his collaborators were more than confident in the challenging, innovative piece of music they were creating together. In his Rolling Stone cover story, Timberlake made a crack that he titled the album FutureSex/LoveSounds because “Purple Rain was taken.” Harking back to another classic album, Timbaland coined the nickname for the new LP, feeling like it could have the same impact as Michael Jackson’s immortal blockbuster “We were buggin’ out, like, ‘Are we creating the next Thriller?'” Danja recalled of the vibe in the studio. “It was so crazy how we was coming up with these songs back to back to back.”
Timberlake’s love for Michael Jackson is one of the influences the performer has worn most prominently, having not only performed with the King of Pop but paid many tributes to him onstage during the icon’s lifetime. MJ even got a quick shout-out on the track “Chop Me Up” with the line “Like Michael Jackson, how you do me this way?”
9. In the studio, he was referred to as “Annie,” short for Anakin Skywalker.
Timberlake’s transition from bubblegum-pop prince to one of the genre’s most respected musicians and performers has inspired many former child stars after him to aim for a similar trajectory. His transition, however, was mainly a product of his own shrewd instincts, as many producers and collaborators pointed out around the FutureSex era. Even his former ‘N Sync bandmate JC Chasez called Timberlake the “golden child” and a “jedi.” Other collaborators called him “Annie” – short for Anakin Skywalker – around the studio, according to his RS cover story.
10. At the time, the album broke iTunes’ pre-order record.
Before the streaming wars became a thorn in the music industry’s side, digital downloads were becoming the primary form of music consumption, even with illegal downloading at its peak. At the time, FutureSex became the biggest pre-order album in iTunes history and broke the first-week digital sales record, previously held by Coldplay. Albums like Madonna’s MDNA and Lady Gaga’s ArtPop would also go on to break the pre-order record.