In 2000, ‘N Sync broke all manner of records with the 2.4 million first-week sales of No Strings Attached. It was enough for an entire career, an apex at which any gambler would cash in and move out. But in 2001, the Orlando five shimmied on, selling 1.9 million copies of their follow-up, Celebrity, duetting with Aerosmith at the Super Bowl, dancing with Michael Jackson at the MTV Video Music Awards (and stealing four moon men) and joining the all-star cast of the Bono-organized benefit track “What’s Going On?” Justin Timberlake checked in from a hotel room in lovely Columbus, Ohio, midchill with girlfriend Britney Spears during some off-time on her tour.
Mr. Timberlake, what was the high point of your year?
The MTV awards and our album release, for two totally different reasons. The MTV awards – we’ve won a lot of awards, but it seemed like a moment where we were like, “Whoa, are we part of this?” Then, Michael Jackson – for us to want to honor Michael Jackson by bringing him onstage, and then for him to want to honor us back by accepting? That was just like, “Wow, what’s going on here?” The album release – this record, we didn’t do as much promotion as we did for No Strings Attached. We didn’t do all of the radio stations or TV shows. We wanted to see if people were going to enjoy the music. I think this was a big growth album for us, a step in the right direction. For so many people to respond to it, that was a relief. It was like, “Hey! They still like it.”
Did you have a favorite song or movie?
I really like Alicia Keys. Not because of the record; she just has a vibe about her that good people have. That impressed me, especially because when I met her, her head was completely spinning, you know, from how her record was blowing up. We were recording the “What’s Going On?” record. I also really liked Maxwell’s song “Lifetime.” It reminds me of Sam Cooke or Al Green, all the stuff I grew up on.
Where’s the best place you went on tour or vacation this year?
Turks and Caicos for my birthday. It sounds like turkeys and cakes. It’s in the Caribbean. My wonderful female of a girlfriend took me there. We went all by our lonesomes for, like, a week. It was cool.
What’s the one thing you wish you hadn’t worn in public?
You wish you hadn’t worn Joey in public?
Ha, ha, yeah. I just wish he wasn’t there [laughs]. I’m just kidding. It’s just that I can think of a couple of things I wish he hadn’t worn in public.
What changes would you like to see in pop culture next year?
I’d like to see Eminem, Merle Haggard and O-Town do a song together. For no reason at all.
Finally, any resolutions for 2002?
To find a resolution that I won’t just quit after January. Like, not cursing. I might as well be a sailor.
This story is from the December 6th, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.