I’d love to tell you I was dragged to see Justin Timberlake. I really would. I’d love to tell you that my girlfriend threatened to dump me if I didn’t take her to the show and mouth the words of “My Love” to her (with feeling, of course). The truth is I’m single. Even worse, I wanted to go.
And that’s hard for me to admit. It’s hard for me to come to grips with the fact that I am a Justin Timberlake fan.
I was in high school when the whole boy-band, bubblegum pop plague broke out; turning a handful of cocky young men with hair highlights and fake bling into high profile heartthrobs. As an adolescent music snob, I thought their smooth voices (which miraculously had not been wrecked by their recent runs through puberty), clever choreography and designer clothes, which semi-successfully tried to say “we’ve got street cred” and “your mother would love us” at the same time, represented everything wrong with music and pop culture in general. The frontman of N*Sync, Timberlake, whose picture lined the doors of two out of three female lockers at school, was the target for most of my contempt.
So there’s still a certain amount of residual shame attached to being a fan. I feel like I’ve somehow compromised despite the fact that he’s gradually become cool and perhaps even—and I can’t believe I’m using this word—hip.
And, predictably, he puts on an incredible show. The enormous stage took up the majority of the arena floor and transformed itself into a catwalk and back again repeatedly throughout the night. Screens the height of the room would rise and fall, crisscrossing the 360-degree platform. Dancers roamed the perimeter, disappearing and reappearing constantly (and more often than not in new costumes) thanks to the countless trap doors scattered strategically across the stage.
Of course, a spectacle this overblown and ostentatious would seem silly if the man of the hour didn’t have the chops to pull it off. But the circus surrounding him the entire night only underscored his immense talent and phenomenal showmanship. It takes a lot of skill—and even more swagger—to be the center of attention in the middle of such a scene.
In fact, he was close to flawless. From the opening 1-2-3 punch of “FutureSex/LoveSound,” “Like I Love You” and “My Love,” all the way through to the encore “(Another Song) All Over Again,” Timberlake danced and sang without missing a step, dropping a beat or breaking a sweat. Giving Timbaland, the Midas of mainstream radio, a 20-minute DJ set in the middle of the show was a stroke of genius as well.
There were low points, even if they were few and far between. An acoustic medley featuring N*Sync’s “Gone” and the rambling “Take it Here” from the album Justified was completely boring and forced; fashion status and celebrity are J.T.’s calling cards. Sincerity and earnestness aren’t, and for good reason.
But the cheesy medley and the half-heartfelt speeches that peppered the set (which, by the way, are recited verbatim every night from what I hear) didn’t seem to bother the legion of giggly, love-stoned girls that dominated the crowd. This was a love-in for the new king of pop, who, apparently, could do no wrong.
Since that night, countless people have asked me what it was like to be surrounded by thousands of dolled-up women (the female-to-male ratio was somewhere around 30,000:1), suggesting that going to the show was strategically brilliant on my part. Not that it was ever my intent to meet someone that night (would you want to tell your friends and family you met your soul mate at a Justin Timberlake concert?), but the truth is I felt invisible. Watching him dance and sing and hearing the incessant, glass-shattering reaction it evoked made me feel hopelessly inadequate.
In high school, it was more than uncool to like N*Sync; it was taboo. But maybe we all hated them not just because they made legitimately bad music—even hindsight attests to that—but because we were jealous; jealous of their success, their fame and, most of all, their effortless appeal to the fairer sex. As I sat listening to Timberlake that night I felt a familiar juvenile jealousy creeping up once again.
The truth is that everything he did was done exceptionally well, and this made me mad. It must have been written all over my face. Following the crescendo of one song, my friend leaned over to me. “Don’t worry Matt,” she said gently as she put her hand on my shoulder. “He’ll pull a Howard Hughes. I bet he ends up old and lonely.”