If one could describe Justin Timberlake’s career in terms of a lifespan, his career would be nearly as old as Timberlake himself. His rise to fame as the daydream of adolescent girls certainly handicapped him in the eyes (and ears) of pop music critics who sneer at commercial success; many of those same critics, however, turned into converts after his two-album solo career spawned a sizeable–and artistic–transformation.
Born on January 31, 1981, to Lynn and Randy Timberlake in Memphis, Justin grew up in nearby Millington. He learned guitar chords from his grandfather, who introduced him to the music of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. His father played bass and sang harmony in a bluegrass band and played Bob Seger and the Eagles during his son’s visits (Timberlake’s parents divorced when he was two).
Timberlake, even before he attended his first middle-school dance, had experience with major firms in the entertainment business. His mother moved the family to Orlando, Florida, so Justin might secure a spot on the Disney Channel’s New Mickey Mouse Club, where he sang top-forty hits and performed skits with fellow cast members (and future teen-pop sensations) Britney Spears, JC Chasez and Christina Aguilera.
Though he missed out on a slightly earlier shot at stardom by losing on Star Search in 1992, the connections Timberlake made in Orlando changed his life. At the age of fourteen, he and Chasez, along with Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, and Chris Kirkpatrick, formed a five-member music group called ’NSync. Musically, the group hearkened back to 1980s groups such as New Kids On the Block, with their musical emphasis on urban-contemporary and dance/hip-hop styles. These styles became the wildly successful trademark of not only ’NSync but other so-called “boy-bands.” In the United States and Europe ’NSync’s self-titled first album sold millions, and their second album, No Strings Attached, went double platinum in a single week.
Though adolescent girls predominated in Timberlake’s fan base during his ’NSync days, that changed with the 2002 release of his first solo album, Justified. Hip-hop producer Timbaland produced four tracks on the album. Four million copies later, co-managed by his mother and Paul Harless, his step-father, Timberlake forever graduated from the pages of bubblegum magazines like Tiger Beat to multiple stories and spreads in GQ and Rolling Stone. He won two Grammys in 2003 for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the song “Cry Me A River.” Later that year he took a stab at acting by hosting Saturday Night Live, leading to multiple film offers.
After a slight hiccup of bad publicity following his involvement in Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show, Timberlake recovered with roles in Black Snake Moan, Southland Tales, and the critically acclaimed, Nick Cassavetes-directed Alpha Dog. He released his highly successful, Prince-inspired album FutureSex/LoveSounds, whose dance-club beats garnered him four Grammys in 2007.
Timberlake’s success in music and film did not blind him to other causes and endeavors. In 2002, he partnered with the American Music Conference to create the Justin Timberlake Foundation, which awards grants to schools and programs across the United States that have sustained severe budget cuts (the Shelby County Public School System in Memphis is a recipient). Timberlake recently began work with his childhood friend Trace Ayala on a clothing line called William Rast.