By 2002, Justin Timberlake had tired of his reputation as an *NSYNC frontman, Micky Mouse Club alumnus, ramen noodle-haired hottie, and the-guy-in-the-ABC-TV-movie-Model-Behavior. He didn’t want to be Justin Timberlake: Popstar. He wanted to be Justin Timberlake, the white guy who belts and dances his way into becoming an R&B icon, maybe even scoring a hood pass for good measure.
With the help of Michael Jackson and mega-producer Timbaland, Timberlake embarked on a journey to pop and R&B superstardom, releasing his debut album, Justified, in 2002 and his acclaimed follow-up, FutureSex/LoveSounds, in 2006. A critic once lauded him as “one of the few white men brave enough to make black music.” But his fight for R&B kudos wasn’t without its casualties—namely, Janet Jackson’s career.
Not a Phase is back, baby, and we’re kicking off this season with a look back at Timberlake’s career in the 2000s and how his rise to the top on the shoulders of black artists should have come with a little more solidarity thrown in there.