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Justin Timberlake Interview

interview title: Observermail preview: Justin Timberlake interview

Interview Date: Friday July 14, 2006
Interview source: Guardian unlimited

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I have trouble naming my songs,' says Timberlake, somewhat sheepishly, of 'SexyBack'. It turns out that it's 'sexy back' as in the song's chorus 'I'm bringing sexy back', rather than 'a sexy back'. 'The chorus is very James Brown-ish, call out and repeat, like "Sex Machine",' Timberlake explains, with a little rendition.

He often breaks into song, clapping, beat-boxing, or improvising, even opera. 'I wrote it from top to bottom. "I'm bringing sexy back, yeah! I'm bringing..." It's a very physical song, meant to provoke... sexual dance. "Sex Machine" is the closest reference. If David Bowie were to cover "Sex Machine". "Rebel Rebel". "Got ya mother in a whirrrrl..."'

justin timberlake picture image nsync picHe's off again. 'SexyBack', an urgent, pulsing track, a cocktail of soaring, distorted vocals and heavy, electronic chords threaded together with rap, seems to be the album's mission statement. Like many of his new songs, it is musically complex; a fusion of rap, rock, funk, soul, gospel, new wave, opera, world music... everything, really.

But it certainly does sexy alright: everyone's nodding their heads and mopping their brows, and it's only 8.40am. While the futuristic element looms large - 'the musical landscape of Tron', as someone rather lyrically describes it - Timberlake's familiar percussive beats and high, soulful voice are all still very much in place. 'That's the Prince influence,' he says of the vocals.

Another track, 'Sexy Ladies', is pure Prince. 'Of course I'm influenced by him. I also grew up five minutes from Al Green, so I've been heavily influenced by falsetto singing, the Bee Gees and Brian Wilson. I don't have a humungous belting voice - I'll leave that to other people.' Like Tom Jones? 'Like Tom Jones,' he smiles.

Although the song's slightly awesome lyrics - 'I'm bringing sexy back, I'll show yo'motherfuckers where it's at' - and its meaty pumping do not make 'SexyBack' an instant crowd-pleaser, it definitely grows on you. More immediate is the next single, 'My Love': a brilliantly languid love ballad, prickling with dark emotion. One of a number of expressive soul tracks - another being the Rick-Rubin-produced 'Another Song', a homage to Timberlake's favourite singer Donny Hathaway - 'My Love' is arguably the album's 'Cry Me a River'. 'It is similar. You go back to Aaliyah's biggest record, 'Are You That Somebody' - it's similar to that too because it's that percussive ballad,' says Timberlake, ever keen to reinforce his love of soul, blues and the music of his home, the Deep South. The lyrics seem very personal, too: 'There's just one thing I need from you: say "I do".' Is any of it autobiographical?

'No,' he says, firmly. 'The line before that is "this ring here represents my heart". It's about marriage, and love, and...' He gropes. 'It's not specifically about marriage, but about a humble approach to love. None of it is autobiographical, though obviously I have experience to draw from.'

Well, there's plenty to be getting on with. How different things might have been had Justin Randall Timberlake, the only son of Lynn Harless and Randy Timberlake, chosen the expected path of Midwestern anonymity. 'I'd have made nothing of myself in a normal environment,' says Timberlake, who at eight was already winning pageants. 'Now I'd have been building houses with my uncle. I might have gone to college, but I don't know if I'd have made it through, there's too many... women. Women, drugs and debauchery. I'd have gotten into trouble.'


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