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The 11 best Justin Timberlake songs

JT is bringing sexy back to the UK this summer, so we're bringing back his best tracks

Justin Timberlake has spent a lifetime in the spotlight. Emerging alongside Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling as a member of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club before becoming a member of the hugely successful 90s boy band NSYNC, Timberlake came into his own when he went solo in 2002.  

From there, he never stopped moving – taking the early days of R&B-laced pop through sexed-up synth experiments, blue-eyed soul and Americana via collaborations with 50 Cent, Madonna, Calvin Harris and more. More recently, he has embraced fatherhood and made a series of child-friendly albums attached to the Trolls movie franchise (adding an Oscar nomination to his long, long list of awards achievements). 

With Timberlake due to return to the UK as part of his Forget Tomorrow world tour we take a look back over his solo career to pick out his finest moments. 

11. ‘Say Something’

(Man Of The Woods, 2018)

Man Of The Woods could just have easily have been a misstep by Timberlake; it’s always going to be tricky to pull off a rough-and-ready album of country and folk, especially if you call one of the songs ‘Flannel’. However, ‘Say Something’ remains a standout moment. Backed by the whiskey-soaked vocals of Chris Stapleton, this is the sound of Timberlake nailing his “Americana with 808s” mission statement. 

10. ‘LoveStoned’

(FutureSex / LoveSounds, 2006)

Michael Jackson comparisons have followed Timberlake throughout his career and he leans into the King of Pop’s sound on this jittering disco-funk cut from FutureSex / LoveSounds. The album, almost entirely produced by Timbaland, finds him unafraid to flex his sonic muscles and explore the outer edges of the material. ‘LoveStoned’ crosses the seven-minute mark, and is an expansive and wonderfully indulgent ode to a girl who is “freaky, and she knows it.” 

9. ‘SexyBack’

(FutureSex / LoveSounds, 2006)

If ‘LoveStoned’ showcases FutureSex / LoveSounds’s ambitious side, ‘SexyBack’ is Timberlake in crystalline radio-friendly form. Crunchy and full of hubris, it’s a song that dares to suggest he is bringing sexy back (from where?) while utterly convincing you that he is the man to do it. 

8. ‘Rock Your Body’

(Justified, 2002)

It’s hard to imagine Timberlake’s early solo days being quite so fruitful had he not secured the services of The Neptunes as producers for his debut album. ‘Rock Your Body’ is typical of Pharrell and Chad Hugo’s style; loose and playful on a casual listen but precision-engineered to get bodies moving. Timberlake sounds laidback in comparison, playful and flirty, while ending the song with his signature 00s beatboxing. 

7. ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’

(Trolls: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2016)

Speaking of Pharrell, there’s no denying that ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ is inspired by his perky 2013 mega-hit ‘Happy.’ Writing a squeaky-clean song to accompany a kids movie has proved hugely lucrative for them, and Timberlake’s entry is a late-career highlight. His falsetto compliments the song’s school disco vibe, while the call to dance remains tethered to his earlier material, just with a Safe For Work filter attached. 

6. ‘Signs’

(R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta) The Masterpiece, 2004)

Timberlake is too much of a main character to ever be reduced to guest spots but it’s a role he excels at. Arguably his finest feature is on this Snoop Dogg song from 2004. The track is lit up with digital horns and a soulful energy that, with the addition of Charlie Wilson’s righteous vocals, lands somewhere between the beach and the church.

5. ‘Suit & Tie’

(The 20/20 Experience, 2013)

Brassy horns and a chopped-and-screwed production introduce this 2013 single before the beat switches, gliding over feather-like percussion and a sample of Sly, Slick and Wicked’s ‘Sho’ Nuff’. Timberlake was doing a take on Sinatra with The 20/20 Experience; Vegas maximalism meets sleek hip-hop modernism. No black tie party is complete without a billionaire and Jay-Z makes a cameo appearance, name dropping high-end designers, his own Cognac brand and, amusingly, a friend of his who got gout from over-indulgence. 

4. ‘My Love’

(FutureSex / LoveSounds, 2006)

FutureSex / LoveSounds may well be one of the most accurately titled albums of the 21st century, with Timberlake spending most of it sounding like a horny robot. ‘My Love’ is, perhaps, the apex of that chapter in his evolution, even if the song is sugary sweet underneath the warped synths and seductive energy. “I can see us holdin’ hands, walkin’ on the beach, our toes in the sand,” Timberlake sings, proving that even androids dream of a little romance. 

3. ‘Like I Love You’

(Justified, 2002)

‘Like I Love You’ is as memorable for its impact as the way it sounds. Timberlake, then a boyband member renowned for his corkscrew perm and relationship with Britney Spears, was not necessarily a sure bet for solo stardom. However, as soon as the choppy flamenco guitars and funk-laced drums kicked in the odds began to tumble. It’s George Michael’s ‘Faith’ via Michael Jackson and The Neptunes with a falsetto that took its star from boyband heartthrob to a pop innovator. 

2. ‘Mirrors’

(The 20/20 Experience, 2013)

Timberlake is at his best when he writes about obsession and ‘Mirrors’, an ode to his wife Jessica Biel, finds him in a state of lovestruck awe. What may initially sound narcissistic slowly reveals itself to be a love song written from the point of a man whose admiration has rendered him blinkered to anything but his partner. “Girl, you’re my reflection, all I see is you,” he sings over handclaps as he works his way toward one of the biggest choruses of his career. Even at eight minutes long, ‘Mirrors’ never outstays its welcome. 

1. ‘Cry Me A River’

(Justified, 2002)

Tabloid intrigue has followed Timberlake throughout his career, and ‘Cry Me A River’ is perhaps his most explicit concession to the chatter that surrounds his private life. Written about his acrimonious split from Spears, Timberlake is cold and dejected as he asks “Why did you leave me all alone?” It’s a song that acts less like a kiss off and more like a middle finger, with Timbaland’s lurching beat making room for strings to illuminate Timberlake’s sharpest barbs. Opinion on Justin and Britney continues to rage to this day but ‘Cry Me A River’ remains an untouchable classic in the canon of heartbroken ballads. 

Justin Timberlake brings The Forget Tomorrow World Tour to the UK in August. Find tickets here.