Justin Timberlake’s return to Abu Dhabi

Justin Timberlake's big budget world tour is coming to the capital. We take a look at the man and the performance before his show in Abu Dhabi's du Arena.
Justin Timberlake performs at the MasterCard Priceless Premieres concert in New York in February. Charles Sykes / Invision / AP Photo
Justin Timberlake performs at the MasterCard Priceless Premieres concert in New York in February. Charles Sykes / Invision / AP Photo

We trace the megastar’s career from his early days as a child performer on The Mickey Mouse Club to the suave Grammy award-winning singer and promising actor

The early years

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Timberlake grew up in the small community of Shelby Forrest (also home to the soul legend Al Green) and it wasn’t long before he was struck by the music bug. A fan of Janet Jackson, in particular her slick dance moves, Timberlake yearned for the stage. He appeared on the talent competition Star Search at the age of 11, shortly before landing a part in the The Mickey Mouse Club from 1993 to 1994. He was part of the programme’s most talented cast members including Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera and the future *NSYNC member J C Chasez.


Timberlake’s singing talents on The Mickey Mouse Club caught the attention of Lou Pearlman, the notorious music impresario who is also behind Backstreet Boys. Timberlake joined *NSYNC with Chris Kirkpatrick (who failed his auditions to join the Backstreet Boys) and Joey Fatone. A loyal friend, Timberlake brought J C Chasez along and the boys immediately went to work in the studio. In terms of rivalry, *NSYNC were defeated by Backstreet Boys in terms of record sales and longevity. *NSYNC, however, were far more superior, musically. Their final 2001 album Celebrity is hailed as one of the finest of the modern boy-band genre, with the Timberlake-co-written hits Pop and Girlfriend hinting at his future musical prowess.

While he may never have directly uttered it, Timberlake was itching for a solo career. Throughout *NSYNC’s seven-year run, Timberlake took on more of a leadership role within the group and was instrumental in guiding the boys away from the sappy (albeit successful) pop peddled by Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, towards more adventurous sonic territory. In 2002, the group disbanded quietly without an official announcement. Future tours were not announced, a compilation album was released and Timberlake began seeking producers for his own project.

The solo years

Timberlake wanted something different than the usual solo album by a former boy-band star. Instead of going the usual route of enlisting a smorgasbord of pop producers for the anticipated album, Timberlake elected to work mostly with The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) on the songs that went on to form his Grammy award winning debut album Justified.

The gambit paid off and propelled by hits Rock Your Body and Cry Me a River, the release was hailed for its cohesive pop-soul sound recalling early Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. More experimentation followed in the 2006 follow-up FutureSex/Love Sound. Once again, teaming up with a lead producer, in this case Timbaland, the progressive album pushed the pop boundaries with its elements of techno, pop, new-wave and funk. Hollywood then beckoned and Timberlake returned to the music world only last year with the The 20/20 Experience. While the two-part album skirted dangerously close to self-indulgence, Timberlake’s fan base snapped it up, with part one going on to becoming last year’s biggest-selling album in the United States.

Away from the booth

Having successfully rebranded himself, Timberlake stepped away from the mic in 2006 to concentrate on his burgeoning career as an actor.

After a few small roles, Timberlake had a busy 2006 with a high-profile part as the henchman Frankie “Nuts” Ballenbacher in the crime drama Alpha Dog, directed by the cult filmmaker Nick Cassavetes.

This was quickly followed up with the drama Black Snake Moan and the comedy-sci-fi thriller Southland Tales. Timberlake also managed to participate in Shrek the Third, lending his voice to the King Arthur-inspired character of Arthur Pendragon, the title character’s heir apparent. Timberlake’s hard work paid off with his acclaimed performance in 2010’s Oscar-winning The Social Network as the Napster co-founder Sean Parker. In 2011, he took on the role of an action man in the futuristic thriller In Time before joining the all-star cast of the Coen Brothers’ latest feature, 2013’s Inside Lleywn Davis. Timberlake also had starring roles in the rom-coms Bad Teacher (2010) and 2011’s Friends With Benefits, as well as guest appearances on shows such as Glee and Gossip Girl. His television appearances on Saturday Night Live earned him four Emmy Awards including Outsdanding Original Music and Lyrics (2007 and 2011) and Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 2009 and 2011.

Suit & Tie

Perhaps a bigger challenge Timberlake faced from his transition from teen to adult pop star was mastering his clothing. Before his infamous Superbowl appearance in 2004 with Janet Jackson, the singer sported everything from bright puffy jackets to cornrow braids. Look at him now: his sartorial style is super elegant, with vests, blazers and well-cut tuxedos. On his latest tour, Timberlake’s suits are designed by Tom Ford.

The concert

We look at what JT’s 20/20 Experience World Tour has in store for UAE fans

The show

It’s Timberlake’s fifth solo world tour, which began in New York in November and snaked its way through the US and Europe before landing in Abu Dhabi, the sole Middle Eastern date. The UAE date is number 69 in more than 120 dates, and it continues to Morocco, Australia and other European and American legs, with the finale in Atlanta on December 20. Timberlake and co will be truly warmed up by the time they hit the du Arena. He last performed in the UAE at Emirates Palace in 2007.

The 20/20 design

With the album a big seller last year, Timberlake and his team knew a grand tour was in order. The show’s stage design is often manipulated based on the size of the venues (Timberlake is performing in massive stadiums and arenas), but the main element – according to the American industry publication, Projection, Lighting and Stage News (PLSN) – is plastic- and wire-mesh hexagons placed on both the wall and ceiling, on which are projected live images of Timberlake and the band.

“Justin is very involved. He’s very creative and is his own creative director,” said the tour producer and lighting director Nick Whitehouse.

“From the start of the project, we were very conscious that everything you see up on stage works together – the lighting design, the set, the video, the lasers, etc. Everything is meant to function as one and it took a lot of time and effort to coordinate.”

The songs

The two-hour-plus show is packed with up to 30 songs and divided into two sets. Each half has a solid mixture of new tracks and hits to keep both fans and casual listeners satisfied. The tour opener so far has been the dramatic Pusher Love Girl from The 20/20 Experience; the first set also boasts the likes of Rock Your Body and Cry Me a River.

It is in the second segment of his shows that Timberlake eases up a bit. In addition to the crowd favourites (Suit & Tie, Sexy Back and Senorita), he also does covers, taking on the likes of Michael Jackson (Human Nature), Kool and the Gang (Jungle Boogie) and – proving that he is a 1990s kid – Poison by the R&B group Bell Biv ­DeVoe.

Justin Timberlake performs at the du Arena on Friday. Tickets cost from Dh395 at www.ticketmaster.ae. Doors open at 7pm


Published: May 17, 2014 04:00 AM


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