Let’s rewind the clock all the way the back to 1998.
It’s a strange time before smartphones, Blu-ray and hipster beards. Al Gore hadn’t even yet proclaimed that he invented the Internet.
Boy bands bookended the decade, with New Kids on the Block at the beginning and Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC at the end.
If you’d said one of the members of *NSYNC would go on to become an Emmy- and Grammy-winning superstar, I would’ve asked you to look in your Magic 8 Ball to see who wins the 2000 presidential election. (“Reply hazy, try again,” I imagine, as long as we’re hitting Gore/Bush jokes at the height of their popularity.)
I might’ve chortled, but you would’ve had the last laugh. Justin Timberlake’s third solo album, “The 20/20 Experience,” hit shelves this week as one of the most anticipated platters of the year.
That’s an excitement that stretches beyond those who embraced him in his *NSYNC era. JT’s appeal is boundless, reaching across age, race and music subculture.
Even hip music websites such as Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound are treating “20/20″ with excitement and reverence.
That’s a turn of events only someone who could’ve foresaw Drake’s transition from the wheelchair-bound Jimmy Brooks in “Degrassi: The Next Generation” to one of the most successful contemporary rappers.
In Timberlake’s case, the transition, strangely, had little to do with his music.
In the seven years between “FutureSex” and “20/20,” Timberlake took his talents to the big screen.
He snatched multiple Emmy Awards for his work on “Saturday Night Live,” particularly his unforgettable skits with joke music group The Lonely Island – “D— in a Box,” “Motherlover” and “3 Way (The Golden Rule)” – which showed a fun side.
Modern stars need to have a willingness to poke fun at themselves, showing humility and humanity.
He brought the same amount of conviction to his acting work as he did his music, taking turns as Ronnie in “Black Snake Moan” and slick hustler Sean Parker in “The Social Network,” in particular.
Showing more sides of him than boy band do-gooder and pop singer, broadened Timberlake’s appeal and gave him something invaluable: Respect.
Doing this earned him respect beyond the primarily young female audience of *NSYNC. His work on “SNL,” “Black Snake Moan,” “Social Network” and others legitimized him as a force and a talent, erasing his early career shame.
The moving of the hands on the clock as well as making the turn toward acting made it OK to get past the stigma of accepting him. His *NSYNC past is now seen as a footnote as much as his “Mickey Mouse Club” efforts, youthful follies where he honed his craft.
Showing that his music might be paramount, but his image is malleable, JT even warmed the likes of Pitchfork, which just ignores artists it doesn’t like.
He’s serious about his craft, but simultaneously, doesn’t take himself seriously. That the same man made “SexyBack” and “D— in a Box” meant them both.
In that way, Timberlake changed the discussion from “that dude from *NSYNC” to, simply, JT.
Free of the boy band stigma, people of all kinds were free to embrace him.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.