Justin Timberlake’s 23 Top 10 Singles (Including *NSYNC!): Revisited, Reviewed & Ranked
2. Justin Timberlake, “SexyBack” Year: 2006 Chart Peak: #1
You cannot overstate the significance of a hugely famous act subverting the very things that made him famous. While Timberlake never had his Kid A/Yeezus album, “SexyBack” was basically the song equivalent. The country’s biggest male pop star, with one of the most recognizable and smoothest voices on radio, comes out with a lead single that drenched him in static like he was fronting The Strokes and had him yelping over a mechanistic, digital dance-punk beat. With no chorus.
I remember first hearing the song in the car and anxiously waiting for the DJ to reveal who it was. Not only because it didn’t sound like JT, but because it didn’t sound like anything else at the time. That’s the key. With Justified, Justin Timberlake successfully shed his boy band skin and cemented his pop prowess, but he was still working within pre-existing parameters. With this song, he changed the conversation about what a teeny bopper could go on to do. — CARL WILLIOTT
1. Justin Timberlake, “Cry Me A River” Year: 2002 Chart Peak: #2
Once upon a time, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears were king and queen of the pop prom. Who can forget when the duo turned up in matching denim for the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards?! Then she cheated on him! With his friend, their shared choreographer Wade Robson!
Days after I helped to break that story in Us Weekly, Timberlake — whom I’d known since booking a then-unknown ‘NSync for my Teen People launch party opening for 98 Degrees — invited me to be one of the first journalists to listen to his debut solo album, Justified. He played me a number of songs, and they were all impressive. Yet, from the first few seconds of “Cry Me A River” — the mournful Gregorian chants that suggest there’s drama ahead — I knew it was the best track he’d recorded to-date. Then the lyrics kicked in, and I sucked in my breath: This is about Britney! When I asked JT to confirm, he simply smirked. Then he made a music video where he and his alleged new girlfriend (Jenna Dewan before she was Mrs. Channing Tatum) break into a Britney doppleganger’s house and leave behind a video of themselves making out.
Sonically, “Cry Me A River,” with its stalker storyline, beatboxing and haunting, Timbaland-produced tones, is the sound of an artist who’s relishing ripping up people’s perceptions of him as a sweet-natured teen heartthrob. Bye, bye, bye, indeed. — LORI MAJEWSKI
We salute Justin on landing his sixth chart-topping single this week, and the 23rd Top 10 of his career. Have thoughts on our ranking of his singles? Let us know below!