Justin Timberlake’s 23 Top 10 Singles (Including *NSYNC!): Revisited, Reviewed & Ranked
You’re all I ever wanted. You’re all I ever needed.
This was the irresistible plea uttered by a 15-year-old Justin Timberlake in the opening seconds of *NSYNC‘s debut single, “I Want You Back.” The track, co-written and co-produced by Max Martin and the late Denniz Pop, was recorded nearly 20 years ago, in summer 1996 (though it wouldn’t cross over to US airwaves until 1998).
Two decades later, JT and Max Martin have reunited for “Can’t Stop The Feeling!”, an irresistible, feel-good summer jam off the forthcoming Trolls soundtrack that also just happens to be the current #1 single in the country. As mentioned earlier this week when “Can’t Stop…” debuted at #1, the last time Justin made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 was back in April 2007, when Timbaland’s “Give It To Me” (which features Timberlake and Nelly Furtado) ruled for two weeks. It capped a mighty run of chart-topping singles in JT’s FutureSex/LoveSounds era that included “SexyBack,” “My Love” and “What Goes Around… Comes Around.”
But it’s not all about #1s. Since his late ’90s *NSYNC days, Justin has gone on to rack up an impressive 23 Top 10 singles, all of which we here at Idolator revisited over the past week, analyzed in hindsight and ranked from so-so (Ayo!) to super.
This we promise you: Our overview of all 18 years of JT’s Top 10s is not a bad thing. Flip through to read on!
23. 50 Cent Featuring Justin Timberlake, “Ayo Technology”Year: 2007Chart Peak: #5
This Timbaland-produced cut was a high-tech precursor to the sexting movement, as Fif and JT were both basically over using laptops and cellphones to have wildly interactive cyber sex (er, not with each other), and wanted the real thing. Who doesn’t, right?
In the video, Justin shows up on the doorstep of a woman he’s been very obviously Internet-banging to get the real thing. “Why don’t you sit down on top of me?” he asks repeatedly. Does he seal the deal? Watch it again to find out (Spoiler alert: Hello, of course he does). — KATHY IANDOLI
22. Gloria Estefan and *NSYNC, “Music Of My Heart”Year: 1999Chart Peak: #2
It doesn’t get much more cloying than this diabetes-inducing, Diane Warren-penned movie ballad, which finds Gloria Estefan and *NSYNC trying to out-elevator Muzak each other. So of course it was a major worldwide hit.
Boring, but tastefully so — the TRL-topper that wouldn’t send Grandma into cardiac arrest if she wandered into the room at the wrong time (“Was that black nail polish…on a man?! Call 911!”) — “Music Of My Heart” at least earned Justin 1/6 of a Blockbuster Award for Best Pop Song In A Movie. That says it all, really. — JONATHAN RIGGS
21. *NSYNC, “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You”Year: 1999Chart Peak: #8
Despite its unwieldy title (Jesus, take the parentheticals!), “(GMHS) ALMTOY” holds a special place in pop history as *NSYNC’s — and Justin’s — first Top 10 entry on the Billboard Hot 100.
Sure, it’s prettily sung and clever in an “oh, those were God’s footprints in the sand” kind of way, but unless you’re a long-denim-skirted mom who thinks the Hallmark store is too racy, it’s doubtful you’re cranking this (or the Alabama cover) in 2016. Praise Satan Justin’s songs got better after this treacle. — JONATHAN RIGGS
20. T.I. featuring Justin Timberlake, “Dead And Gone”Year: 2009Chart Peak: #2
Tip nearly topped the chart (again) with his track about accepting evolution and everything that comes with it. However, strong praise is due to Justin for this one, as his hook zips through the cut with emotional intensity while he reflects on this crossroads in his life. The “Oh!” that marks the hook is a heavy one, followed by lyrics bidding adieu to his former self.
Sure, it feels like JT is also sending off a part of himself. (It was around this same time that Justin would make a hard pivot into both acting and behind-the-scenes music work, truly sealing his legacy as an icon.) But what he really did was help T.I. convey the message that it’s okay to say R.I.P. to the person you used to be. —KATHY IANDOLI
19. *NSYNC, “This I Promise You”Year: 2000Chart Peak: #5
I am honored to participate in this celebration of the hits of NSYNC’s legendary star, JC Chasez. I am so excited to participate in this celebration of the hits of NSYNC’s second-tier star, Justin Timberlake. “This I Promise You,” a ballad built to be crooned on bended knee, gave Justin the chance to be the first-verse opening vocal act for his iconic colleague, JC. I don’t understand the video’s connection of CG bubbles, redwood trees and al fresco Orlando dining, but it doesn’t matter because Justin’s hair is on-point. This was the moment our kid got real, letting those dark roots show as the tight curls became less Hair Cuttery, more L.A.
Factoid: “This I Promise You” was written by the equally lush-follicled ’80s popper Richard Marx, who who still looks damn good today. — STEPHEN SEARS
18. Justin Timberlake, “Not A Bad Thing”Year: 2014Chart Peak: #8
A bouquet of flowers handed straight to Justin’s longtime fans. They know it sounds just like *NSYNC doing an unplugged gig on MTV’s turn of the century afternoon show, TRL. Originally — and criminally — relegated to bonus track status, some record label suit (& tie) wised up and made this a proper single.
The lyric is swoony sweet, while managing to drop a carefully placed F bomb. It’s almost impossible not to loop this one; “Not A Bad Thing” a pure distillation of everything that makes JT a star.
Emoji rating: 😍😗😗🎵🌹❤️ — STEPHEN SEARS
17. Ciara featuring Justin Timberlake, “Love Sex Magic”Year: 2009Chart Peak: #10
“Love Sex Magic” appeared on Ciara’s third studio LP Fantasy Ride but could have just as easily been a FutureSex/LoveSounds leftover. Produced by Timberlake, Mike Elizondo, and Timberlake’s production team The Y‘s, the song was a big move away from Ciara’s signature R&B-balladeer style. That said, JT new exactly was he was doing; the pair’s vocals meshed together perfectly on this dance-funk banger.
Let’s never forget the song’s legendary music video —you know, the one were the “1,2 Step” songstress contorts her body in very don’t-try-this-at-home directions and basically gets everyone’s knickers in a twist. — RACHEL SONIS
16. Jay Z featuring Justin Timberlake, “Holy Grail”Year: 2013Chart Peak: #4
This opening track to Jay Z’s 12th studio album Magna Carta…Holy Grail rang in like church bells commencing Sunday Service. With Justin on the assist, he mustered up all of his Bible Belt training to ooze out pages from the gospel according to the brokenhearted:
You’d take the clothes off my back, and I’d let youYou’d steal the food right out my mouthAnd I’d watch you eat it, I still don’t know whyWhy I love you so much
Justin took the emo road while Hov cruised down “I don’t give a fuck” highway. With this combination, the track shows two sides to toxic love. What a divine pairing. — KATHY IANDOLI
15. Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!”Year: 2016Chart Peak: #1
Just when we thought JT had retired to the world of daddy blogging, he dropped this tune two weeks back. The track, co-produced by Max Martin and Shellback for the Trolls soundtrack, is Justin on autopilot, but that’s still better than 90% of pop radio today.
“Can’t Stop The Feeling!” is an insanely catchy summer jam with a dusting of the Jackson magic that Justin applies so effortlessly. Video #1 gathers an assortment of illuminati pretending to hear it for the first time (JC Chasez, bruh, where are you?). Video #2 is ol’ daddy JT at the grocery store. Seriously. — STEPHEN SEARS
14. Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake, “Love Never Felt So Good”Year: 2014Chart Peak: #9
“Love Never Felt So Good” proved to be a perfectly blissful, feel-good spring/summer jam upon its release two years ago. Granted, the song exists in several forms; originally demoed in 1983 by Michael Jackson and fellow singer-songwriter Paul Anka, it wasn’t deemed ready for prime time until unreleased cuts were being collected for the King Of Pop’s second posthumous album, Xscape. Longtime Justin Timberlake producer Timbaland oversaw the production side of the project, so it made sense that he’d draft JT to help beef up the under-developed source material for the song’s official single release. (Xscape additionally contains a Timberlake-free rendition of the track, as well.)
“Love Never Felt So Good” has the distinction of allowing Michael Jackson to become the first artist to chart a single in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in five different decades. The song that kicked off that streak was the 1970 Jackson 5 chart-topper “I Want You Back,” which was ironically also the title of *NSYNC’s debut single. Go figure. — ROBBIE DAW
13. Justin Timberlake featuring Jay Z, “Suit & Tie”Year: 2013Chart Peak: #3
With Jacko and Prince DNA running through its veins — and Timberlake serving Janelle Monae realness in the Grammy-winning video — “Suit & Tie” sparkles. Light-footed, loose and thoroughly lovely, the song and singer both shimmer with so much charisma that it’s impossible not to get swept away.
This lead single off The 20/20 Experience is The Falsetto One at his “show ’em who you call daddy” best, and in a fair world, it would have ushered in a new order of male R&B-flecked pop that skewed smooth, sleek and smart, sparing us the horror of living through the “Blurred Lines” era. — JONATHAN RIGGS
12. *NSYNC, “Girlfriend”Year: 2002Chart Peak: #5
Ah, yes. This feisty bop. Written by Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, “Girlfriend” was everything Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” wanted to be and simply couldn’t. The sultry R&B-inflected melody, the boys’ flirty croons, JT’s iconic beanie in the song’s video – it all perfectly encapsulated the myth that was “turn-of-the-millennium-sexy.”
It was also the moment that Justin began his journey to mega-stardom. For their third and final LP, Celebrity, *NSYNC took more creative control and, in turn, went in a more soul direction, musically. From “Pop” to “Gone” to the boy band’s very last single “Girlfriend,” this stratosphere is where JT operated best. And it showed. — RACHEL SONIS
11. Timbaland featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake, “Give It To Me”Year: 2007Chart Peak: #1
Timberlake and Timbaland could do no wrong in the aughts. Pretty much everything the duo touched turned to gold — or Platinum. By 2007, Timbo was being paid “a half-a-mill for my beats,” as he boasts on triple-threat diss track “Give It To Me,” so the producer opted to put out second solo album Shock Value. The producer convened Nelly Furtado — whose career he’d resuscitated with “Promiscuous Girl” a year prior — and Timberlake for the first single, a track as dark, dangerous and seductive as the dance floor at an after-hours nightclub.
By the time JT raps the third verse, featuring the badass couplet “if sexy never left then why’s everybody on my shi-i-it /don’t hate on me just because you didn’t come up with it,” the Arabian-sounding sample has the listener hypnotized, no over-the-top chorus or bridge necessary. — LORI MAJEWSKI
10. Madonna & Justin Timberlake, “4 Minutes”Year: 2008Chart Peak: #3
Yes, Madonna was overshadowed on her own track. Yes, by 2008, a decade of Timbaland’s beatboxing was played the hell out. Yes, the song’s confusing narrative leads listeners to wonder, “Wait — is this about saving the world via quickie?” But man, “4 minutes” just steamrolls all that debris.
Timbo brings it with those Swizz Beatz-circa-2000 MIDI horns, Timberlake’s hook has an urgency that matches its “save the world” content and the chemistry between JT and Madge, which absolutely should not work, totally works. There are far worse ways to spend four minutes. — CARL WILLIOTT
9. Justin Timberlake, “Rock Your Body”Year: 2003Chart Peak: #5
A disco-lite AXE body spray spritz of a song, “Rock Your Body” is as boyish as it is bratty. (It was apparently originally written for Michael Jackson, who wisely passed.) Luckily for this song — and aficionados of the seizure-inducing strobes in the video — nobody makes boyish and bratty look (and sound) as good as JT. Writhing and whispering, puppy-dog-eyeing and pelvic thrusting, Justin wants it so bad there’s no way this electro-popsicle wasn’t going to conquer the charts.
Although it’s hard to imagine many fans pointing to this as their favorite cut in the JT catalog, “Rock Your Body” is marred only by how it exposed another Jackson: Justin sang about getting Janet “naked by the end of this song” milliseconds before “causing” the Wardrobe Malfunction Seen Round The World. — JONATHAN RIGGS
8. Justin Timberlake, “Summer Love”Year: 2007Chart Peak: #6
In Summer ‘07, “Summer Love” was everywhere. It was feverishly played on every radio station, iPod and even the creepy old guy’s stereo on the beach. You just couldn’t escape it. And the thing is, you probably didn’t want to because —let’s face it — this tune absolutely slaps.
With its clap-along, sun-kissed melody, “Summer Love” is the point in FutureSex/LoveSounds that Justin goes back to his *NSYNC roots. And in true boy-band fashion, the song is about flings, falling in love with every girl or boy in sight and just generally having a good time. Honestly, I still bump this track every time the temperature gets above 80 degrees. It’s just that glorious. — RACHEL SONIS
7. *NSYNC, “Bye Bye Bye”Year: 2000Chart Peak: #4
The role of a boy band traditionally has been to be the perfect surrogate boyfriend to its underage fan base. “I’ll Be Loving You Forever!” promised New Kids On The Block. “I’ll Make Love To You!” sang Boyz II Men, hands on hearts. “I’ll Never Break Your Heart!” swore Backstreet Boys on bended knees.
When *NSYNC first arrived on the scene, they too were all about wooing the little ladies, fighting for a romantic reunion with “I Want You Back” and flattering them with lines like “God Must’ve Spent A Little More Time On You.”
But in 2000, they changed their tune — and their ’tude. While fighting to legally extricate themselves from the clutches of self-designated sixth member, boy band investor/svengali Lou “Big Poppa” Pealman, *NSYNC also sought to separate themselves from the fast-multiplying litter of guy groups. Enter “Bye Bye Bye,” boy band-dom’s first middle-finger-waving, eff-you smash. “You may hate me but it ain’t no lie / baby, bye bye bye!” dissed the quintet in the memorable music video.
Of course, the kiss-off, which was originally intended for British quintet Five, only made America’s teenyboppers love them more “Bye Bye Bye” cleared the way for their album No Strings Attached to sell 2.4 million copies in its first week (a record that stood for 15 years, until Adele topped it with last year’s 25), enabled the group to sell out stadiums and gave *NSYNC boy-band bragging rights over Backstreet Boys. It also made them a household name with adults, setting the stage for Timberlake’s future as a solo star. — LORI MAJEWSKI
6. Justin Timberlake featuring T.I., “My Love”Year: 2006Chart Peak: #1
This song is one of the foundational texts of the PBR&B explosion of the 2010s. With cyborg theremin wails, slo-mo rave synths and a frail falsetto, it’s the midpoint between the space futurism of Aaliyah and Ginuwine‘s hits, and the robo-blues that would emerge with 808s & Heartbreak. But to give you an indication of just how dark this production really was a decade ago, echoes of that synth line can be heard in later songs from coldwavers like Crystal Castles and Trust.
The fact that JT and Tim flipped such narcotized music into a chart-topper opened the door for guys like The Weeknd to hit big with something as sinister as “The Hills” nearly a decade later. — CARL WILLIOTT
5. *NSYNC, “It’s Gonna Be Me”Year: 2000Chart Peak: #1
And here we have the very first time JT hit the top of the US singles chart. All April 30th memes aside, *NSYNC’s “It’s Gonna Be Me” is much more than Timberlake sounding like he’s saying “May” instead of “Me” on the hook. This second single off 2000 blockbuster No Strings Attached arrived with the group poised as bona fide superstars and a music video that was a visual metaphor for their success.
Hanging out in a toy store as dolls of themselves (that emerge from their boxes, because, “no strings attached”), the group fights old school, oversized G.I. Joe dolls in the playful clip before settling in at Barbie’s Dream House.
Regardless of the vocal inflection, there’s a reason why Justin was the one to yell, “It’s gonna be me!” Talk about predicting the future. — KATHY IANDOLI
4. Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”Year: 2013Chart Peak: #2
An eight-minute song doesn’t always materialize into something awesome, but here it actually worked. “Mirrors,” the second single off the first half of Justin’s The 20/20 Experience, was actually written conceived four years prior to its 2013 release. With the help of producers and songwriters Timbaland, J-Roc and James Fauntleroy, Timberlake finally recorded the Grammy nominated epic for 20/20, and the Floria Sigismondi-directed video — which ultimately snagged the MTV VMA for Video Of The Year — revisited the decades-spanning love of the singer’s grandparents.
It’s a tearjerker visual, enhanced by Justin’s sentimental vocals. And then, before you know it, the eight minutes are over and you’re rewinding to relive it again. — KATHY IANDOLI
3. Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around… Comes Around”Year: 2006Chart Peak: #1
By 2006, everyone was craving a Justin single that would match up to searing 2002 break-up anthem “Cry Me A River.” And when “What Goes Around… Comes Around” dropped that December, it didn’t just meet expectations, chart-wise; it surpassed them.
Produced by Timberlake, Timbaland and Danja, this tune finds Justin coming back with a serious vengeance. If it wasn’t the perfect combination of dizzying strings and infectious drum beats that won you over, it was JT’s downright ruthless lyrics. He broods with the following in the song’s interlude:
And now you want somebody to cure the lonely nights You wish you had somebody that could come and make it right But girl, I ain’t somebody with a lot of sympathy, you’ll see
And if that didn’t work, perhaps it was the song’s iconic, burlesque-style video starring Scarlett Johansson that really did you in.
Food for thought: This track is also probably what influenced many a Taylor Swift kiss-off ballad in the years to come. — RACHEL SONIS
2. Justin Timberlake, “SexyBack”Year: 2006Chart 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: 2002Chart 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!