Buckeye Nation's basketball team has just ascended to the top of the NCAA coaches' poll. But that's not why, on a cold night in Columbus, Ohio, seemingly every undergrad in the city is shitfaced. It's not just another Monday evening, just another happy hour at the Distillery over on High Street. The kegs are whirring with particular purpose tonight. FutureSex/LoveShow is in town.

Justin. Fucking. Timberlake. Here. At Ohio State.

The Benetton-like tableau of black kids, white kids, goths, sluts, outcasts, and douchebags outside the Value City Arena has been waiting for four hours in the cold to worship at Timberlake's sneakered feet. All those little girls who first felt stone strike flint in their panties while listening to the G-rated cooing of early 'N Sync are legal now. And they're wasted. Boobs served up on underwire platters. Hair moussed, sprayed, and lacquered. Fists wrapped around cans of Bud Light, they're gyrating against the metal crowd barrier like it's a stripper's pole. Inhaling alcohol, exuding sex, they pile in on top of one another for tonight's "in the round" performance.

Later, when Timberlake's robo-sexual call to arms—"futuresex . . . lovesound . . . futuresex . . . lovesound"—begins to quake through the speakers in quickening repetition, the earsplitting, high-pitched shrieking is expected. The thick, raspy baritone harmonizing with it is not.

Guys are howling for Timberlake with the same animal intensity as their pop-loving sisters. Frat boys in backward ball caps. Gay men in their tightest-fitting tees. White-belted hipsters with mohawks. And an aging hood rat who looks like he got lost on the way to a Van Halen show. With plastic cups of beer hoisted in the air, they bellow in unison:


As the house lights go dark, Timberlake—looking sharp in a tailored slate-gray suit, skinny black tie, and ivory tennis shoes—rises slowly from beneath the stage on a platform. Ringed by pimped-out backup singers and bathed in the red light of a rotating, million-dollar spotlight, he takes the microphone stand in one hand.

As three-story swaths of hanging curtain lift, Justin Timberlake lets out a single, high-pitched "Whoo," and 15,000 people lose their minds.

"I'm having a moment. . . . I'm having a moment. . . . I'm having a moment."

Sitting at attention on a leather sofa in a dressing room backstage at the Value City Arena, Justin Timberlake bites into his pre-performance peanut-butter-and-grape-jelly sandwich (there was no strawberry. Did nobody read the tour rider?). He test-drives the phrase that's been reverberating in the media for the past year, during which time the now 26-year-old performer was the linchpin of the Grammy Awards ceremony; held his own opposite Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson in the indie movie Black Snake Moan; nurtured his fledgling clothing line, William Rast; and launched the chart-busting FutureSex/LoveSounds album (along with a much-watched video in which he tongue-wrestles Scarlett Johansson): Justin Timberlake is having a moment. He rolls the words over on his tongue, trying to find the syntax to help him understand the phrase. "I don't know what it means. I really don't," he says, crunching into a Fritos Flavor Twist.