This weary-eyed pop star is more endearing than the flashy homeboy he projects to the public. In person, he's more boyish, even with thick stubble. His voice is even reedier than you'd think, almost pubescent. He really is a kid from Tennessee who can go from mama's boy to lova-lova man in 60 seconds flat. No wonder then, as he sits in the greenroom of this stadium, eating his PB&J, he's not convinced of his status as the pope of pop culture.
The Timberlake caravan arrived here at 5:30 this morning from Buffalo, New York. J.T. fit in a little shut-eye, a little NPR ("This American Life" is a favorite), and a little quality time with his two boxers, Buckley and Brennan, before getting back to work.
"It's a bitch. Way more intense than anything I've done before," Timberlake says, sipping a cream soda he got from a nearby catering spread of sandwich-making materials, chips, soft drinks, and an unmarked brown liquor. On the coffee table in front of him is an assortment of antacids, aspirin, and Beano. For gas. You know, just in case.
Timberlake has been blinking in the glare of stage lights since he was 11. But he's never done anything like this. Over the next two and a half hours, he'll sing, pop-and-lock like a break-dancer on 'ludes, play the keytar, strum a white guitar, dry-hump some backup dancers, trade rhymes with Timbaland (a collaborator on FutureSex), and down a shot of Patrón to show solidarity with the fucked-up crowd. He will do this 21 more times over the next six weeks. Then itís on to Europe.
Bringing sexy back is hard work.
"Last tour, we were doing four concerts a week, but I wasn't singing as much," he says. "The show wasn't as long, it wasn't as involved, and I didn't have as much responsibility vocally."
All the red-eyed road-tripping through middle-of-nowhere America may tucker Timberlake out and upset his tummy, but it has its advantages. The people who make a living covering his sex life have been working almost as hard as he has lately; his "tour bubble" is a relative safe haven. The end of Timberlake's nearly four-year relationship with Cameron Diaz is still selling copies of Us Weekly and People. His handlers have been frantically applying a just friends rubber stamp to sightings of Timberlake with Jessica Biel and Scarlett Johansson. And then there's Britney.
Five years after they broke up and their careers took opposite paths, Timberlake and Spears, our Kmart-ified version of Charles and Diana, are still shackled together in the public eye. Yesterday she shaved her head. Tomorrow she'll go to rehab. Again. Never mind K-Fed. Everyone wants to know what Justin thinks.
Justin, predictably, has basically no comment. For someone so eager to repel the stereotype of the media-coached pop star ("All of a sudden you're Mr. 'SexyBack,' and before that you were Mr. 'Cry Me a River.' I knew I had to take a break when they said the new King of Pop," he says), Timberlake shuts down with astonishing, practiced speed when asked about tabloid reports. He responds to inquiries about his personal life (are those run-ins with Cameron awkward?) with an attack on the gossip magazines that scrutinize it.