I Will Always Be Horny for Justin Timberlake's 'Like I Love You' Video

Despite being filmed in a parking lot and showcasing the worst possible early naughts fashion, the video for Timberlake's debut solo track still does it for me, all these years later.
Illustration by Magnus Atom

On account of the fact that I was a teenage nerd with one eyebrow, a name none of my white classmates could pronounce, and an unwelcome habit of sweating through my clothes, I didn’t get much—or any action—growing up. School dances in particular were a form of torture second only to the Room 101-like confines of P.E. classes, where coaches who looked like second wave feminists but weren't would laugh as a I fumbled a catch, then send me to the subs bench.


Remember the contagious excitement of school dances? I went to a co-ed elementary school, and the girls would collectively shoo the boys out of the classroom come 4 PM to get ready. Hair would be braided and pinned back with sparkly butterfly clips; gloopy streaks of purple or blue hair mascara streaked into the ends. Sporty blond girls with names like Lexi or Katie would chatter about which boys they’d kiss. Later, at the dance, girls with two eyebrows and swimming pools in their backyards would sway to Celine Dion’s " My Heart Will Go On" while boys who smelled of Lynx Africa pushed boners into their hips.

Me? I'd suddenly need to pee every time the opening bars of the Titanic theme song came on. (I mean, there’s nothing like an Irish tin-whistle to make me need the toilet, even today!) Safely ensconced in the girl’s bathroom, I could avoid the shame of having no one to sway with during that all-important slow dance. And while my adolescent peers got inexpertly fingered by boys who smelled of semen, I’d imagine I was dancing with my one true love and future boyfriend: Justin Timberlake.

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Justin Timberlake’s 2002 single "Like I Love You" has two very important distinctions: In addition to being the former NSYNCer's breakout solo track, it also helped me discover the joys of the clitoris. Thanks, Justin! This is a video made for the female gaze, and by that, I mean an 11-year-old girl’s prepubescent fantasies.


Despite being filmed in a convenience store parking lot, "Like I Love You" is extremely generous in its eroticism. The video begins with Timberlake—clad in the surprisingly winning combination of a 7/11 T-shirt, beanie hat, and boot-cut jeans—delivering an opening monologue over the track’s Neptunes-produced Spanish guitar riff. Timberlake eyes the camera with all the sexual ferocity of a middle-aged housewife at a Jeff Goldblum meet-and-greet. It is indecently hot.

A prepubescent dweeb with acne and facial hair issues, I didn’t yet have the language to articulate exactly what I wanted Timberlake to do to me. All I knew was that when Timberlake breathed, "It feels good right?" whilst eye-fucking the camera, I felt something warm and delightful catch down there.

Aesthetically, "Like I Love You" is a solid early naughts period piece, and as such, the fashions are kind of hokey. But Timberlake’s throbbing sexuality manages to transcend even the most egregious ensembles a costume designer might throw at him. This is a man who can make trilby hats and leather pants sexually compelling outfit choices, for god's sake. Timberlake's ability to project sex appeal whilst wearing surfer necklaces and studded wristbands should, of course, be properly viewed as a kind of superpower. (Although sadly, not a lasting one: By the time we enter 2013 swing-era Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience period, my boner for him is entirely limp.)


The narrative arc of "Like I Love You" has a simplicity to it that, in hindsight, was enormously attractive to my boy-starved 11-year-old-self. Timberlake seduces a girl he meets outside a 7/11 by means of some tight choreography, before taking her to a party with Pharrell and his friends where she appears to have a great time. (As the narrative is kind of loose, there's a lot of heavy petting used as filler.) In the real world, boys with braces told me that my name sounded like shit or, at best, pretended I didn’t exist. But when I watched " Like I Love You," I could imagine myself as the sexy mixed-race girl in low-slung jeans with a back tattoo, straddling Timberlake on the bonnet of a racing car whilst he sang in a falsetto about all the ways he’d love me, given the chance.

In essence, the reason "Like I Love You" is such an iconic piece of early naughts eroticism comes down to this: Timberlake is ripe in the video. As he bops and body pops to the song’s funk-inspired drum riff, I want to physically smash my hand into the screen and pluck him from whichever glorious tree spawned such fuckable boy-band fruit. I wanted to eat him, peel and all.

Timberlake’s skin glows as if misted with the pheromones of a thousand teenage girls. His lips are labial-pink and glisten as if he's in a Chapstick commercial. At one point, Timberlake, straddled by a female dancer, licks those throbbing lips whilst slowly lowering himself down upon her. Watching that lip lick, I wanted to devour Timberlake like a 44-ounce Cherry Slurpee and then burp and return for more. It was my first instruction in carnal appetite, and I liked it.

So often, we are taught that women are soft fruit, to be enjoyed for a while before being discarded in favor of fresher, more flavorful offerings. But re-watching "Like I Love You" with a critical eye today, I'm struck by how Timberlake's sexual appeal is at its more fulsome, and transitory, in the video. Older Timberlake becomes coarsened, less boyish, and almost comically suave. In "Like I Love You"—the video that marked Timberlake's transition from boybander to solo star—his sex appeal comes from the fact that he is on the cusp that separates boyhood from manhood. Timberlake begs for a chance to be your man, for a night—but his earnest charisma comes from the fact he's barely just become a man at all.

Of course, even though boys my own age would continue to ignore me for years to come, I eventually realized that—with the help of regular eyebrow maintenance and better-quality deodorant—I could find people to be a filthy little pervert with. But I'm still a sucker for a boy in Chapstick.