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Behold: Justin Timberlake Through the Years

Timbers has a new record out, which got us thinking about all the music he's made and all the tragic, ill-fitting leather, wraparound shades, and ramen hair he's worn over the years.

If you started your career with a bunch of other guys, singing while standing—or perching on a stool, before rising up for the key change—the odds of one day gaining musical credibility are stacked against you. You're the butt of so many jokes, and your dubious, yet arguably on-trend stage garb and frosted gelled tips in those early years becomes one extra hurdle you have to leap over. But I love that we live in a world where artists can transition almost to the point where, when you see pictures of *NSYNC-Justin you can hardly believe he's the same person. But the incredible man we now love for killing it not once, but four times performing the History of Rap with Jimmy Fallon (just watched it again—goosebumps of greatness), was the kid who went onTRL wearing a sweatband and nylon jacket. We would be doing the slick Justin of today a disservice not to celebrate every part of who he is and has been. This is Justin, and if we're going to do this, we need to start from the very beginning. So let’s begin with Star Search in 1993, where 11-year-old Justin Randall marched on stage in a huge cowboy hat. I will dream of this shirt for years to come.

Justin Timberlake pleasure island

A year later Timberlake was cast as a member of The Mickey Mouse Club, where he rolled his raw talents into a tight shiny ball and flung them in the face of America. It's also where he met Ryan Gosling, forging a lifelong friendship against a backdrop of giant mouse ears and Christina Aguilera's glass-shattering wail. Also on the show was JC Chasez, who became one of Justin's bandmates in top-pop-boyband-experience 'N SYNC. They were “discovered” by Lou Perlman. Sadly Lou is currently languishing in prison for 25 years thanks to his long-running Ponzi Scheme. Even sadder is the demise of O-Town. Gone, but never forgotten. Like all great manufactured pop bands, 'N SYNC were set up in a house together where they could pool their respective egos and anxieties into what I imagine was one frantic messy circle jerk of support and ambition. The house was in Orlando, so obviously the best place for them to showcase their songs for the first time was at the (now defunct) Pleasure Island, the part of Disney World that was for adults (you could buy alcohol!). For this event Justin went with the classic white-collarless-shirt-and-braces-“Brian Austin Green is in a band now?!”-look. He paired this with a thick gold necklace and carefully gelled curls. If you like seeing teenage girls scream while watching a band they’ve surely never ever heard of, I strongly recommend watching this performance. Plus the synths on the backing track are just fantastic. Justin was 14 years old.


The boys were lucky enough to sign to BMG Ariola Munich, whereupon they were flown to Sweden to record with some of the greatest pop scientists the world has ever known, including Max Martin (Katy Perry, Ace Of Base, Taylor Swift, and Celine F**king Dion) and Denniz Pop.


There aren't that many photos of the band at this time, but this one pretty much makes up for that. I'd forgotten—*purposely wiped from my brain*—the period when teenagers dressed as though they'd just hopped off the ski slopes and were now looking around suburbia for the snowboard they misplaced. I think I had Justin's fleece in blue. I paired it with Acupuncture trainers, silver trousers, and a complete lack of understanding for how much of an ass I was. Also, alien-like wraparound sunglasses. Minute of silence lest we forget the style atrocities that came with them. Weirdly, Lance Bass looks the dopest here. We get it Lance, you're aware of Nirvana.


'N SYNC were big in Germany before they made it anywhere else. But how could those cool kids in Berlin possibly resist the bands' cheeky grins on the artwork of their first single, “I Want You Back”? I love that they had a “Club Version.” 'N SYNC: friends of DJs everywhere since 1995. Justin was really into wearing nothing but vests, a gold necklace, and an Orlando tan. Hey, I'm into it. Six months after this song came out in Germany, their self-titled debut was released. It went to Number One and the boys exploded all over Europe like a squeezed pimple on Joey's back. Finally in 1998, when Justin was 17, they signed to RCA and the album was adjusted for its American release. Along with a few song additions came Justin's decision to add some bleach to his ringlets. Tragically this inspired some of his bandmates to also get a bit playful with their locks.


Chris has to be the worst here, right? Also do you remember those skater necklaces? Those massive metal beads were the coolest thing ever. How good is Lance's gold jacquard jacket? My mother was looking at something similar for a wedding last month. I also like that Justin clearly fell so in love with that leather jacket and simply had to have it, despite it being two sizes too big for him. I want to grab him and roll up the sleeves so they don't end up in his cereal.

justin Timberlake ramen

After a slow start in America their re-branded debut *NSYNC (that asterisk is EVERYTHING) climbed to number nine in the US charts, and their success was furthered after they appeared on hit TV show Sabrina The Teenage Witch. A personal favorite of mine, I can remember their moment in the show very clearly. Sabrina's aunts were busy trying to civilize some pirates they found in the basement, #ofcourse, so Sabrina took advantage of their lack of parental focus and sneaked into a 'NSYNC show using some magical fake IDs. The band performed their hit song “Tearin' Up My Heart,” and Sabrina's best friend Valerie nearly had an excitement coronary. Justin's TV look at the time was hair that strongly resembled ramen noodles, plus a chunky ribbed sweater. He also wore a huge necklace, with a large “T” along with the letters “J” and “R” on it. I assume that's for Justin Randall Timberlake, because, like, that's his name.

Following the wise decision to release a Christmas album, the band sacked and sued Lou Pearlman for being a devious little pickle, and they were finally free to conquer the world. Unhindered by a deceitful investor or a stylist, they quickly grew from being a big-in-Germany band, to being the band whose second album, No Strings Attached, sold over a million copies in a day, and 2.42 million copies in a week. Another moment’s pause please while we mourn the loss of people who actually bought records.


From 1999 to 2002 Justin was in a relationship with Britney Spears, duh. They were pop's ultimate power couple. They were our Aryan heroes, leading us through the scary Y2K terrors into the promising 2000s. And they did it all while wearing quadruple denim.

justin timberlake britney spears denim VMAs

Justin was clearly completely besotted by Britney, she was his first love and he wasn't afraid to tell the world how much he adored her. Bustin, as they shall forever be known, were stylistically sympatico.

Justin Timberlake britney spears fashion fail

When she wore crinkled halter-tops, he wore crinkled shirts.They were pioneers of the now famous sand-hued-leather look favored by no one, anywhere, ever.

Justin timberlake britney spears goatee

They were a late-90s, early-2000 love affair, and it felt like they could get through anything together. Even Justin's chin pubes.

But then, in March 2002, the world as we knew it changed forever. Where were you when you heard the news that Bustin was no more? By all accounts (and reams of tumblr gifs) Justin was devastated, his heart smashed into tiny, bloody scraps of meat. Bustin's break-up also coincided with *NSYNC's hiatus. Justin was at a crossroads, both career-wise and stylistically. It would have been so easy for him to sink into oblivion, another chubby ex-boyband member, who only reappeared on sad reunion tours for reality TV shows, extensively discussing his Valium addiction while Lance Bass held his hand. But Justin is no ordinary man. (By the way Bass is quite bitter about Timberlake's success and in his memoir, Out Of Sync, he is most forthcoming on the subject).

justin timberlake mtv vmas 2002

On October 14, 2002, Justin released his new single “Like I Love You,” a gorgeous Neptunes-produced smash which showcased his trademark falsetto and new hip-hop influenced direction. The accompanying video introduced a new dawn for Justin's wardrobe. The greasy leather and tacky trousers were sacrificed on a fire, inevitably causing serious lung damage, due to toxic fumes, to those within a five-mile radius. In their place appeared hoodies, t-shirts, jeans that almost fit properly, and beanies. Simple looks that allowed the music to do the talking. Although he wasn't quite there yet, when he performed at the VMAs earlier in the year.

I hate everything about this look, from the shiny baggy leather sacks around his legs, to the finger-less gloves, to the trilby. I feel like he called up his mother and whined, “How do I dress hip-hop Mom?” and this was her response.

His debut solo album Justified sold less than *NSYNC were accustomed to, but the critics dug it, and in terms of his career longevity, that was far more meaningful. I remember people I knew who only liked “PROPER MUSIC” were suddenly going to see him in concert and announcing, “He actually plays loads of instruments, yeah? And it was all played live, and he's a really good dancer, ya kna?” Those people were douchebags, but still. He was inching his way closer and closer to credible artist status, while still managing to get away with doing “I'm Lovin' It” for McDonalds.


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Justin's style remained simple, casual, and it served him well. Perhaps the key to its success, though, was his shaved head and beard. Artisan facial hair belongs to boybands, porn stars, and men who have just retired, so keeping his beard natural, but trimmed, was the perfect way to distinguish his musical transformation.

Then in 2004, after exposing Janet Jackson's boob at the Superbowl and inserting the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” into pop culture, he put his music on hold and became an ACTOR. He appeared in loads of great films, including Shrek The Third and Alpha Dog, but my favorite of his early roles, when he played a young Elton John in the video for Elton's song “This Train Don't Stop There Anymore.”

Elton John Justin Timberlake

It's Just a classic look.

It also showed that Justin had a great sense of humor and was willing to look ridiculous for LOLZ. People love it when performers are willing to look ridiculous for LOLZ. So it's no surprise that in 2006 he hosted SNL, which handily coincided with the release of his second album FutureSex/LoveSounds. In terms of sales, Justin was back to the gold rush, selling 684,000 copies in one week and topping the Billboard charts. The album is fantastic, with JT mining more rock than R&B for inspiration. He has cited David Bowie and Prince as big influencers on his sound.

justin timberlake suit

A new album and a new record label, JayTee Records—great name babes—meant a new look, and at the ripe old age of 25 Justin discovered suits. He looks great. It's unusual to see a vest on a man who dances for a living and doesn't have a perma-tan, and a deep love of salsa music, but I'm a fan.

From 2007 to 2012 Justin focused mainly on acting. He put in a great turn as Napster's Sean Parker in The Social Network, and performed a very strange scene with real life ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz as part of his role in Bad Teacher. If you've not seen the film, it's a bizarre moment involving jeans and him lying on top of her. It's weird, but also, kind of amazing.

justin timberlake marine

On the red carpet Justin kept it dark and suited, adding chunky black glasses to the mix, and letting his hair grow just a little. Oh hey curls!

I find it super adorable that he attended a Marine Birthday Ball with a Marine who asked him via YouTube. He apparently found the experience very emotional. Someone there said of him, “He posed for pictures and seemed like a normal guy.” In my head I hear it as, “seemed” like a normal guy, as if they're suggesting that Justin does a really good impression of a human, but, come on, we all know he's a Klargthap from the planet Gujwiggler.

In June 2012 Justin returned to the music, writing and recording his third studio album The 20/20 Experience, which sold 980,000 copies. The boy was back, and his first performances in over four years were slick and stylish. He was now a man who could get away with doing a 5.28 minute track on SNL, which he's now hosted five times by the way. But, um, something was different about him.

justin timberlake straight hair


Everyone, like, totally freaked out. Is it a relaxer? A blow dry?What’s your secret Justin? He also went even smarter, suit-wise. We're talking black velvet, dinner jackets, and bow ties. And look at those loafers—oof.

justin timberlake grammys

So, judging from this, if Justin's wardrobe gets smarter with every album, for his most recent release The 20/20 Experience: 2 Of 2 (which dropped last week), I imagine we'll see him in bejeweled capes, crowns, and a scepter featuring a gold replica head of Jessica Biel. Which I guess would be fitting, as this bro is the King of Pop. (Soz MJ.)

Like Justin, Elizabeth has struggled with her curls for years. She is now accepting of them. She also plays in a band called Summer Camp and is on Twitter - @sankles.

Want more music and style histories? YEAH YOU DO! Here's one on Bjork!

And one on Prince!

And one on Christina Aguilera!

And one on Beyoncé!

And one on Katy Perry!


Style Stage is an ongoing partnership between Noisey & Garnier Fructis celebrating music, hair, and style.