When a music critic suggested to Justin Timberlake recently that the world in which his career was spawned is a distant memory, the singer immediately got defensive.
"Teen pop will never be dead," he said. "The death of teen pop and its venue as it was, sure, but ... as long as there's teens and as long as we have culture with popular music in it, teen pop will never die, as far as I'm concerned. I just think it takes on a different head."
So when 'NSYNC reunites in the studio this fall, expect the group to take on different heads, and not in a cool, special effects sort of way, as they've done in the past.
"As a creative person that hasn't even thought about what we would work on and where the direction would go, I know that it would have to be something a little new, creative and different," Timberlake said. "And so I can't make any promises on what it's going to sound like, or if we even feel confident enough to put it out. I mean, I'm sure we will."
Personally, Justin has seen his tastes evolve since the group's 2001 release, Celebrity.
"I've become so much more open to rock music," he said. "I just enjoy it so much now more than ever. And I think I'm fully dug into all different styles of music now. I just think that comes with when you mature as a person, your tastes change."
One of those other styles is certainly hip-hop. After experimenting with rap collaborations on his solo debut, Timberlake has solidified his place in that game by recording guest vocals on upcoming albums from Bubba Sparxxx (on a song called "Hootenanny") and Black Eyed Peas (see "Black Eyed Peas Say Their Timberlake Track's A Tear-Jerker").
Justin met Bubba through Timbaland, who staged their first collaboration on the Justified track "Right for Me," and the Black Eyed Peas through clubbing in Hollywood.
"I remember when [Will.I.Am] played me the track on the phone, I had already started hearing a melody," Justin recalled. "It was just one of those [instances of] creative people working together [and it] just working out."
Like another white artist of late who seems to top the charts with everything he touches, Timberlake has managed to win over the respect of black artists and their fans. At the upcoming BET Awards, he is nominated for two awards, the same as Eminem.
"When they first played [my] first video on BET, I was like 'Whoa!' " Justin recalled. "That's when I think I kind of realized that this was a bird of a different feather."
Timberlake credits his soulful touch to growing up in Memphis, "the blues capital of the world, as we like to say."
"I remember going down to Beale Street when I was young and listening to those voices come out of those bars and they were just soulful," he said. "And it's the Bible Belt, so every choir in a church in Memphis is a gospel choir, whether they're black, white, Mexican, so I think that's more or less where it kind of came from."
Next up, Justin and Seann William Scott will host the 2003 MTV Movie Awards, airing Thursday, June 5 at 9 p.m. MTV News' pre-show coverage of the event kicks off at 8:30.
— Corey Moss