NEW YORK — The girls squealed when Justin Timberlake took off his suit jacket. They shrieked when he loosened his tie. But the crowd went truly berserk when he returned for an encore dressed in an ill-fitting tacky black jacket, a purple shirt — and a red gift box.
Yes, the rumors were true: Timberlake and “Saturday Night Live” star Andy Samberg gave the live premiere of their “Di– in a Box” viral-video hit in New York, in front of a sold-out audience that included Donald Trump, Diddy and thousands of tweens (see ” ’SNL’ Star Behind Timberlake’s Raunchy Hit Hopes To ’Box’ Up Full LP” ).
An announcer proclaimed the song a YouTube sensation and boasted of the millions of times it had been viewed online before ceding the stage to “2:30 A.M.” — Timberlake and Samberg sporting Color Me Badd-style facial hair — and a bevy of box-clad dancers. Samberg struggled with his vocals at first, but Timberlake quickly chimed in and sang nasally about getting his girl “something special,” falling to his knees to deliver the lines “All across America, a di– in a box” with comical passion.
Judging by the ear-splitting response, the performance was a huge success, but Timberlake himself seemed aware that the song landed a bit awkwardly in this context: Repeatedly pointing to his crotch in front of a largely underage crowd seemed far more explicit than it had on TV or computer screens.
Thus, it was telling that Timberlake didn’t conclude the show there. Instead, he returned to the stage, dressed again as himself, to offer a half-hearted mea culpa — “I’m sorry if I offended some of you, but I could not resist” — joke about signing 2:30 A.M. to a label and warmly thank his fans for supporting him over the years before launching into tamer fare, FutureSex/LoveSounds’ “(Another Song) All Over Again.” The transition echoed a dilemma Timberlake faced throughout the night: whether to indulge fans able to attend R-rated movies or play to his teenybopper devotees.
The fast-paced first half of the FutureSex/LoveShow seemed designed to do both — and to showcase Timberlake’s musicianship, as he strummed his blue acoustic guitar on “Like I Love You,” pounded on a keyboard for “Señorita” and remained on keys for a lush, mesmerizing rendition of “What Goes Around… .” Making full use of his circular in-the-round stage, he energetically bounded about, joining his dancers to re-create the midtempo, deliberate choreography of the “My Love” video before everyone else cleared out, leaving only Timberlake to groove alone in the spotlight for a few minutes.
Timberlake pal and collaborator Timbaland joined a few songs later, and after the first set bounced to its conclusion with “Chop Me Up,” the super-producer remained to play a short DJ set that amounted to a mixtape of tracks he has worked on (Missy Elliott’s “Work It,” Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?”); songs he admires (Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”); and tracks he wanted to promote, like “Give It to Me” featuring Nelly Furtado and Timberlake, the first single from his forthcoming Shock Value disc (see “Timbaland Nabs 50 Cent, Dr. Dre For LP, Starts Timberlake Gossip Frenzy” ).
When Timberlake finally re-emerged, he commenced a more disorganized, mixed-pace second set that kicked off with “Rock Your Body” and moved into a medley that featured the ’NSYNC tune “Gone.” He settled in at the keyboard once again to play a series of tracks he said were “close to his heart,” and the giant screens that occasionally wrapped the stage projected close-ups of his sweaty face twisted into serious concentration. Still, he performed five more songs before getting to the smash single “Cry Me a River,” from his 2002 solo debut, Justified. Soon after, the lights dimmed and red lights swirled like an ambulance warning, heralding the long-awaited arrival of the set-closer “SexyBack.” Timbaland returned and the two split up, working opposite sides of the arena and basking in the party that surged back to life as the crowd members leapt to their feet.
For her opening set, Pink did her best to coax enthusiasm out of the arriving audience with strongly sung renditions of songs like ” ’Cuz I Can” and “Don’t Let Me Get Me” (see “Pink Gears Up For Justin Tour: ’Nitty-Gritty, Dark, Sweaty’ “ ). Her dancers strutted around like dizzy hummingbirds for the biting “Stupid Girls” and mimicked Pink’s self-proclaimed “nerd dance” for “Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely).” But it wasn’t until closer “Get the Party Started” that Pink busted out an acrobatic Cirque du Soleil-esque routine on a pink cloth that stretched from the arena’s ceiling. Pressed against one of her backup dancers and twirling high in the air, the feat was both sexually suggestive and an act of extreme agility. Like Timberlake, it seemed Pink wanted to get her sexy on, but found a rather unconventional way of doing so.
As the Grammy Awards — featuring a performance from Justin Timberlake — get closer, check out all the latest news on the show, the scene and the stars in our Grammy news archive. On the big night — Sunday — be sure to tune in to MTV at 7:30 p.m. for our “All Up in the Grammys” preshow.