It’s probably hard to imagine someone who’s won two Grammys, dated Hollywood’s hottest ladies and brought sexy back being a little, well, insecure.
But Justin Timberlake wasn’t so sure of himself when he embarked upon FutureSex/LoveSounds, an album now up for four Grammy nominations, including a coveted Album of the Year nod (see “Mary J. Blige, Chili Peppers Top Grammy Nominations List” ).
For starters, he thought he had lost his voice — not in a medical sense, but in regards to knowing what (and how) he wanted to sing. “He didn’t like his voice no more, you know what I’m saying? He didn’t like what he was doing,” producer Timbaland recalled. “I was like, ‘Justin, what’s going on?’ ”
Timberlake had felt “burnt out” after 2002’s Justified — which is partly why he turned his attention to movies — and he felt a little lost when he walked into Timbaland’s Virginia Beach, Virginia, studio. “I thought if I could put something together that lived up to the first record, I would have,” the singer said. So the duo’s first song together, “What Goes Around … ,” sounded a bit Justified, he admitted. “That’s probably the closest to the last record that I got on this album.” And when they were done, Timbaland started teasing Timberlake. ” ‘OK, co-producer.’ He’s giving me hell,” Timberlake said. ” ‘What do you want to do now?’ ” So Timberlake responded: “Let’s do something we would never do. Let’s go far left and just see what happens.
“I think that’s why I ended up doing 10 songs with him on this album,” the singer added. “When you have somebody like Timbaland, who is so creative and yet finds a way to hone it all — Is that even a word? Hone? — I think that’s why it just became a sound. … We were conscious of the last song and trying to go left of where we had just been.”
Timberlake combined R&B and pop before, but this time he started playing around with rock. “He was thinking about doing more serious music like Coldplay,” Timbaland said. “I was like, ‘How do we do that?’ I mean, I love songs like what the Fray do; that’s what I listen to. It’s more meaningful to me. All the other stuff is nonsense. But I’m like, ‘We can only do a handful of songs like that. We got to test the water.’ Because, you know, he gained an urban fanbase, and we can’t just lose it right away. We just can’t go the Coldplay route.”
And so the interludes on the album were born — as a way to see if the reprises, encores and preludes would irritate or intrigue Timberlake’s fans. “We were like, ‘Let the fans come back and say, “Yo, that song at the end of ‘LoveStoned,’ y’all should have made that a whole song,” ‘ ” Timbaland said.
Even though the interludes make it seem as if the album were highly thought-out, Timbaland said that it was never on paper — only in Timberlake’s head. “He didn’t write none of the album down,” the producer revealed. “He just sits there, looks at the speakers, goes upstairs to get something to eat, comes back and goes, ‘I’m ready. You ready?’ ‘My Love,’ two minutes. Done in two minutes. And ‘My Love’ is real catchy.”
Some songs took a little longer because Timberlake “wanted to sit in the booth and think of real clever stuff,” Timbaland said. “He wanted to outthink himself.” For “Losing My Way,” Timberlake wanted to write in more of a narrative style, and when Timbaland heard it, he was astonished. “I was like, ‘You wrote that one on paper, didn’t you?’ And he said, ‘Man, you’re crazy if you thought that.‘ ”
The only song Timberlake wrote on paper for the whole album was during his Rick Rubin session, for “(Another Song) All Over Again.” “I got him to write before we got into the studio, which is unusual for him,” Rubin said (see “Rick Rubin Calls His Year ‘Not Unusually Special'; Grammy Nods Tell Another Story” ). “He’s used to doing it the other way around, getting an existing track or working on a track and trying to create a song when a record is close to being done.”
But during sessions with Timbaland, Timberlake operated according to his usual formula, which is to say, no formula at all. “There was no real formula to how we were doing it except that it was free-flowing,” Timberlake said. “[Timbaland] sits behind the keyboard, and some of the guitar parts I would just put in or piano parts.”
On songs like “Sexyback,” Timbaland would just mess around with the studio modules, “looking like a mad man, a mad scientist,” Timberlake said. “And he starts messing around with beats, and then I’ll say, ‘Oh, I like that one.’ ”
“And then I’ll say, ‘Look, that’s it for the prequel. Do it like this, take that flow,’ and he’s like, ‘OK,’ ” Timbaland said. “He hums it, and then he’s like, ‘I got it.’ All it takes is one take and that’s it.”
Sounds like Justin found his voice after all.
Get the story behind the other Album of the Year nominees:
- Gnarls Barkley Didn’t Expect Anyone Else To Like St. Elsewhere
- Dixie Chicks Had ‘Nothing To Lose,’ Took Long Way
- John Mayer Shifts From Pop Idol To Bluesman On Continuum
- Chili Peppers Experiment With Sounds, Wu-Tang Beats On Stadium Arcadium
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