Justin Timberlake: The Road To New Music

JT has given hints over the years about prepping for his third album.

When Justin Timberlake posted a mysterious tweet on Wednesday night hinting at a big announcement on Thursday (January 10), speculation immediately turned to his long-awaited return to music.

If JT does, in fact, drop a single as expected, it will mark the end of a long musical drought and will answer the prayers of fans and journalists who've been hounding him for more than six years about when he would follow-up 2006's smash solo hit, FutureSex/LoveSounds.

As he's pursued everything from movies
 ("The Social Network," "Bad Teacher," "Trouble with the Curve"), to TV, fashion, restaurants, home décor and the relaunch of MySpace
, Timberlake has become expert at dodging questions about his music career, even as he's dropped hints about what's next.

While promoting the baseball drama "Curve" last year, Timberlake told reporters
 that making an album "is a really big deal ... For me, personally, when I do sit down and decide to do it, it's just a special thing," he said. "I don't know that I can pump them out every year."

In the six years since FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake has generally shied away from music, other than appearing on a handful of songs for other artists (Madonna, Duran Duran, 50 Cent, Rihanna, Ciara) and tracking some classic 1960s-style folk tunes for his role in the Coen brothers' upcoming film, "Inside Llewyn Davis."
 Now, though, according to reports, he's recorded as many as 20 new songs in secret with longtime collaborator Timbaland for an album that could be released before summer.

Justin Timberlake says "I'm ready" in cryptic new video.

The closest we've come to new solo music recently is the as-yet-unreleased song JT performed for his blushing bride, Jessica Biel, at the couple's October wedding.

Then, in late 2012, Timberlake was reportedly spotted leaving a recording studio with Beyoncé,
 cranking up speculation that the two had been working on their first track together since their FutureSex collabo "Until the End of Time." Jay-Z was also spotted that day, which has prompted further rumors that the rap kingpin could be featured on the single JT is expected to drop on Thursday.

That would jive with a story Timberlake told Vanity Fair in 2011 about how he'd long wanted to work with Jigga, but that the timing hadn't been right.

"Jay-Z has put out 11 albums, and I was talking about doing collaboration with him, and he said, 'I can't do it right now, but I'll get you on the next album' the singer revealed in the magazine. "I was like, 'No, man, I don't work like that. This sounded good to me for you and me to do together, and if it doesn't work, then I totally get it, but I won't be putting an album out next year; these aren't a dime a dozen to me.'"

Last summer, it was announced that he would compose music and serve as music supervisor for Biel's drama "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," 
though it was still unknown at press time if that would mean new solo vocal tracks from the former boy bander.

Frustratingly for fans, Timberlake has long touted his devotion to making music, but just hasn't been in the mind frame to actually, you know, make it. In a September 2011 interview he explained that his budding acting career just kept getting in the way of his first love.

"To be honest, my plan would have probably been to do another record, probably right about now. I never stop considering myself a musician. To me, it's my bread and butter," he said
 while promoting "Friends with Benefits." He explained that all the movies he'd done to that point were just opportunities that popped up and that he wasn't trying to make a statement about his desire to switch to a career in acting. "It's not like that for me," he said. "I don't ever want to stop doing music."

That pretty much matched up with what he told MTV News in February 2010
 at a fashion show for his William Rast clothing line. "You know, music is ... music exploration, I find that when it comes up ... it comes up like a freight train," he said. "So when it does, I definitely won't run from it."

He was talking that talk
 as far back as October 2009, when he'd just gotten out of the studio with Jamie Foxx while working on developing artists like Esmée Denters and Free Sol for his Tennman label.

"Until it kind of slaps me in the face, I'm going to tinker around with everything," he said. "I'm obviously not the type of artist who rushes anything. I've done, like, two records in the last eight years ... I just believe that the process is what it's really all about. And if you make the process [like] what I was able to have the luck of tapping into for the first two [albums], the end comes out the way it comes out."