If you're going to stage a comeback, go big. And what larger way to let people know you're in the game again than to play your new single on the Grammy Awards?
That's what Justin Timberlake has in mind on Sunday for the 55th annual Grammys, where he'll rev up his surprise musical comeback with his first performance slot on the show in nearly four years.
In keeping with the desire to make each Grammy performance a surprise, Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow told MTV News he would not reveal any specific details of JT's return to the stage, but he did tease that it would be a "bit of a surprise. It will be worth watching and with the Grammys you always have the potential of seeing something first that you can't see anywhere else. And that's right in his wheelhouse," he said.
The move not only makes sense on a commercial level, but it's also a slam-dunk given JT's long ties with the Grammy folks and their boss. "I was at Jive Records running their west coast operation during the years when 'NSYNC got signed and Justin launched his solo career," said Portnow. "We've known each other for a long time and have a great relationship ... [besides] there is no greater platform for music than the Grammy stage."
The show, which is seen in 200 countries and was rated the #1 career influencer by Billboard magazine last year, is a natural fit for Timberlake personally and professionally as far as Portnow is concerned.
But how did the under-wraps performance, part of Timberlake's secretly gestating year-long plan to return to music, get booked? "We're constantly in contact and he's become a renaissance artist — dancer, singer, actor, comedian — and as part of producing a show you're always on the lookout for the ingredients that will make is special and potential ideas."
Portnow said he's had an ongoing dialogue with Timberlake and the singer's team for years and when word came out that a new album was in the works, JT's management got the message that the Academy was definitely interested.
"As we've seen in the past, the Grammy stage can be a wonderful place for an artist to make a return to the spotlight," said Keith Caulfield, Associate Director of Charts/Retail for Billboard magazine. And just like Adele brought down the house last year by taking the stage after months out of the spotlight due to vocal cord surgery and sold more than 700,000 albums the next week, Timberlake could earn a serious Grammy bump.
So far, Timberlake's new single, the Jay-Z-assisted "Suit & Tie" has performed well, but has not reached #1 on the singles tally and is slowly moving back down the Billboard Hot 100 as fans await the David Fincher-directed video.
The singer peeled back the curtain a bit about what fans can expect at the Grammys on Super Bowl weekend when he performed a live set that included the new songs "Little Pusher Love Girl" and Bad Girl," both slated for inclusion on his upcoming third solo album, The 20/20 Experience.
"Justin Timberlake is one of the biggest male pop stars of the past 10 years and despite not releasing an album for forever, the fact that he's using the Grammys to announce his arrival back on stage is a sign of how important the Grammys are and how important they can be in terms of promotion and marketing," said Caulfield.
The last time JT rocked the Grammys he performed with T.I. on "Dead and Gone," but also as an 11th-hour addition following the fall-out from Chris Brown's assault on Rihanna on the night before the 2009 show. When Brown and Rihanna had to scratch from the broadcast, executive producer Ken Ehrlich scrambled on show day to find a replacement.
The always-game Timberlake answered the call and suggested doing a duet with soul icon Al Green on Green's "Let's Stay Together," which was whipped together in record time to save the day. Likening the Grammy show to an ocean liner that is hard to turn around, Portnow said Timberlake's offer to do the Green slot in addition to his own performance not only bailed out the show, but also provided evidence for why he's always welcome at the Grammys.
"For Justin it was an opportunity mixed with a great deal of risk," he said. "He already had a performance that was well-rehearsed, choreographed and lighted, designed for his fan base and now he was adding something to the mix that he had no preparations for. He tossed [all risk] aside because it was the right thing to do and that's why he's a consummate professional and a great guy."