My parents said it was just a phase.
I can safely say that 15 years after it began, my Justin Timberlake obsession isn’t subsiding any time soon. And Timberlake, whom Mom and Dad once described as a flash-in-the-pan artist, continuously proves his staying power, as evidenced by his “20/20 Experience” (Part 1)album selling nearly 2.5 million copies in 2013, breaking sales records for the year.
When Timberlake appears Saturday for a sold-out show in the First Niagara Center (he had to postpone a New York City show Wednesday; see details on Page D5) on his 20/20 Experience World Tour, it will be more like a reunion with an intimidatingly attractive, alarmingly talented old friend for those of us who spent our baby-sitting money on tickets for ’N Sync’s shows at Darien Lake (1999), HSBC Arena (2000 and 2002) and Ralph Wilson Stadium (2001).
Timberlake is hotter than hot at the moment, but that comes as no surprise to the legions of 20- and 30-something fans who have been awestruck since he was on the Disney Channel.
We – the superfans, that is – grew up with the now Grammy- and Emmy-winning pop star. We watched him hone sketch comedy skills as a tween on the “All New Mickey Mouse Club” before he was a member of the exclusive “Saturday Night Live” Five-Timers Club. And we screeched at the top of our lungs as he launched into international stardom as the youngest, undoubtedly most swoon-worthy, member of multiplatinum boy band ’N Sync, 15 years before MTV was honoring him with a Video Vanguard award.
Me? I’ve seen ’N Sync five times in concert and Timberlake three – soon to be four – times, including two trips to Toronto. I will have attended all nine of those concerts with grammar school friends Leeanne Stoj and Stacey King- Sowinski, ages 28 and 29, respectively.
“All the music he’s created, everything we’ve listened to, we were experiencing that at the same time,” Stoj said, flipping through pages of an ’N Sync scrapbook she started in the late ’90s.
Whether he sang of love, heartbreak, success or failure, his fans could relate, creating an artist-fan bond that breaks from typical teenybopper infatuation.
“He’s just so talented,” King-Sowinski said. “He truly is the Michael Jackson of our generation.”
In a sea of pop music icons making questionable decisions – ahem, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus – Timberlake has stayed focused on making strategic career moves and keeping his personal life largely out of the public eye.
“Even in ’N Sync, Justin was always talking about ‘practicing my craft,’ ” Stoj said, laughing as she remembered how Timberlake constantly sprinkled that line in late ’90s interviews. “It’s true, though. He was always trying to better himself as a musician.”
Beyond music, Timberlake has made moves on the big and small screens, coming a long way since his cameos on made-for-TV movies like Disney’s “Model Behavior” to scoring starring roles – and critical acclaim – in box office hits such as “The Social Network” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
“All those people who’d make fun of us for liking ’N Sync, saying Justin was talentless, look at them now,” Stoj said, pointing out that many of the current JT fans formerly known as haters will be – or want to be – at Timberlake’s Saturday concert, which sold out in just a few minutes.
My memorable JT moments:
1. ’N Sync’s first Western New York concert – July 20, 1999 – Darien Lake
Members of ’N Sync were shooting MTV promos around the park to air later in the summer. Stacey King-Sowinski, Leeanne Stoj and I followed the band and camera crew all day. When the pop heartthrobs rode the Superman ride, we bulleted to the coaster’s photo kiosk and bought pictures of the boy band members descending the ride’s gigantic hill.
2. No Strings Attached tour – July 2, 2000 – HSBC Arena
Four of my friends and I went to the arena early to try to spot members of ’N Sync arriving in tour buses. After a few hours of lingering outside in the summer sun, Joey Fatone’s brother Steve invited us in the air-conditioned arena lobby and gave us applications for the official ’N Sync fan club.
3. Legends of Summer Tour – July 17, 2013 – Rogers Centre, Toronto
Just shy of 14 years since our first ’N Sync show together, King-Sowinski, Stoj and I traveled to Toronto to catch the North American start of the Legends of Summer Tour featuring Timberlake and Jay Z. In true teenybopper form, Stoj could be seen pulling at her own hair, crying “like a Beatles fan,” as King-Sowinski described it.