Justin Timberlake: Music, motors and mythology
Justin Timberlake is having what can only be described as an Entourage moment. Weekend magazine is at the International Motor Show in Geneva, where Justin has flown in to launch the new A1 model for Audi, and he's buzzing around like a child who has just mixed Skittles and Coca-Cola.
Shortly before we spoke, the 29-year-old pop prince had driven the new car out on stage at the Audi stand to a throng of onlookers, expo staff and rubbernecking fans, who included Yves Leterme, the prime minister of Belgium.
"I'm a total boy about all this stuff," Justin says, gesturing around the vast hangar-like space that is the Geneva Palexpo. "I got here a day early so I could go around and see everything in private. I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I'm a car geek. Did you see the R8? It's got a spider shape on the back ... "
This place is indeed every car-nut's fantasyland. This is what the inside of the skulls of Entourage's Turtle or Top Gear's Richard Hammond must look like. Every major car brand in the world -- Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Saab, Bentley -- is here launching their latest road toys.
Serious European businessmen are trying to look professional but can't help awkwardly flirting with and cooing at the sexy female models posing with the new
display motors (though it's a toss up as to which one is actually causing the drooling and slobbering). Many are evidently struggling to contain the boy within: I suspect that some might be wearing their Superman underpants or Batman socks underneath those expensive suits.
Elsewhere, male models in branded polo shirts gently polish the cars with big feather dusters, while at several stalls the promotional girls are dressed head-to-toe in white, resembling, in both appearance and message, the beauticians at a department store make-up counter: 'Buy this, turn back time, be fresh and young again!'
Others stand oohing and aahing over shiny new engines that look more like espresso machines -- I half expect to see George Clooney beside them demonstrating how to change the oil.
Sitting in a room overlooking all these sleek and attractive rides is Justin Timberlake, the Memphis-born one-time Mouseketeer, former member of boyband 'N Sync, and nine million-selling, six-time Grammy award-winning solo star.
It has been more than three years since Justin's last album FutureSex/ LoveSounds and its accompanying world tour, but he's rarely been out of the pop culture consciousness, be it as an actor, producer or TV presenter, not to mention his ability to command tabloid pages with the minutiae of his love life, first with Britney, then Cameron Diaz and now Jessica Biel.
He may have been hyper when Weekend first sat down with him, but Justin very quickly slips into businessman mode -- and it's difficult to shake him back out of it. Dressed in a black suit with silver tie, his curls and light facial hair carefully tamed and trimmed, he starts talking about his pride at having so many strings to his bow at such a young age.
"I think it's a natural progression for our generation," he says. "Ours is the age of the entrepreneur, and that could be on any different level. For instance, I signed a girl who sat in her room and [made a video of] herself singing other people's songs so she could get an audience. That's entrepreneurial thinking, even if it's on a basic level."
All that aside, he is a celebrity first and foremost, and a huge one at that. However, watching him perform on stage and on the interview circuit, Justin seems to genuinely enjoy his fame.
"I think it's important to know what all of it is," he says. "I hope this comes out the right way because one thing I'm always conscious of is not seeming like a pr*ck. But my level of fame only went to a new degree when I decided to start a solo career in music.
"I think that fame is a mythical thing..." He pauses, before correcting himself. "Mythological, I mean. Sorry, I have a high-school education! But I think because I can look at it that way is probably why I enjoy it more. Besides, I think that it's important to find the humour in everything, even the bad times."
For now, he's happy to continue trying new things, and doesn't feel any immediate pressure to get working on his next solo album. "I know from past experience that I put out my best stuff when it became undeniable that that was the only thing I was meant to be doing," he says.
"Right now, I feel inspired by other things. The idea of doing a record to me is like climbing Mount Everest, and it should be. I think that until dreams about music start overpowering my sleep, I'm not going to think about it."
Has he even any idea what style he'd like to pursue next? "I didn't necessarily plan for the last album to sound so..." He pauses. "I didn't plan the bravado. It's something I played up on the records, but it wasn't exactly who I was.
"But it was fun, and I think it was fun for everyone else too," says Justin. "I try to approach music as a fan and remove myself from whatever my image might be to people. That's what music should be. It can be a lot of things, but if it's not fun, there's no purpose."
At that, his minders sweep in to move him on to his next interview. As we head back out on to the expo floor, I ask, what with him turning 30 next year, how he will look back on his eventful 20s? He laughs. "I don't know, man. My 20s were pretty fun. I'm looking forward to my 30s, but I gotta say my 20s were the best years of my life."