It happened. And it was more awesome than we could have even imagined.
In the middle of a hit-packed performance that had everyone from Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga and One Direction on their feet andlosing their minds, Justin Timberlake shut down the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards with a set of solo smashes and, yes, an ‘NSYNC reunion that had the audience at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn dancing in the aisles.
If there’s any modern male artist who has carried on the legacy of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award namesake, it’s Timberlake and he proved why on Sunday. That’s probably why pal Jimmy Fallon saw fit to crown Timberlake with a new moniker while introducing his “History of Rap” cohort, “The President of Pop.”
The set opened with a montage of Justin’s most iconic solo videos, from “Rock Your Body” to “Mirrors,” then segued into Timberlake dancing his way through the Barclays while singing his new single, “Take Back the Night.” After swinging the camera out of his face, JT materialized on the main stage as the first strains of “SexyBack” got the crowd on their feet, which is where they stayed for the next 10 minutes.
It was the beginning of a trip through a catalog of massive songs that would be the envy of any artist. Justin proved why he’s the commander in chief of the Billboard Hot 100 with the still-unbelievably funk “Like I Love You,” which, like all the night’s songs, was accompanied by JT’s fleet-footed dancing and effortless ability to ride the groove without breaking a sweat.
The stutter-step beat of “My Love” had Timberlake making his way into the crowd on a ramp, popping and locking before a microphone shot up out of the stage as the ominous Timbaland beat from “Cry Me a River” caused mass pandemonium. Gaga was bobbing her head, Will Smith was dancing like nobody was looking and all you could see at home was a sea of hands waving side-to-side.
Because he can seemingly do it all, Timberlake jumped behind the keyboard for “Señiorita,” which had Rihanna dancing in her seat and Swift and bestie Selena Gomez geeking out out. Speaking of rocking, “Rock Your Body” moved the party to a “Saturday Night Fever”-like pulsing dancefloor before the moment everyone was waiting for finally arrived.
With the house lights down and the stage bathed in search beams, Justin said, “you asked for it,” and the rest of ‘NSYNC floated up from below the stage.
The group, which features J.C. Chasez, Lance Bass, Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone, last played the VMAs with Michael Jackson in 2001, joining thelate King of Pop for their smash, “Pop.” They announced their hiatus in 2002 after their Celebrity tour and put on their lasttelevised performance in 2003 at the Grammy Awards, where they sang a Bee Gees medley.
But this time it was all about them and Swift and Gomez looked like every other fan girl in the house, including Gaga, who raised up to her feet to celebrate one of the best-selling boy bands of all time. Even One Direction couldn’t help getting caught up in the five-part harmonies of “Girlfriend and “Bye, Bye, Bye,” during which ‘NSYNC did the hop-around dance from the song’s video, proving that the vocals and the crisp coordinated moves are still there. And then, sadly, that part of the dream was over, and the boys descended back into the stage.
JT’s first VMA performance in six years ended with the jazzy groove of “Suit & Tie,” and the more sedate swing of “Mirrors,” which had everyone in the house waving their hands back-and-forth.
The 32-year-old singer/dancer/actor/songwriter is a consummate showman, and during his 21-years in the business he’s gone from “New Mickey Mouse Club” cast member to boy band star and solo megastar, moving more than 70 million albums over the course of his recording career. The Vanguard Award is reserved for artists whose work in the video medium has broken barriers andhelped push the art form forward, with past recipients including the Beastie Boys, U2, Britney Spears and Madonna. And when Fallon presented it, he had nothing but high praise for his pal.
After dubbing him pop president, Fallon noted JT’s incredible 14 career VMA wins, which brought a humble response from the singer. “I don’t deserve this award, but I’m not gonna give it back,” joked Timberlake. “I’m taking this home. Half of the Moonmen I’ve won I’ve won with those four guys right there … we can keep it at my house, but I’m gonna share this award with them.”
While Timberlake looked back with Joey, J.C. and the boys, he, is, of course, also looking forward. In addition to this year’s comeback album, The 20/20 Experience, the best-selling title of 2013 so far, he’s poised to double down with The 20/20 Experience — 2 of 2 on September 27.
For now, though, you can be sure that people are gonna wear our their DVRs and browsers over the next few days re-living that one shining moment.
By Gil Kaufman