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Here's Everything You Need To Know About Justin Timberlake's Pop Star Identity

Is Justin Timberlake a construction of past pop identities or is he authentic?

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Here is Justin Timberlake as of 2013

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He is wearing a black and white suit fittingly to his first single "Suit and Tie" from his new album "The 20/20 Experience."

Here's the video for "Suit and Tie"

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The “Suit and Tie” video is shot in black and white, as well as the album photographs, and the screen even turned to black and white during Timberlake’s performance at the Grammy’s. His Tom Ford suit is Rat Pack and Jackson’s “Off The Wall” days, when Jackson, too, appeared in black tie on his videos. Timberlake named his band “The Tennessee Boys,” similar to “Gladys Knight and the Pips” or “Marvin Gaye and the Temptations,” which are all considered classics now.

He's not called by his fist name anymore, but simply JT is enough


He is now so famous that people will recognize him just by his initials. Just as Michael Jackson was known simply as MJ. In “Suit and Tie”, there is even a reference to Jackson’s “Thriller” in the lyrics: “My killer, my Thriller, yeah you’re a classic.”

His white socks are also similar to MJ's


The white socks are what Michael Jackson used to wear with loafers to put an emphasis on his feet when he danced on stage and in videos.

Audrey Hepburn was forced to wear white socks with black pants for a movie

Stanley Donnen, the director of “Funny Face,” insisted that she wore white socks despite her objections. Hepburn, being the style icon that she is, refused at first. But white socks were necessary to emphasize feet movement during dance scenes. And it worked.

OK, MJ was not to the first to wear white socks but he was the first Moonwalker, right?

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He introduced this unique dance at Motown's 25th anniversary.

Nope, Moonwalking was not an MJ trademark either. Here's Bob Fosse doing something similar

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Stanley Donnen, the director of "Funny Face," incorporated the same black pants-white socks combination and collaborated with Bob Fosse, who appeared to be performing some sort of a dance. Fosse’s dance moves bear a clear resemblance to Jackson’s first presentation of what has later become known as “moonwalking” in 1983.

Here's JT reinventing himself as the new Michael Jackson in his first video

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In the first video of his solo career, the 2002 “Like I Love You,” Timberlake, fresh off the boyband N’Sync, his counterpart to Jackson 5, echoes Jackson’s iconic costumes circa “Thriller” era: black fedora, leather pants, and red top. He also regurgitates some of Jackson’s dance moves and falsetto vocals.

Here's his second album and his new identity

“In my album ‘Future Sex Love Sounds’ I created a character,” Timberlake told NPR’s Terry Gross in a 2010 interview. “Obviously not the same way that David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, but [mine was also] something that aspired to be a character. I just saw it as a mixture of 007 and an ode to Fred Astaire. I wanted to play the part, I was creating a character that could fall into a Kubrick film or a Helmut Newton photo.”

Here's the god of all identity constructs, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust


David Bowie incorporated his identities, this and Aladdin Sane, into his music. JT's identity construction is more shallow, does not necessarily resonate in his music. He doen't make concept albums for example.

But he wanted to appear like a character from A Clockwork Orange...

In the photos for “Future Sex Love Sounds,” Timberlake sometimes appeared with a walking stick (an ode to “A Clockwork Orange”). Somewhat similar eh?

...or belong in a Helmut Newton photo?

Helmut Newton / Via

In 1966, the French designer Yves Saint Laurent rocked the fashion world by dressing a woman in a tuxedo. It was captured by Helmut Newton, who is famous for his highly eroticized and fetish-driven portfolio.

He did come a long way from his first appearance

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Timberlake’s career started at 11 in a talent show. Later he became part of the Mickey Mouse Club, an artifact of the Walt Disney enterprise. But Disney did not resonate in his later stardom. More than Disney, Timberlake likes to emphasize that his roots are in country. “I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee,” Timberlake once said. “My grandfather raised me on Johnny Cash.” The influence of Cash is perhaps only visible in his appearance on “Star Search” at age 11, dressed in cowboy’s clothes and singing a country song. But all throughout his career, he makes references to his home state.

You'll notice that JT does not have curls anymore

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He was the cute singer of the 90s boyband, N’Sync, showed no sign of Tennessee. It aimed to be an a capella group at a time of Nirvana and Pearl Jam but quickly conformed to the norm, along with Backstreet Boys in the US and Take That in the UK. Their legacy now paved the way to today’s acts like One Direction.

All of this makes JT a pastiche


Timberlake’s identity construction owes many of its elements to borrowed imagery from pop history. Fredric Jameson calls the process of mimicking and imitating the past a pastiche, “the complacent play of historical allusion.” Jameson underlines that pastiche is not the same as parody: “Pastiche is the imitation of a peculiar mask, speech in a dead language: but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists.” As such, Timberlake uses the past’s imagery as more of an homage and a supplement to his character building process, not as a mockery.

Here's JT's tribute to MJ and the Jacksons: An copy without an original

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This borrowed identity and the constructed character, that constantly evolves and reinvents itself, as Michael Jackson did, makes Justin Timberlake a copy without an original. He copies Michael Jackson, but Michael Jackson also copies other acts, making it impossible trace the original. The original is the simulation. To quote Jean Baudrillard, JT is a simuclacra, “an identical copy without an original” in hyperreality, “the generation by models of a real without origins or reality.”

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