Why did Justin Timberlake say bye, bye, bye to *NSYNC at the height of the boy band’s success? The star told Oprah it was one of the most difficult decisions he ever made, but a run-in with a mega-star sealed the deal for him.
During an appearance on Oprah’s Master Class, Timberlake explained.
“I would wake up every morning feeling this more and more of an urge to step out on my own and try my own hand as a musician just by myself,” he said. “It was happening all around me: ‘Why wouldn’t you ride this out? You’re the biggest group in the world. Why would you walk away from this?’
“It’s one of the best/worst things that I have ever done, because it was bittersweet,” the “Suit & Tie” singer added. “It was hard to say goodbye to that era, but I felt it changing. I felt music changing. And I felt myself changing.”
Watch Justin Timberlake explain the *NSYNC breakup
And who put that thought in his mind in the first place? We can blame Michael Jackson for that. Timberlake said Jackson passed over the song “Gone” when offered, only to change his mind after *NSYNC had already recorded it — but he only wanted it as a duet with Timberlake.
“I said, ‘Well, it’s already out. We’ve already cut this song as an *NSYNC song.’ I’m on the phone, I’m literally punching myself in the face, saying, ‘I can’t do that. Could we do *NSYNC featuring Michael Jackson or Michael Jackson featuring *NSYNC?’ But he was very absolute about the fact that he wanted it to be a duet between himself and I, and I think it’s the first idea that I ever got about doing something on my own because it was the first time I felt the confidence to do it.”
Timberlake also said his breakout solo hit “SexyBack” almost didn’t make it to the airwaves because no one at his record company took it seriously.
“I had to convince people that ‘SexyBack’ was my song,” he said. “People didn’t even think it was me. They thought it was a joke.
“I got into a full-on argument with the president of the label I was signed to at the time,” he said. “I said, ‘Just put the song out.’ I had to call up a couple radio programmers and say, ‘No, seriously. This is my song.’
“I believed in it,” he said. “I believed in what it made other people do. I saw what it made other people do. I guess there is some risk in that. You learn to judge your gut. I only had my instinct, which is a powerful thing.”
The song went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts and win a Grammy for Best Dance Recording.