Adjust your jaunty hat and straighten your skinny tie, because Justin Timberlake is the year’s winner of the prestigious “Video Vanguard” Moonman at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Sure, he’s made one too many videos that look like a disco takeover of an Armani Exchange, but the man’s video output is pretty startlingly versatile in retrospect. He’s torn up our hearts, gotten us lovestoned, and confronted us with a world of mirrors, and thus it’s time to pick the five greatest gems from his video catalog. Here’s what I came up with.
5. “Suit and Tie”
“Suit and Tie” is a video about unabashed showmanship, which is Justin’s strongpoint. Standing at a mic and crooning in perhaps the slickest formal attire yet seen on Earth, he’s a comely vision in black-and-white. The cinematography makes you think that either Marian Anderson or Madonna’s backup gays from “Vogue” are strutting nearby. In fact, this might be the quintessential JT video: classy, but with a sense of R&B throb lurking beneath the bow tie.
4. “Rock Your Body”
God, remember when Justin Timberlake resembled Kevin Federline to a T while remaining totally hot? My mind is breaking into pieces and exploding, then melting. “Rock Your Body” is an awesomely splashy laser show with Justin rotating and gleaming like a jumpsuited disco ball. It’s one of his catchiest dance singles, and you can’t help but swoon when he leans and tells us, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song.” (I may have thought he was saying, “I’m gonna dip your naked body into this sauce” from 2003 to early 2013, by the way. Might have.)
3. “Bye, Bye, Bye”
The single that launched one of the hugest boy band albums ever (not to mention first-week sales of 2.4 million), “Bye Bye Bye” is not just a catchy song, but a goofy, spellbinding video. Justin and his N*SQUAD dangle from marionette strings like helpless, Vincent Price-engineered freakshows before evading a nefarious lady who will apparently loose dogs on you if need be. “Bye Bye Bye” is notable for referencing the group’s post-Lou Pearlman emancipation with the dramatic string-cutting scene, and it’s not hyperbole to say the group seemed more empowered and fun ever since.
Gay superhero Herb Ritts saw the potential for Justin to be a photogenic leading man, and he showed off his every glorious facial pane in the video for “Gone,” this elegiac clip from the end of NSYNC’s oeuvre. While this video lacks the carnal urgency of, say, Herb’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” it is an effectively eerie video with a great central performance by Justin. I even love the slow-pan shots of the other members during the choruses.
1. “Cry Me A River”
Some of us prefer the Julie London “Cry Me A River,” but this one will do too. “Cry Me A River” is a perfect video combining elements from several other video smashes, most notably the erratic mid-air dance moves of Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice.” As a dead-eyed Justin invades a Britney-esque ex’s home, spies on her, and ultimately leaves behind a naughty tape that’ll probably ruin her night, it’s clear we’re witnessing a new and twisted JT. The song’s creepy closing notes dovetail nicely with the unsettling nature of what we’re seeing, and I think it’s fair to call this Justin’s best performance in a video to date. I can even tolerate his totally-’02 bomber jacket.