Since *NSYNC broke the hearts of millions of teen girls everywhere by going their separate ways and attempting solo musical careers (at least a few of them, anyway), Justin Timberlake has dropped some of the most successful pop and R&B songs of the past several decades. He’s sold millions of albums, collected dozens of platinum plaques, won more than his fair share of GRAMMYs, and he’s succeeded more often than he’s failed. Nine of the 17 songs he’s promoted as singles from his albums—which is the criteria we're using for a Justin Timberlake single—have reached the top 10 in the U.S., and he’s turned several of those into chart-toppers.
So, which JT songs are the best, and which ones simply don’t hold up? Here’s our definitive ranking of all the singles spun off of the musician’s four solo albums.
Justin Timberlake has released a number of singles that aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s usually easy to hear some redeeming quality in all of them...except this. “TKO” is tough to stomach, and even tougher to listen to several times over. The production sees Timbaland going off the rails with his love of percussive sounds, and not even the superstar himself can reel him back in or save what came out of their latest collab.
In an attempt to make “Tunnel Vision” a hit single, the musician and his label had to shave more than two minutes off of the album version, and the final product just isn’t as good. The somewhat odd and lengthy track fits perfectly on The 20/20 Experience, but as a radio tune, it didn't quite fly right. Despite a video featuring fully nude female models, which should have driven millions of views and propelled the song up the charts due to outrage or love of freedom of expression (depending on the person), people just aren't that interested in “Tunnel Vision.”
As his FutureSex/LoveSounds era was coming to a close, Timberlake and his team pulled out all the stops to keep the hits charting well. The pop singer called on another star who made her name as part of a group and then successfully went solo, Beyoncé, who contributed vocals to a single-only version. It might not have actually improved the song that much, but Timberlake and Queen Bey fever were both at all-time highs at the time, and the track climbed the Hot 100.
This song served as the sixth and final single from FutureSex/LoveSounds, and a quick listen should be enough to understand why it wasn’t promoted earlier on. The synths are grating, and it doesn’t grant the listener the same return as other cuts from the same collection. Despite that, it was still a commercial success, and it eventually rose into the top 10.
The highest-charting single from JT’s The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2, “Not a Bad Thing” proves that the second installment of his 20/20 series just wasn’t as good as the first. It seems as if songs like “Not a Bad Thing” benefitted from the incredible success and critical acclaim enjoyed by part one, which was released less than a year before he began pushing the second half. It might have served well as an album track, but it doesn't live up to the artist's single potential.
Less than a year after the five singers of *NSYNC went their separate ways, Justin officially launched his solo career under his real name with this middling tune. It just barely failed to reach the top 10, but that was likely due to excitement about the most famous boy band member embarking out on his own. Had someone else peddled this track, it probably wouldn’t have done as well, and the other singles from Justified all received warmer receptions.
Whenever Timberlake goes well out of his way to try his hand at a genre he’s never worked in before, it’s always worth listening to, but there’s a reason why “Drink You Away” is one of only two singles released by the singer that failed to chart. Justin has proven himself capable of pulling off a number of styles, but country-rock is a tough sell for many artists, including him.
The only song released by Timberlake that even comes close to being called Latin music, "Señorita" is lovely, but it is clearly sung by someone still feeling out their solo stardom. On the laidback track, the boy band member almost loses the spotlight to producer Pharrell, and the two don’t take the music as far as it could have gone. That was likely a purposeful decision on their part, but what was left was a nice single, instead of a great one.
Aside from a somewhat unfortunate title that Timberlake and his producers and songwriters clearly didn’t think about before they released this as a single, “Take Back the Night” is a perfectly fine song. It’s catchy, upbeat, and fun. So, why is it so far down on this list? Because it’s not nearly as interesting as so many of his other cuts, which establish him as a true artist, as opposed to somebody a label needs to sell music.
After three consecutive No. 1 hits, Justin could do no wrong...well, almost. Fourth official FutureSex/LoveSounds single “LoveStoned” wasn’t as controversial as its title suggests, but it also wasn’t quite as great as the trio of tunes that preceded it. Any song reserved for fourth single status obviously isn’t going to live up to the previous three, but “LoveStoned” still does a great job of filling that role.
The latest release from the pop star, "Filthy" sees him taking risks once again, and while they mostly pay off, the song feels like the sort of release that won't truly be appreciated for several years. The electronic tune fronts his upcoming fifth solo record Man of the Woods, and it does so in much the same way that "SexyBack" did years ago. It's shocking, sexy, and somewhat unsettling, but man does it bang through the right speakers.
The first top 10 of Timberlake’s solo career, “Cry Me a River” remains an immediately recognizable piece of music that nobody else could have made work like JT did. The song, which is about his past relationship with Britney Spears, was his first standout song and it showed that he was going to drastically change things up after departing *NSYNC.
Just as he did with the lead single from FutureSex/LoveSounds, when it came time for the *NSYNC heartthrob to launch the The 20/20 Experience, he chose to go out on a limb and give the people something they’d never experienced before. “Suit & Tie” needs a minute to really get going, which makes it an odd choice for a lead single, but despite the odds, it worked. The addition of Jay-Z certainly didn’t hurt, either.
The third and final chart-topper to be released off of FutureSex/LoveSounds, “What Goes Around… Comes Around” kept things interesting, and it showed that when given a little bit of room to breathe, Timberlake can craft a tune that builds perfectly and develops into something truly spectacular.
Following up “SexyBack” was a difficult task, and the pop singer needed a bit of help to keep things on track. Timberlake recruited the hottest rapper at the time, T.I., to contribute a verse to his second FutureSex/LoveSounds single, and the collaboration worked perfectly. “My Love” is almost smooth enough to stand on its own, but the hip-hop artist’s part takes it to the next level, and he helped it own the Hot 100 back in 2006.
Six years after he stopped promoting FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake decided to change things up sonically for his two-part album series The 20/20 Experience. Second single “Mirrors” stalled just shy of becoming another No. 1 for the pop star, and it remains not only one of his sweetest, most beautiful releases, but also an easy stand out from both parts one and two of The 20/20 Experience.
After establishing himself as a star in his own right with his debut album, JT didn’t want to make more of the same, and he took a big risk when it came to the lead single from his ambitious sophomore solo record FutureSex/LoveSounds. “SexyBack” was unlike anything else being produced by major players in the music industry, and it was years ahead of its time. Nevertheless, it danced all the way to No. 1, and he’s been bringing sexy back ever since.
It has now been 15 years since Justin broke off from *NSYNC and went solo, and in all that time, there is one song that still stands up and bangs as hard today as it did well over a decade ago. “Rock Your Body” doesn’t sound nearly as dated as the other singles from his early days on his own, and it can still fill a dance floor like nothing else in his back catalog.
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