- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

Justin Timberlake is saying bye, bye to 'N Sync. At least temporarily. While the teen-pop quintet is on hiatus, Mr. Timberlake is launching a solo career, one that may just overshadow his work with the band that made him a star.

Not that he has any plans to ditch them just yet.

"The fact that the guys in the group are my friends is what's inspiring me to make another record," he says via telephone during a conference call with reporters last week. "You know there's no egos. Everyone's doing what they want to be doing."

"I'll never turn my back on them," he adds.

And Michael Jackson probably never figured he'd overshadow his older siblings at the start of his career, either. The comparisons are fairly apt, as Mr. Timberlake's first, falsetto-heavy album "Justified" owes plenty to the (onetime) king of pop.

The album comes out Tuesday, but the first single "Like I Love You" has already been climbing the charts, thanks to its Neptunes-produced beat and Mr. Timberlake's rather grown-up transformation.

"In the madness of all the 'N Sync craze, things just got so crazy, that I think as a group we decided to slow down and see where our heads were at," he says. "[The album is] really more about timing than anything."

Critics of teen pop can't really point to Mr. Timberlake anymore as a prime violator he's out of his teens now and has dropped what he has recently derided as the "bubblegum sound." His model instead seems to be rhythm and blues, from classic Motown to modern hip-hop.

"Hip-hop has become pop," he says. "We're moving back to an era like the '60s when people didn't really classify everything."

While he isn't about to drop Joey, Lance and the rest of his band mates, Mr. Timberlake has been thinking about going solo for a long time.

"This has kind of been an ongoing thing since I was a kid," he says. "It's always been a dream of mine. I wasn't just talking gibberish at the end of the first single."

Critics have already interpreted some of the songs on the album to his well-publicized breakup with Britney Spears, something Mr. Timberlake is reluctant to discuss. From the exasperated tone of his voice, the rumor mill has done a number on the young singer this year.

"I'm really indifferent about all that," he says. "This is all a learning experience for me. I've already said some things I shouldn't have said, done some things I shouldn't have done."

"For some reason, the tabloids have just grabbed me in the past year. It becomes a little annoying," he adds.

The album certainly has a more mature feel, and Mr. Timberlake's collaboration with noted producers like Timbaland and the Neptunes has certainly helped.

"I'm proud of the whole thing," he says. "I like how the record feels; you can tell everyone had a good time. We weren't trying to make everything so perfect."

Right now a tour is in the works, and Mr. Timberlake says that his old band may go back into the studio early next year.

"I don't think an 'N Sync record is all about me," he says. "Our music was starting to evolve into something different and you can't rush something like that."

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