Standing within the first 10 rows at Roseland Ballroom on May 5, my friend Mary and I looked at each other with crazed exhilaration as a teaser version of Justin Timberlake’s 2002 hit “Like I Love You” played through the venue. We, along with 2,000 other 20-somethings, were waiting for Timberlake to hit the stage for a private show for MasterCard holders — his first performance in New York City in six years. Mary and I had predicted we’d freak out Belieber-style: squeal, jump, and cry when our long-time love hit the stage — that’s how we’d reacted at his past concerts, after all. But as Timberlake walked out on stage, no one acted like tweens. In fact, everyone acted like what we now all were — adults.
The first time I saw Timberlake live was July 20, 1999 at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Western New York. Since then I’ve seen Justin —with and without *NSYNC— a grand total of nine times: Three *NSYNC concerts, two *NSYNC charity basketball games, and three Timberlake (soon-to-be four) concerts. Yes, that’s a lot, but it’s spread over a 14-year span.
My taste in music and concert-going habits have changed dramatically since I last saw him live six years ago. For starters, I can buy my own concert tickets now and provide my own transportation. I also listen to more alternative music and rarely listen to Top 40 radio. Sure, I still occasionally attend high-production concerts for huge pop stars, but now I prefer listening to the music rather than watching an extravaganza. More simply put, I’ve matured.
Timberlake has matured too.
All of the other times I saw Justin were in arenas and football stadiums with huge productions —fireworks, lasers, monster-size stages, at least 10 backup dancers. Throughout the 18-song set list, Justin only had a band and backup singers accompanying him on stage. He whipped out his smooth dance moves a few times for only parts of his hit songs — never the full routine he used to perform.
He made a ton of blatant drug references because he could for this crowd free of parent chauffeurs. Along with the drug references, Timberlake also made a lot of sexual gestures. Something that also would’ve been a little risque in an arena full of teens.
Half-way through the show, Timberlake went to the piano directly in front of me to sing his 2003 hit “Senorita.” In the song and usually on stage, Timberlake preps his audience for the sing-back section by explaining how to answer his lyrics. However, this time Timberlake just looked at the audience and said, “Do I even need to say this to you guys?” The audience laughed and cheered, to which he responded, “That’s fucking right!” When the song ended the audiencegave one huge round of applause. No squealing, no cheering — just clapping.
This reaction was not only a great indicator of the show’s level of intimacy, but also poignant in explaining how Timberlake relates with his original fan base now. He didn’t need to work the crowd to get them to participate (they already knew what to do), he could cuss without people thinking, “OMG Justin Timberlake from *NSYNC just SWORE,” and he didn’t need effects or dancers to keep the audience entertained and engaged.
Aside from meeting Timberlake (or my dream - writing a feature about him), this experience was as good as it gets for a super fan like me. When’s the next time Timberlake will play an intimate general admission show that I can get tickets to and wind up in the first 10 rows? I’m willing to bet never. This hour and 40-min-long experience was absolutely priceless (Which is appropriate because it was for MasterCard’s Priceless program and also incredibly ironic because I’ve never spend more money on a concert ticket, ever.).
The final sign that this was a show experienced by more grown up fans? As I walked out of the ballroom, my back and legs ached from standing for hours.
Maybe it’s not so bad to see Timberlake in an arena with seats after all? Nah, it was worth all the pain that comes with adulthood.