Producer: The Neptunes
The first solo performance of Timberlake's entire career was at the MTV VMAs in 2002. He hopped on stage in full Michael Jackson mode—he hates the commentary about how he wore a similar ensemble but we'd be lying if we ignored it—and slid from side-to-side belting out those unforgettable meolides over that Neptunes beat. He was joined by Clipse midway through the song, with Pusha donning the stage in an "I', Your Pusha" T-shirt, and No Malice following in his "Patty Cake Man" white T.
Before we get too far into describing the performance itself, the focus must be placed on the facts: it was the most important live gig of JT's career—a career based on inspiration, his evolving relationship with hip-hop, and his ability to succeed without the other four 'N Sync members. It was the percussion, the acoustic guitar looped over and over that gave JT the platform to show off his matured voice just one year after the final 'N Sync album dropped.
The song catapulted Timberlake's career and he got the inspiration from hanging out with The Neptunes while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire. It was the quintessential R&B/pop/hip-hop track filled with soulful lyrics and a heavy beat. It presented JT as a full-fledged musician, and not just the lead singer of 'N Sync. —Lauren Nostro