These days, Justin Timberlake is much more than just a pop heartthrob, but when he released “Cry Me A River” in 2002, he was—frankly—just a pop heartthrob. His Calling Card? Being that cute guy who can dance. Or as iTunes puts it, “he is adored by millions of fans, many of whom have been adolescent girls.”
As embarrassing as it may be to admit, at the onset, there was not much more to Timberlake’s fame than that. He was the Justin Bieber of the late 1990s and early 2000s (if Justin Bieber was old enough to drive): good-looking, young, high-voiced and charming. He was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club alongside Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, and Christina Aguilera, and in his mid-teens he gained international fame as the primary hot guy in the five-person teen pop get-up *NSYNC.
All of that was nice and all, but “Cry Me A River” was the pivotal moment in his shift from teen boy-band star to solo act. It might seem silly, but with Justified, Timberlake solidified the fact that he really did have a talent for singing, dancing, and charming his audiences. “Like I Love You,” the first single off the album, was still pretty much a shallow dance tune, even if was a bit spicier than his *NSYNC stuff. With the release of “Cry Me A River,” though, the world began to consider Timberlake a serious artist. Shortly thereafter, he also got on a lot of people’s good side by beginning a public routine of self-mockery on late-night shows like Saturday Night Live. In other words, pretty face he is—but he’s more than just that.
In more recent years, Timberlake has also demonstrated some chops as an actor and as a funny guy. We suspect that his doe eyes and his increasingly broad performance repertoire will be the fare of gossip columnists and romantic comedy fans for a long time to come.