By Courtney E. Smith
Justin Timberlake, the President of Pop, has only issued four solo albums, but has a host of collaborations to his name that have had arguably as big an impact on his career as any of his singles. His work on comedy tracks with the Lonely Island and Fallon have surpassed being simple songs and are now woven into the patchwork of pop culture.
We ranked every song Justin Timberlake has released including singles, album tracks, significant features and collaborations. Obviously all ‘NSYNC songs are excluded as are tracks he sang the chorus on but not much else (a la Snoop Dogg’s “Signs” and Rihanna’s “Rehab”). We also omitted songs he may have written but does more than act as a background singer in (ahem, Britney Spears “What It’s Like to Be Me,” that means you).
But we dive in with his solo debut, Justified and the groundbreaking first single “Like I Love You,” and take it all the way through his latest, examining The 20/20 Experience Part 2 and his chart-topping “Not A Bad Thing.”
This ranking of all of Justin Timberlake’s songs takes into consideration his frequent production partnerships with Timbaland and Pharrell, along with his peerless contributions to the genre of pop music. The opinions might not always be popular (sorry “SexyBack”), but even the worst Timberlake song is better than what most people could ever create so subjectivity is the name of the game.
82. Timbaland – “Carry Out”
That time Timbaland got inspired by the Burger King tagline and wrote a song whose chorus includes “have it your way” and made Justin Timberlake sing a whole verse comparing a woman to fast food. The lowest of the low, which is funny considering we gave a solid ranking to JT’s McDonald’s ad track “I’m Lovin’ It.” There is a right and wrong way to handle fast food in songs. This is proof.
81. “True Blood”
Animalistic metaphors addressing carnal love are tricky. One can only assume this track meant to go that way and ended up in jokey Halloween territory. It is Justin Timberlake’s “Monster Mash,” probably on accident.
80. Madonna – “4 Minutes” (with Timbaland)
Madge’s plan to enlist Timbaland and Justin to help keep her young and relevant to mainstream pop on the lead single from her 2009 album Hard Candy backfired with “4 Minutes.” Instead of writing something revolutionary, the group managed to write a song about how important pop music could hypothetically be except not this song, obviously. And it’s on top of a Timb beat that was ubiquitous at the time, therefore rendering it unoriginal. All around, some of the most self-indulgent work of everyone involved.
79. The Lonely Island – “Motherlover”
The things one usually finds in a Lonely Island + J. Timberlake collab, like adorableness and unexpectedly crass humor, cross a line in this one into just gross. They don’t find the joke as much as they beat you over the head with the idea of having weird friend-mom sex. At best hard to listen to, at worst creepy.
78. Timbaland “Bounce” (with Dr. Dre & Missy Elliott)
Given the level of talent working together here, this track is super disappointing. It’s from Timb’s 2007 album Shock Value, which followed the 2006 release of JT’s groundbreaking FutureSex/LoveSounds, for which Timb got credit as one of the chief architects. Shock Value, and this track, however come off as the leftovers that didn’t fit into the quilt of the the masterwork the dynamic duo just finished. If that’s the cake, this is the crumbs.
The lyrics to this song are a therapist’s nightmare. You’re like my mirror, my mirror starring back at me? Even the most suspect relationship expert would tell you that seeking a partner who you think is a reflection of yourself is highly narcissistic and the recipe for some kind of horrid dom/sub relationship in which your partner’s needs are sublimated for your own constantly because you, as the original image, keep insisting your mirror image wants exactly what you want. Basically if this is your song, you’re going to break up.
76. Esmeé Denters “Love Dealer”
This duet is from the debut album of the first artist JT signed to his Tenman Records. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Esmeé Denters, sadly, crashed and burned. It’s easy to see why in this duet from the album, that was released as a single. The production is generic and the singing is average.
75. “Strawberry Bubblegum”
It main complaint about The 20/20 Experience was that the songs ran a bit long. There’s hardly a track on the album that clocks in at under five minutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum” combines that unnecessary length with some psychedelic vibes that aren’t usually the kind of thing Timberlake messes with and mashes that into a chorus where he’s singing to a girl who chews strawberry bubblegum…when he’s in his 30s. All around rating: whut? bordering on ew.
74. “Take It From Here”
You know that too-long problem we mentioned earlier that plagued The 20/20 Experience? This track was the one off Justified that foreshadowed that editing was going to be a problem for Justin’s songwriting. If he trimmed this one down by about two minutes it would be alright.
73. “Chop Me Up”
Well this was a failed dabbling into that whole chopped and screwed scene. Whoever thought maybe they should put some of that flavor onto a Justin Timberlake joint should rethink their life.
Easily the weakest song on FutureSex/LoveSounds. You liked it because you heard it played a lot, not because it was good. The lyrics mainly consist of the word “yeah!” shouted over and over and the catchphrase “I’m bringing sexy back.” The music is a single tight sample, repeated ad nauseam. What it’s missing is a song —and JT is best when he’s got some soul structure around his impressive voice. It’s just not a single that makes the best use of his talents. Musically, this is Timbaland at his weakest.
71. Timbaland “Give it To Me (feat. Nelly Furtado)”
70. Reba McEntire – “The Only Promise That Remains”
69. “Never Again”
68. “Take Back the Night”
67. Brian McKnight – “My Kind of Girl”
66. “Pair of Wings”
64. The Lonely Island – “3 Way (The Golden Rule)”
62. “Electric Lady”
61. “Let the Groove Get In”
60. “The Auld Triangle (from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack)”
59. Jamie Foxx – “Winner”
58. “Let’s Take A Ride”
56. “Spaceship Coupe”
55. “Good Foot”
54. “(Oh No) What You Got”
53. “Worth Of”
52. “(Another Song) All Over Again”
51. “Body Count”
50. “That Girl”
49. T.I. – “Dead and Gone”
47. “Summer Love/Set the Mood”
46. T-Pain – “Set the Mood (Remix)”
45. “Nothin’ Else”
44. “Losing My Way”
43. Pharrell “Brand New”
42. “Love Don’t Love Me”
40. “Right For Me”
39. Timbaland – “Release”
38. “Only When I Walk Away”
37. “Sexy Ladies/Let Me Talk To You”
36. “Until the End of Time”
35. “Please Mr. Kennedy (from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack)”
34. “Why, When, How”
33. “Dress On”
32. Ciara – “Love Sex Magic”
This bonus track from the Target edition of The 20/20 Experience Part 2 is better than some of the album tracks. It’s sparse musically, relying on jazz tones and auto-tuned vocals, which are an odd combo but really work here. Lyrically, it’s some of JT’s strongest work but what makes this track a stunner is the shuffle beat on the drums.
29. “Gimme What I Don’t Know”
When it starts, you’d swear this might be a Queen song. The beat clears that all up, but the jungle metaphors sound very much up Freddie Mercury’s alley.
28. “(And She Said) Take Me Now”
The Neptunes really love that male/female vocal call and response thing and they use it to perfect effect on this track. The layering on JT’s vocals is great also, making the song sound super future facing.
27. 50 Cent – “Ayo Technlogy”
When 50 was still hot he got JT on this track. The two have agendas that couldn’t mesh better. There’s something that really works about 50’s super low mumble and JT’s reach for a higher pitch verging into falsetto. They meld well.
26. “You Got It On”
Super sexy mid-temp jam with signature Timbaland production effects. A solid workhorse of a JT track.
25. Jay Z – “Holy Grail”
A payback verse for Jay Z’s appearance on his own “Suit & Tie,” the level of emotion JT reaches on this Rick Ruben produced track is something worth hearing. Clearly it takes a certain kind of dude behind the knobs to make JT stretch for something we rarely hear in his voice.
24. “Still on My Brain”
Possibly the best Jackson 5 song that the family band didn’t record. Highly evokes young Michael Jackson, which is perhaps the biggest compliment Timberlake could get/is going for.
23. “Tunnel Vision”
Killer intro that sets the tone for a highly infectious tune. Another danceable winner in his highly danceable catalog.
22. “Don’t Hold the Wall”
Straight up a great disco beat. Top dance tune. JT does this whole genre well but this song is the apex of that apex. Impossible to listen to and not want to get up and dance.
21. “Last Night”
It’s really enjoyable when Timberlake wears his influences on his sleeve and that’s basically the whole point of this track. Aurally it’s very BeeGees, but lyrically there are callbacks to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” and is the spiritual sibling to Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar.”
20. “Pusher Love Girl”
From the Busby Berkley string intro to the Prohibition-era Harlem dance hall beat of this song, it’s a toe tapper. There are some vocal acrobats from Timbaland that it could do without but overall it’ll give you goose bumps.
19. Juicy J – “The Woods”
This feature is a payback for Juicy J joining JT on “Chop Me Up” in 2006 and it’s exactly the kind of feature Timberlake should do. The song is hella weird and JT plays the straight man, like he would on a Lonely Island track, delivering the lines with no affectation. Just selling it and making it better.
18. “I’m Lovin It”
Not bad for a track written by Pharrell specifically to become a hip hop oriented McDonald’s commercial. For a commercial jingle, it’s actually a hell of a good full length song. Frankly, better than several other things in JT’s song archive.
17. “Blue Ocean Floor”
This track is Timberlake at his most reflective, seemingly using some tricks he picked up after doing a few co-writes on other songs with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. Make no mistake – this is absolutely an album track that could never be a single, but it’s a standout in his catalog.
16. “Damn Girl”
What goes around comes back around in JT’s world. After he made the Black Eyed Peas pop superstars with his contribution to the track that would change the trajectory of their career in 2003, this was will.i.am coming back around to give him a hit on his 2006 album. Possibly JT’s most Marvin Gaye inspired song, certainly a salute to Motown.
15. Jimmy Fallon – “History of Rap”
In a track taken straight from his late night show and released on one of Fallon’s comedy albums, this karaoke of some of the most seminal rap songs performed by the two has lead to an on-going multi-part skit on his show and solidified Timberlake’s fandom of rap.
14. “Suit & Tie (feat. Jay Z)”
It’s JT dabbling in that Frank Sinatra stuff, but actually pulling off something more like a Sammy Davis Jr. track. Doesn’t matter, it still pretty great. This was a surprising lead track for his return in 2013, six years after his last album. And this is one of the best beats on a track this decade.
13. Black Eyed Peas – “Where Is the Love?”
JT is an uncredited vocalist on this song, but ends up getting all the credit for rebooting the Black Eyed Peas’ career because of this song. He crafted the chorus, which he sings, in 15 minutes based off a melody that had been stuck in his head for awhile after hearing the verses will.i.am was writing, back in 2001. That makes this the best pre-solo Justin track we have.
12. “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows”
The thing that makes many of Timberlake’s songs so attractive is the way the music mashes up hints of the past with the idea that you’re listening to the musical future. This is one of the “mash-up” tracks that dominates FutureSex/LoveSounds. The first half is funky, the second half is a drone track inspired by Interpol. It’s a little bit Michael Bay, a little bit David Lynch.
11. “Five Hundred Miles (with Carey Mulligan from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack)”
Think you JT’s voice? This track, produced by the legendary T. Bone Burnet, makes him sound like someone you’ve never heard before. Obviously it’s a different kind of track than we would ever get on a proper JT album, as a folk song, but the measured and restrained tones he uses to sing here aren’t even something you’ve heard on a feature before. Top track because it actually shows us some variety in singing styles he could master, should he care to.
A man is not pulling any punches when he makes the lead song on his debut album a track produced by Pharrell, especially in 2002 when N.E.R.D.’s production ruled the universe of pop. Pharrell’s background vocals and general presence bring out something laid back and charming in JT that dominates this track.
9. Michael Jackson – “Love Never Felt So Good”
Several of JT’s songs have been compared to his idol, Michael Jackson (so have his dance moves but that’s another article). Rather than plug any of those tracks into this slot, we insist you give consideration to his post humous duet with the King of Pop. His voice holds up standing next to the greatest male pop singer of modern times, which makes it pretty damn good.
8. “Cry Me A River”
His debut solo single, this song will forever be a JT staple. Solid track, amazing use of his falsetto, beautiful break down at the end.
7. “Not A Bad Thing”
The #haveyouseenthiscouple marketing campaign around this single was tough to take, but the song itself is not a bad thing.
6. “What Goes Around…Comes Around”
This is the apex of Justin Timberlake’s lover scorned genre song. It’s an area he enjoys writing about and in the delivery on “What Goes Around…Comes Around” he’s at the top of his “karma is a bitch” game. It’s also some of the best of Timbaland’s India/Bollywood-inspired beats from the time period.
5. “Like I Love You”
One of the most definitive JT songs, this is a highlight on his debut solo album. It’s his holla back to the gossip magazine industrial complex, mashed up with vocals delivered like a dirty whisper in the ear about why this girl is different from all of the other girls. One of his most seductive tracks, right down to begging for a chance to be your man.
4. “Drink You Away”
What makes this track so great is how different it is from all his other heartbreak songs. Where the typical JT break up jam is bitter and dark, this one is almost uplifting. Sure, he’s drunk on Jack and Jim, but it’s also a sing along. Just like they do in Ireland — maybe all that time with Marcus Mumford and T. Bone Burnet on the Llewyn Davis soundtrack influenced him to try something more guitar based, outside of his typical R&B/Michael Jackson box. Whatever it is, this is a good look.
3. The Lonely Island – “Dick in a Box”
This song surpassed being just a song and became part of the pop culture zeitgeist. It’s more than just funny: the punch line is so unexpected and absurd that the novelty never wears off. The nods to new jack swing/’90s R&B are perfectly played also. Timberlake is the straight man to the Lonely Island’s merry prankster here, but his delivery is what sells the song.
2. “My Love”
A big part of what makes this song so beloved by JT’s fans is that it is the apex of his “let me talk to you” vibe where he tells a girl how she’s perfect and wonderful and he’s in love with her. Girls want to be the girl in “My Love” and guys want to be smart enough to come up with these words themselves. Top it off with one of Timb’s most dancable beats and it’s a classic.
1. “Rock Your Body”
This song is JT doing what JT does best and Timbaland more than ably backing him up with top notch production work. It’s the quintessential club banger, full of Timberlake’s signature sexually charged lyrics and even manages to capture and best display his beat boxing skills. The best of his very best.