“I’ve been sitting here, can’t get you off my mind, I’ve tried my best to be a man and be strong…”
Sound familiar? Those are the words ‘N Sync sang in their 2001 hit “Gone” — which wasn’t even written with the group in mind.
Justin Timberlake — who’s the most successful member to date — kicks off the brand new season of the Emmy nominated series Oprah’s Master Class this Sunday, and, for the first time, reveals he originally penned that song for one legendary musician: Michael Jackson. And it was Michael who inspired him to start a solo career.
Recalling the time he first started to explore songwriting, Justin explains, “I originally wrote that song for Michael Jackson. I just got word that it wasn’t, you know, that they had turned the song down so we decided to cut it, but it was one of those songs where it felt a little more personal to me cause I had written it for the like the biggest artist of all time.”
Unfortunately for JT (but fortunately for ‘N Sync because it hit No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), Michael ended up hearing the track and wanted to record it with him.
“I said, ‘Well, it’s already out. You know we’ve already cut this song as an ‘N Sync record.’ I’m on the phone. I’m literally punching myself in the face because I said you know we can’t do that,” he shares.
That’s when the crooner offered up the next best thing: Could they record it as ‘N Sync featuring Michael Jackson or vice versa?
“He was very absolute about the fact that he wanted it to be a duet between himself and I,” Justin says. “And I think it’s the first idea that I ever got about doing something on my own because it was the first time I’d ever really felt the confidence to do it.”
With that, the now married (sigh) entertainer knew he had to embark on a new path and leave the group behind after their third and final album, Celebrity, which featured "Gone."
“I knew that the music I was interested in and was writing at the time was different than what we had previously done and it felt like a real departure,” Justin admits. “I never told anybody that Michael story.
As you may recall, MJ did join the group for one epic performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2001. The group performed “Pop” — and at the very end, the King of Pop delivered. Justin would go on to take home the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award 12 years later during the same awards show.
Although he never had the pleasure of recording a duet with his idol before Michael’s June 2009 death, the former boy band-er is now living that dream.
Their new track, “Love Never Felt So Good,” off the late singer’s upcoming album Xscape, has already entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart following its first few days of availability.
“I’m lucky enough to have memories — actually, physically — with him onstage and off,” Justin’s said.
Watch the video for their new tune below: