October 19, 2015

Why Justin Timberlake Belongs to Us.

I first saw Justin Timberlake perform with *NSYNC in Memphis in 2000. Come to think of it, I guess that's the only time I've ever seen him perform. It was the No Strings Attached tour (at the Pyramid) and I was with my three of my closest high school friends.

The experience was amazing, but a big part of that probably had to do with the fact that I was in Memphis with no adult supervision. I was a fairly big NSYNC fan, and thought Justin was great.

However, my real main squeeze was Howie D. from the Backstreet Boys, so I didn't geek out or go all crazy fan girl like some other concert attendees. A girl sitting behind us kept screaming in a high pitch voice "I LOVE YOU JUSTIN TIMBERLAAAAAAKE" while she dabbed her perspiration with a washcloth.

If you had told me that fifteen years later I'd be crying over Justin Timberlake myself, I wouldn't have believed it. But it's true.

At the concert, there was one point where they brought up one of Justin's former teachers who presented him with an official high school diploma, seeing as how he was a Memphis native and had missed out on the traditional high school experience because of touring and just being so famous.

It was a particularly poignant moment for my best friend and me, since we were just a few weeks shy of our own high school graduation. We've talked about it over the years, how Justin Timberlake is such a huge part of the zeitgeist during our coming of age years. At one point, I remember saying that being there for his "graduation" meant so much to me because it felt like Justin belonged to us: people our age, but also me and my friend.

I think my friend probably said something like, "yes, but that's what stalkers say too."

Today I watched a video of Justin Timberlake's acceptance speech into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. And cried like a baby. As a Tennessean and a southerner I can say that he truly does belong to us. And we should all be proud.

The video is nearly 40 minutes long (including Jimmy Fallon's hilarious introduction and general antics throughout). But I encourage you to watch it.

Here are the high points that left an impact on me.

1) Remember who you are and where you come from. My dad has been saying this to me all my life. Without a clear sense of your identity and the people who helped get you there, it's impossible to know where you're going.

2) And don't apologize for where you come from, either. You can't help it if you were born in a hospital or in a house out in the country. You didn't get to choose your neighborhood nor the people in your family. There's no sense being sorry about it because it helped shape who you are.

3) Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Part of why I cried while watching the video is that Justin cried, too. To me, people who aren't afraid to show emotions are the ones with the real strength. And being a stoic just isn't any fun.

4) Pick the right friends and keep 'em. Justin thanked his longtime best friend in his speech and it was such a touching moment. No matter where life takes you, it's so nice to have people who can say they knew you when.

5) Choose a spouse or partner who will support your dreams. Justin's sentiments for wife Jessica Biel were short and sweet, but also heartfelt. He called her his rock and noted that while not a native, she had earned her status as an honorary Memphian by being such a strong person.

6) Know how to laugh at yourself and roll with the punches. Even though Justin's speech was supposedly playing out on a teleprompter, there were many great impromptu moments. And instead of freaking out or acting miffed, he rolled with it. This can be challenging for those of us who are inclined to embrace control (do you like how I said control freaks in a nicer way?). But I think you miss out on a lot of things you couldn't have imagined if you just let go and see what happens.

7) Believe anything is possible. How does a kid from a Memphis suburb end up as one of the biggest stars in the world? By believing it can be done. Justin told a story about how when he was ten, he figured out that Al Green was also living in Memphis, not too far away from his family. He decided that if someone else in Memphis could make an incredible career out of music, he could do it too.

8) Work hard. In his introduction, Jimm Fallon mentioned Justin Timberlake's extremely dedicated work ethic. I find it interesting that most of the people who equate their success to good luck were actually just really hard workers who looked for opportunities and weren't afraid to go for it.

9) Recognize your community. Nobody ever get anywhere alone. No matter how much hard work you put in, there are always people who helped you get there. I love how Justin thanks his grandparents, calling them his "original entourage." Then of course he also recognized many of the other artists whose work paved the way and inspired him through the years.

10) Be yourself. I've never met Justin Timberlake. I don't know what he's 'really like' any more than you do. But he just seems so genuine and real. That's hard to fake. Have you ever found yourself acting like something you're not? Being someone you're not? It takes way too much energy to keep this up. You are you for a reason. Just be you.

I was really inspired today by Justin Timberlake. It's not that I want to be a pop star or a music mogul. But I have a dream that I'd like to see become a reality. I bet you do too. Justin Timberlake reminded me that anything is possible. He reminded me that you don't have to sell-out or change who you are or conform to who you think the world wants you to be. He reminded me to keep chasing my dream and never give up. I hope you do the same.