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It was a big night for Justin Timberlake — and a televised reunion that was 10 years in the making.
After clips of Timberlake’s various music videos from “Cry Me a River” and “Like I Love You” to “Rock Your Body” and “Mirrors” showed on the big screen, the singer made his way through the Barclays Center on Sunday while performing his latest single, “Take Back the Night.”
As he made his way into the venue during a remixed version of “SexyBack,” Timberlake declared, “I still run this b—-!,” before going into his first solo single off Justified, “Like I Love You,” and into an excerpt of FutureSex/LoveSounds track “My Love.” Moving backwards in time, Timberlake then belted out oldies “Cry Me a River,” “Senorita” and “Rock Your Body” as anticipation for the forthcoming ‘N Sync reunion loomed.
When Timberlake received the evening’s biggest honor, the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, the VMA’s equivalent to a lifetime achievement honor, the boy band took to the stage to the chords of Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl” and hints of “Gone” in shadow, before breaking into Celebrity tune “Girlfriend” after their reveal. (“You asked for it,” Timberlake prefaced.)
As if no time had passed, the guys — J.C. Chasez, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Timberlake — performed their iconic “Bye Bye Bye” choreography. It was a quick moment, but the reunion certainly lived up to some expectations, though the band could have stayed onstage for more than one song. (Comedian Kevin Hart later appeared, joking that the other members of ‘N Sync were “pissed off because he only let them do one song.”)
But with Timberlake the ultimate star, following the ‘N Sync reunion he continued on performing, singing his VMA-winning “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors.” The crowd went wild throughout his extended medley set.
Right before the “epic” performance, frequent collaborator Jimmy Fallon introduced Timberlake as the “President of Pop.” And following Timberlake’s show-stopping send-up, an enthusiastic Fallon declared his friend a “legend,” running through a list of his credits from Saturday Night Live, his ‘N Sync days and his solo career.
“Half of the Moonmen I won, I won with those four guys over there,” Timberlake said in his acceptance speech to chants of “Justin!,” addressing his ‘N Sync bandmates. “We can keep it at my house but I share this award with them.”
The ‘N Sync reunion marks a coup for the awards show, which also featured a star-studded lineup that included performances by Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Robin Thicke and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
Anticipation built over a possible ‘N Sync reunion over the past few days with the boy band resurfacing on Twitter one day before the VMAs with a cryptic tweet: “Mic check, mic check one.. two… is this thing on?!” In a little over 24 hours, the account garnered more than 132,000 followers.
MTV announced earlier this month that Timberlake — tied with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with the most VMA noms with six — would be the latest recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, which recognizes innovation and artistry in music video creation and impact.
Previous honorees have included Michael Jackson, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, R.E.M., Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Britney Spears, the last artist to receive the award in 2011. By comparison, Timberlake’s career retrospective was exponentially better than Spears’ two years ago, which featured dancers performing choreography to her music videos.
During a pre-show interview with MTV News’ Sway Calloway, Timberlake admitted that he felt he wasn’t “worthy” of receiving the award, but said that he wasn’t “going to pass it up.” The entertainer also joked about the honor: “This is the ‘you got old’ award.” He also remembered his first performances at the VMAs — with ‘N Sync — and his first VMA solo performance of “Like I Love You,” “which no one had heard before” at the time.
Near the top of the hour, the VMA announcer confirmed the reunion when she teased, “The biggest performance of Justin Timberlake’s career — and maybe not all-the-way solo.”
‘N Sync’s last televised performance came at the 2003 Grammy Awards, where the group sang a Bee Gees medley.
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James Gordon Meek