What does Justin Timberlake mean when he says he's bringing sexy back? He explained in Observer Music Monthly, July 2006: "I have trouble naming my songs. The chorus is very James Brown-ish, call out and repeat, like 'Sex Machine.' I wrote it from top to bottom. It's a very physical song, meant to provoke sexual dance. 'Sex Machine' is the closest reference. If David Bowie were to cover 'Sex Machine': 'Rebel Rebel, got ya mother in a whirrrrl'."
Timberlake wrote this song with his producers, Timbaland and Nate "Danja" Hills. This team also worked on Timberlake's "Cry Me A River
" and produced Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous
," which features a cameo by Timberlake in the video.
Listeners spent a lot time analyzing the lyrics to this song. According to one theory, it is about S&M practices, with the "Sexy Back" the markings on the back of the person being whipped. This section in particular lends credence to this theory:
You see these shackles, baby
I'm your slave
I'll let you whip me if I misbehave
It's just that no one makes me feel this way
The refrain in this song is "Go 'head, be gone with it," but Timberlake knew it needed a better title. He came up with "SexyBack," and make the opening line, "I'm bringin' sexy back."
"Sexy back" appears only three times in the track, but it shows up at the beginning and again at the end, which make it memorable. It's also a it's a unique title, which makes it stand out.
Timberlake brought Michael Haussman in to direct the music video because of his work on Madonna's "Take A Bow
," which has had a lasting influence on the singer. He told MTV News: "Even today, I still remember the visuals, the images, how he captured her. A lot of times, Madonna seems like she's the person in control, and in that video, she seemed vulnerable. It was a cool thing to see."
The video was shot in Barcelona over four days, with Elena Anaya starring opposite Timberlake as a rival spy who becomes his love interest.
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly
, Timberlake credited the Thin White Duke as an inspiration for this song. "I was listening to a lot of [David] Bowie at that time - Ziggy Stardust
and Diamond Dogs
- and I played 'Rebel Rebel
' over and over again, like, 15 times the day before I wrote anything for 'SexyBack'," he said.
"We were interested in taking those new-wave synth sounds that were made popular by bands like Tears for Fears and the Human League and seeing how much R&B we could add to that sound." Timberlake added. "We wanted to take those synth sounds and make them arpeggiated, almost like what's very common with EDM now."
Musically, this song was ahead of its time, forged from elements of electronic dance music at a time when that was a fringe genre. The foundation is "four-on-the-floor" beat typically found in disco songs: the kick drum hits every beat in the bar. Danja Hills came up with the idea to use that beat on this track.
There is a certain self-awareness in the song, as at different points we hear "Take it to the bridge" and "Take it to the bridge" introducing those sections. This keeps the song lighthearted and also makes it clear that the song structure is a focal point. James Brown did this a lot, telling his band and the listeners what was coming next.
Timbaland often added vocal interjections to the tracks he produced, and he's all over this one, notably in the chorus where he says, "VIP" and "Drinks on me."
Timberlake's record company, Jive, planned to release "My Love" as the first single from FutureSex: LoveSounds, which was his second solo album. Justin knew from the reaction of the studio crew that "Sexyback" was a winner, so he pushed for the track to be the debut single and got his way. Released on July 6, 2006, it got a huge reaction and reached #1 on September 9, where it stayed for seven weeks. The album also went to #1 and sold over 9 million copies, vaulting Timberlake to another stratum of stardom.