Secrets From The Experts: Inside 2 Years Of Justin Timberlake’s Epic ’20/20′ World Tour

-By Rosalia Cefalu

It’s February 11th, 2013. Only a month prior, Justin Timberlake had announced his first album release in seven years, a move that sparked shrieks and trembles in the homes and offices of fans worldwide. But on this particular night we learn something new about Timberlake’s plans as he takes the stage at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards. Of course, we’d seen the signs with “Suit & Tie” the record’s lead single that seamlessly melded a booming horn-filled section with modern hip-hop. But we weren’t prepared for a slick-haired Timberlake, looking like a long lost member of the Rat Pack, crooning in the spotlight over an 18-piece band. Only then did we, the fans, realize—this is not a one-time epic performance to land his name back on top of the music world. This is a new era of our beloved JT. This era lasted until January 2nd, 2015, the final date of his 20/20 Experience World Tour.

I’ve spent the past 18 months following Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids (his band members, singers, and dancers), and I want to share with you the secrets and stories I’ve collected on my journey.

In these 18 months I’ve travelled to eight cities for 19 different shows, over the course of which I spent one amazing night at 30 Rockefeller Center watching him perform on SNL, agonized in a 10-hour line on a sweaty Manhattan sidewalk, and collected an arsenal of stories, celebrity encounters, and new friends along the way. But this is not my story alone. I’m lucky to have been a part of this sub-culture of JT fandom, where the die-hards call themselves, aptly, the #JTFam.

These die-hards were being reawoken from past love they probably never fully let go of. The majority of the women I’ve met on this tour began their journeys in adolescence following ‘Nsync, but here they met a new Justin. Not the vengeful Justin of “Cry Me a River.” Not the lady-playing smooth talker of “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Here they met a man: married, in love, and respected enough to earn him the few pinches of sass we hear in his verbal repertoire. If the Timberlake camp was looking for loyalty and commitment for the 13-month-stint they were about to embark on,  they brought the awakening of his most loyal group of followers, the #JTFam. This is our story.

Me and my swan song sign at the grand finale of The 20/20 Experience World Tour in Las Vegas

The Timberbiel Baby Is Very Real

When the last New York City show was announced at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, I knew I’d want to sit at the VIP tables in the back. If any show would deliver the glitz and glam that the VIP experience embodies, it would be this one. John is my waiter, and he keeps a round of fresh Chardonnays at my table. “You guys are in for an amazing show,” he tells me, “There are even a few special guests in the house tonight.”

“Oh yeah? Are they here right now?” I glance around the VIP, but all I see is middle-aged women checking their lipstick and a man in a yarmulke. “Oh yes, I’m taking care of them right now. They’re very close to you actually…you’ll see them.”

Pro Tip: When sitting in the VIP, thank and tip your waiter for the surplus of Chardonnay.

As the lights dim, an usher sneaks a group of people through the aisle to the table next to us in the VIP, so as to not be seen by the rest of the crowd. The leader of the pack is JT’s wife, Jessica Biel. She stuns in a gray jumpsuit throughout the show, singing along to every word before she’s scurried back out at the start of “Holy Grail,” the last song before intermission. By the way, we can confirm it for ourselves—the Timberbiel baby is coming.

We had a sneaking suspicion we’d see the likes of Taylor Swift and maybe even Queen Bey and Jay. They had all been spotted at Taylor’s now infamous 25th birthday party in Tribeca the night before. But with the show almost halfway over and the gang absent from the VIP section, we figured the special guests were Jessica and JT’s usual crew of hometown friends. That is until none other than Jay Z himself joins Timberlake on stage for “Holy Grail.” The crowd turns into a freak show, and I see one girl in the audience who is thrashing with the bass line harder than I am: Taylor Swift.

In a closed off section of loge seating directly behind us, her blonde bob knocks into the sisters of HAIM beside her, though her locks are hardly a contender next to Beyonce’s curling Beyhive, another member of the all-star squad who is saving a seat for her hubby when he’s done on stage. Aw, how domestic.

Hanging Out With The Tennessee Kids

I had driven from Montreal to Boston with my best friend Sigourney for two nights of The 20/20 Experience. After the end of the first show, we pour out of the stadium, and struggle to locate our AirBnB with our cell service shot (Canada and all.)

From a skeevy maintenance entrance on the side of the stadium, a dark figure emerges. I’m still seeing spots from the aftermath of the mildly-epileptic laser show JT just delivered, as the figure starts to approach us. I quickly go into fight-or-flight mode when the man shouts, “HEY!”

My heart beats faster with every step he takes toward us. Suddenly a cheshire smile starts to creep up my cheek—It’s one of the Tennessee Kids! And he’s about to give us directions. See? I knew I loved these guys.

“Hey you! It’s our biggest fan!” We hug—my pride filling the majority of the space between us. He asks us if we’re coming to the after party, where the tour opener DJ Freestyle Steve is spinning. While we had no intention of going (we had just begun cooling off from the 2 1/2 hour cardio routine JT just led), we reply with a nonchalant “Oh yeah, probably in a bit.” He invites us to come hang with the crew beforehand, which we not-so-reluctantly accept, after we grab a few things (shoes that don’t make you want to die) from our place. He gives us a hotel room number and we say goodbye for now. I repeat the room number out loud 20 times after I enter it in my phone, just in case this thing spontaneously combusts.

The get-together moves en masse from one hotel room to another. I keep my calm, reminding Sigourney of my one cardinal rule: “Don’t bring up Justin—we’re hanging out with some of the most talented people in the world. We can’t be fan-girling.” Due to the Tennessee Kids being stuck off that realness, this was surprisingly easy to do.

We let the Kids lead the way into the next hotel room, and from inside I hear, “Yo who did you bring in here?” I take a few steps closer to see it’s Aaron Camper, backup singer and newly solo artist (having JT withdrawals? Go listen to Aaron Camper’s ’My Heart’). He spots me, unmistakable in the neon yellow dress I was shaking in all night from the third row. “Oh shit!” he shouts, “It’s the crazy girl and her friend!” I nearly drop to the floor laughing, my status shifting from “Our Biggest Fan” to “The Crazy Girl.” “Oh is that what I’m called now? Mannnn…” As we share our first laugh together, for the first time in this epic run-in, I’m finally feeling comfortable.

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