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That certain something

Comparing Justin Timberlake and Frank Sinatra may seem odd at first. But when you go beneath the surface, they're more alike than they seem.

By SEAN DALY
Published February 22, 2007


IT ALL STARTS WITH THOSE PEEPERS, OF COURSE: sometimes flirty, sometimes intense, but always aware, of the cameras, of the crowds, of the cool. Frank Sinatra and Justin Timberlake, Ol' Blue Eyes and New Blue Eyes, singin' joes with the world on a ring-a-ding string.

Then there's this: Frank and JT both started in cheeky boy bands the Hoboken Four, 'N Sync and silly variety shows (Major Bowes, The Mickey Mouse Club). Sooner, rather than later, these scrawny, winter-born white boys from humble origins went solo, relying on African-American maestros - Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Pharrell, Timbaland - to inject crossover soul into their sound.

And don't forget: They both famously hooked up with femmes fatales -Ava Gardner, Britney Spears - and used well-publicized breakups (whether they were the dumper or the dumpee) to make their best music: In the Wee Small Hours, Cry Me a River. Those chart-topping tears would, in turn, help these incurable lady-killers attract even more bombshells.

On the surface, comparing Justin Randall Timberlake, who plays the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa tonight, to Francis Albert Sinatra sounds preposterous, silly, downright dangerous, considering Frank's clout.

But think about it for a minute, and the similarities are unmistakable. Heck, even Justin seems to know he's chasing Frank's ghost, the young pop stud dressing in Rat Pack ties, fedoras and carefully rumpled suits that beg comparison.

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Take away those fedoras, the women, the stage lights, and things really get interesting. Two seemingly regular guys, Frank and Justin became larger than life by reading the vagaries of pop culture and using their talent in the right way at the right time: ditching youth-oriented bands, embracing muscular pop, daring to be arrogant, unafraid to be vulnerable, bringing sexy back (in the '60s, in the '00s) when we needed it most.

Madonna reinvents herself. Frank and Justin, two Grammy winners fully aware of their strengths and limitations, redirect themselves, deftly altering their approach without sacrificing who they are.

And because they're so good at manipulating and convincing, Timberlake and Sinatra found acting to be a natural extension of their talents. Sinatra won an Academy Award for his role as Maggio in From Here to Eternity; Timberlake, a critical fave as genial thug Frankie in Alpha Dog, might get a shiny statue someday, too.

In a way, they even sing the same kind of songs. Sure, JT isn't crooning big-band swing, and Sinatra didn't go hip-hop. But put a young Frank in 2007, or Justin in 1942, and maybe you'd see Sinatra cooing Senorita and Timberlake nailing Night and Day. After all, these two are pop stars through and through.

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As for the major differences? Well, there's really only one glaring difference worth mentioning. Frank Sinatra is the greatest pop vocalist of all time, male or female. Timberlake wasn't even the best singer on the Grammys last week.

But Timberlake certainly has skills: His pillow-talk falsetto is a marvel. He can put together a bumpin' boogie track. And for a skinny punk from Memphis, the kid's one heck of a dancer. Frank was the ultimate showman, but Justin is already getting props for being the most complete young star stomping the boards today.

Besides, Timberlake just turned 26. Sinatra died in 1998 at the age of 82 after a career that lasted six decades and featured myriad comebacks; Timberlake started recording in 1998 and he has cleared one professional hurdle, the boy band curse. The kid's got a lot of living to do.

Is Timberlake the new Sinatra?

Maybe, maybe not. But the fact we're even discussing it tells you just how good Justin could be - and just how much the world needs another Frank to brighten things up around here.

-- Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic .

 

If you go

Justin Timberlake with Pink

7:30 tonight, St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $54.25-$81.75. (813) 287-8844, (727) 898-2100 or (813) 301-2500.