“Trying to get all of us in here was a game of Tetris”: Justin Timberlake and his 14-strong band, The Tennessee Kids, put on a sparkling Tiny Desk Concert

Although it’s debatable just how small the desk that features in NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert series actually is, the space for musicians around said desk doesn’t appear to be vast. So credit to everyone involved for managing to squeeze in not only Justin Timberlake, but also his 14-strong band of Tennessee Kids for their semi-unplugged performance.

“I forget how many of us there are,” says Timberlake at one point. “Y’all really lived up to the name, Tiny Desk. Yesterday, trying to get all of us in here was a game of Tetris. But we did it and we’re here and we’re happy to be here.”

The release of the 25-minute set coincides with the launch of Timberlake’s new album, Everything I Thought It Was, a return to his pop-soul-R&B-disco roots after 2018’s plaid-shirted Man Of The Woods.

It seems appropriate, then, that the star kicks off his Tiny Desk with two prime cuts from his 2002 debut album, Justified: Señorita and Rock Your Body. You could argue that the fact that he’s still leaning so heavily on these Neptunes-produced songs merely serves to highlight the fact that he’s never really recaptured that early magic, but when the band is this tight - with Timberlake occasionally joining them on Nord Stage and acoustic guitar - they sound as fresh as ever.

Pusher Love Girl, from 2013’s The 2020 Experience, comes next, followed by Until The End Of Time, from 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds In fact, It’s only five songs in that we hear the one and only song from the new album - the curiously inconspicuous lead single, Selfish - before the set closes with another two hits from the archive, What Goes Around and SexyBack.

It’s a timely reminder that, even if Timberlake is no longer quite the star he once was, with the Tennessee Kids in his corner, he can still put on a show.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.