[Update: Host/musical guest Justin Timberlake helped lift SNL to its highest ratings since January 2012.]
Suddenly, Justin Timberlake is everywhere: hosting this week’s Saturday Night Live (and doing double duty as the musical guest); performing five straight nights on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; and on Friday releasing his new album, The 20/20 Experience. It’s hard to think of a better frontman right now for Myspace. Timberlake, a co-owner, is a tech-savvy celeb who practically embodies re-invention. He’s gone from the Mouseketeers to a boy band to pop stardom to TV, movies, and viral videos.
And Myspace, like an opportunistic co-star eager for a second chance, is trying to follow his lead and lean into his spotlight to draw attention to its relaunch. In January, the new site unveiled its sleek redesign in public beta not with an announcement but rather with an exclusive, Timberlake’s first single, “Suit and Tie,” featuring Jay-Z. Next week, Myspace will stream the new album.
All of this looks well coordinated, as though co-owners Chris and Tim Vanderhook had planned to coincide a launch two years in the making with Timberlake’s first album in seven years. The brothers insist they stumbled into the good timing.
As they told me recently on a visit to Myspace headquarters in L.A., they met Timberlake for the first time in 2010 at a New York hotel restaurant that had been closed for them. (“It was like meeting Sinatra,” COO Chris laughs.) They had cold-called him: Wanna get in on buying Myspace? The Vanderhooks ran the big online network Specific Media but were intrigued by the fallen social media giant. They wanted to jettison News Corp.’s catch-all strategy (horoscopes, really?) and turn Myspace into a music portal for artists, not just consumers. The only problem: “We knew the Internet. We didn’t know the music industry,” says CEO Tim.
They needed a big-name partner who would give the site credibility and help them understand what artists need. Timberlake, their first choice, agreed to meet. “I’ve been thinking about something like this for years,” Tim says Timberlake told them. “Musicians need a home online, one place to promote themselves and run their business.”
The three brainstormed at the restaurant for hours about what features the site needed, such as concert listings (read about its recent Thrillcall deal here) and eventually ticket and merchandise sales. “You know what Justin told us?” says Chris. “He said, ‘Don’t do this if you’re counting on me putting out a record. I may not.’”
And then one day last year, Timberlake called with some news. He was working on a new album. “We were obviously excited,” says Chris, “because we want to prove the model, not just for Justin but for all artists.”
“But,” says Tim, “we didn’t know if he meant another year or three years.”
In January, when the beta site went public, it was Timberlake, sporting a suit and tie–natch–who greeted users on the home page, promoting his single. Within days, the Vanderhooks were marveling at the sign-up rate: one user per second.
“And that’s without an announcement,” Chris says.
As for what Justin Timberlake does at Myspace as a co-owner–it’s more than you think–tune in later this week to find out.