Justin Timberlake memes around DWI arrest are all over the internet. What viral posts say about his public persona.

The former NSync singer once dominated airwaves. Now he's been memed.

Justin Timberlake attends the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in March (Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

Hours after Justin Timberlake was arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated, jokes about his encounter with police started going viral. After two decades of pop superstardom, he was reduced to a meme.

Page Six reported that when he was stopped by police, Timberlake said, “This is going to ruin the tour.” When the officer, who appeared not to recognize him, asked, “What tour?” Timberlake purportedly replied, “the world tour.”

That exchange, as well as jokes about Timberlake being unknown to law enforcement and his glassy-eyed mugshot, took over social media. It’s not the first time Timberlake has been memed — for many years, “It’s Gonna Be May” posts were unavoidable on April 30 — but rarely have the jokes so clearly come at his expense.

Timberlake once dominated airwaves with hits like “Cry Me a River” and “SexyBack,” growing from child performer to NSync breakout star to bona fide solo hitmaker. But concerns about Timberlake’s treatment of women, mostly in hindsight, recently began to affect his reputation.

When he headlined the Super Bowl halftime show in 2018, people began reevaluating his 2004 halftime performance, in which he caused a wardrobe malfunction for Janet Jackson dubbed “Nipplegate.” She bore the brunt of the scrutiny while Timberlake escaped unscathed.

In a similar vein, when the public began reexamining its 2000s tabloid treatment of Britney Spears, the way Timberlake was regarded during their relationship began to be reevaluated. They dated between 1999 and 2002, and when they broke up, he implied through his “Cry Me a River” music video that she cheated on him.

Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears
Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears at a Grammy Awards event in 2002. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

The 2021 documentary Framing Britney Spears shed more light on Spears’s complicated relationship with Timberlake. After facing widespread backlash, Timberlake issued an apology to both Spears and Jackson on Instagram.

"I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed,” he wrote in the post. “I also feel compelled to respond, in part, because everyone involved deserves better and most importantly, because this is a larger conversation that I wholeheartedly want to be part of and grow from.”

Spears’s October 2023 memoir The Woman in Me revealed more of her side of the story of their split, claiming he encouraged her to have an abortion and that he repeatedly cheated on her. Over the years, Timberlake has also faced multiple allegations that he cheated on his wife, Jessica Biel, but he has denied them.

On Jan. 25, Timberlake released “Selfish,” a single from his first solo album since 2018. By Jan. 29, Spears apologized on Instagram to anyone she had “offended” with her memoir and praised Timberlake’s new song. Something happened offline between that moment and Jan. 31, though, because that night, Timberlake told the audience of his free New York City concert that he’d “like to take this opportunity to apologize — to absolutely f**ing nobody,” before singing “Cry Me a River.” Both Spears and Timberlake deleted their apology posts.

Brittany Spanos, who writes about pop music for Rolling Stone, told Yahoo Entertainment that Timberlake choosing to release new music so soon after Spears’s book release was “bizarre.”

“His relationships and experiences with Britney and Janet have been at the forefront of everyone's minds for the last several years, and to have Britney so explicitly spell out how bad their breakup was ended up being the final nail in his public image coffin,” she said.

Growing ire for Timberlake seemed to culminate ​​as his March 2024 album, Everything I Thought It Was, debuted to the smallest number of listeners of his solo career.

Spanos said it didn’t help that Timberlake is no longer in the “pop music zeitgeist” — and that might account for more of his failure than his reevaluated reputation. She said he’s failed to release music as quickly as his peers, like Beyoncé or Usher, and his previous album, Man of the Woods, was tepidly received by critics and fans.

“There was no excitement or hunger for a new Justin Timberlake album, especially one that doesn't match the excellence of his first three solo releases,” she said.

Spanos said that some people — particularly fans of Spears — might be excited to see Timberlake “face consequences and fail.”

“He has always had a pretty pristine image, even when attempting to be a bit more of a pop ‘bad boy’ as he embarked on his solo career,” she explained. “Given the public messiness of Britney's life and image, I think those who are massive fans of hers … want to see him trip and hit rock bottom.”

Justin Timberlake
Timberlake performing in Vancouver, Canada, in April 2024. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation)

Still, even after Timberlake’s arrest, his next “world tour” performance went on as planned. There, the pop star thanked his fans for supporting him through his “tough week.”

"I know sometimes I'm hard to love, but you keep on loving me and I love you right back," he said.

To rehabilitate his public image, Spanos said Timberlake will need to “start addressing the public’s problems with him in a very honest and straightforward way.”

“The goofiness is not enough to mask a pretty shattered relationship he has with his own celebrity right now,” she said. ”Even NSync nostalgia couldn't save his album, which is pretty dire.”