Released in 2000, the chart-topping single appeared on the band’s third studio album, No Strings Attached.
However, the song has taken on a life of its own due to an unusual piece of pronunciation by Timberlake on the recording. When the chorus ends with the song’s title, it sounds as though he’s singing: “It’s gonna be May.”
Clips of Timberlake singing the lyric are often humourously shared online to signify the end of April and beginning of May.
During an interview on the YouTube series Hot Ones, where celebrity guests eat chicken wings flavoured with increasingly spicier levels of hot sauce, Timberlake explained its origins.
The five recently reunited members of NSYNC – Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Lance Bass – took part in the interview together.
Sean Evans asked the group: “Fact or fiction: the hook on ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ has that ‘may’ [pronunciation] cause Justin got a note from a producer that was, ‘Yeah, I need you to say it more like, “may”, like a meaner “me” in the recording booth.”
Timberlake responded: “I don’t remember if the specifics were ‘a meaner me’. But I sang, ‘It’s gonna be me’ and he was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ He was like, ‘It’s ‘may’. May.’”
The song was created by Swedish songwriters Max Martin, Rami Yacoub, and Andreas Carlsson, with Chasez explaining: “You also [have to] remember their Swedish accents. They had done a demo of it and they were like, ‘It’s like this.’”
Evans asked if the meaning had been “lost in translation”, with Timberlake adding: “You know what’s funny, specifically to Max Martin, the parts of their English that were broken actually made them catchier songwriters because they would put words in a way that almost didn’t make sense, but when you sang them, they were more memorable.
“And yes, it was a specific note that I got, and I was just like, ‘This guy’s crazy’... I did it the way that he requested, and that’s what made the record.”
Earlier this month, the members of NSYNC reunited at the MTV Video Music Awards for the first time in a decade.
On 29 September, the group will release a new track, titled “Better Place”, for the soundtrack of Trolls Band Together. It is their first song together in over 20 years.
Timberlake is a lead voice actor in the animated Trolls films, with his chart-topping single “Can’t Stop The Feeling” appearing on the soundtrack of the original film in 2016.