WBEZ EXCLUSIVE: Sources confirm Justin Timberlake's NPR love

December 11, 2009

Last week I wrote about a photo of Justin Timberlake wearing an NPR t-shirt on the set of his new film. The photo raised a lot of questions for us (and was mentioned on Gawker). I've spent the past week and a half trying to answer those questions. 8040[1]First I wondered where the shirt came from- as far as anyone at WBEZ knew, NPR had never made a shirt with that design available to the public. Could JT be such a mega-fan that he had the shirt custom made? To answer this question I contacted NPR publicist Emerson Brown. He told me the shirt was actually the result of a licensing agreement between NPR and Chaser Merchandising. Chaser makes t-shirts for a wide-variety of brands- from Coca-Cola to Pink Floyd. I called Chaser PR Director Gihan Salem to learn more about the shirt. She confirmed that the shirt was in production and available to any retail outlet with an account with Chaser. In Chicago Akira and Madison and Friends stores carry their goods, though when I called each, they said they don't currently carry the NPR shirt. It is available in the NPR Shop (though we recommend This American Life's new shirt, which you can buy here). Theoretically this shirt could end up being sold in every Spencer's Gifts in America if the demand were there for it. I couldn't get Gihan to comment on how Justin Timberlake may have aquired the shirt, but former celebrity stylist Beba Knight says it's unlikely he bought it. Beba told me she worked as a personal stylist for a "Drew Barrymore level" celebrity and did freelance work for Vogue and Nylon among other magazines. She says it is very common for t-shirt manufacturers to send boxes packed with shirts to celebrity photo shoots. Technically the shirts are supposed to be returned after the shoot, but she says it's commonplace for celebs to help themselves to the clothes. She imagined a scenario where JT is doing a photo shoot and rummaging around a box of t-shirts sent over from Chaser. A stylist pulls out the NPR shirt and tells him he really ought to wear it because NPR is soooo cool. So that's one theory of how Justin Timberlake got the shirt, but it's important to keep in mind where he was photographed wearing it: on the set of the David Fincher's new film about Facebook, The Social Network. Could the shirt be a costume? There must have been plenty of NPR fans involved in the origins of Facebook. Blog editor Justin Kaufmann worked a few Hollywood connections to get in touch with David Fincher's people. They confirmed that JT does not wear the shirt on camera and did not get it from The Social Network's wardrobe department. NPR's legal department also confirmed they had not been contacted to clear their logo's appearance in the film. This is great- we at least know that Justin Timberlake likes the NPR shirt enough to bring it with him to wear between scenes. But what if it's some method acting thing- is Justin simply trying to get inside the head of an uber-nerd?‚  I thought maybe Sean Parker- the real-life Facebook honcho Timberlake is playing- could shed some light on this possibility, but he didn't respond to my Facebook message. (So much for social networking changing the world!) My only option left was to go to the man himself. We contacted Justin's spokesperson to get confirmation on whether or not he's an NPR fan. A week later she called back and told us... Mr. Timberlake is indeed a big fan of NPR ...so much so that he wakes up to it every morning on his alarm clock! She said he likes several NPR show, including Chicago Public Radio's This American Life. I guess our readers were right- in our poll 64% of you predicted that he listens to public radio. So there you have it- a week and a half worth of investigative blog-work. Next stop: Illinois' Juvenile Prisons!
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