Timberlake, 42, is preparing to release his first studio album since 2018’s Man of the Woods. Titled Everything I Thought It Was, the project was announced along with the release of lead single “Selfish” on Thursday 25 January.
Fans of Spears quickly began discussing her own song, also called “Selfish”, which featured on the deluxe version of her 2011 album Femme Fatale.
It is now riding high in the US iTunes charts after a Spears fan account on X/Twitter joked that she was the one releasing “Selfish” this week.
At the time of writing, the track was in the top 10 on iTunes, after entering the top 40 on Thursday evening.
The fan behind the X account said it “started as a joke” when Timberlake announced his song: “Then we all joined in, saying that Britney Spears was coming back with a ‘brand’ new song,” BritneyxYtube told Entertainment Weekly.
“I still can’t believe that it became so big, and we see the results we see now.”
They added: “We are all so happy to see her song make a comeback after all these years!”
Timberlake came under renewed scrutiny after Spears was freed from her conservatorship and released a memoir, in which she shared details of their three-year relationship that ended in 2002.
In The Woman in Me, Spears alleged that the media portrayed her as “a harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy”, when she was in fact left “comatose in Louisiana” while Timberlake was “happily running around Hollywood”.
Timberlake released “Cry Me a River” the same year they split up, with the song’s music video – which featured a blonde woman – fuelled rumours that Spears had been unfaithful during their relationship.
In her memoir, Spears confirmed these rumours, explaining she had kissed her choreographer Wade Robson, but that Timberlake had been unfaithful to her first.
Timberlake apologised to Spears in 2021, following the release of the New York Times’s Framing Britney Spears documentary.
“I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right,” he wrote in part in an Instagram post on Friday. “I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”
Spears recently debunked rumours that she was planning to come back to the music industry, instead declaring that she would “never return”.