Welcome to your weekly dose of Pop Think! I’m Sam Lansky, music writer and pop fanatic. With British boy bands prepped to invade the states and news of 2gether poised to reunite, an American boy band revival seems imminent. This makes it all the more devastating to learn that *NSYNC, one of the greatest boy bands of all time, have no plans to reunite, as JC Chasez confirmed for the bajillionth time to TMZ this week.
It is quite literally tearing up my heart to think about a music universe devoid of *NSYNC, because, let’s face it, the group produced some of the finest cuts of the millennial teen pop boom. This week, I’m taking a look back at *NSYNC’s utterly flaw-free catalog and exploring why I’m not quite ready to say bye, bye, bye to my fave boy band ever.
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Remember when *NSYNC ran the show? Yeah, those were the good ol’ days: Justin Timberlake in an oversize ribbed turtleneck, a crown of goofy braids atop Chris Kirkpatrick’s head, Joey Fatone stroking his goatee thoughtfully, Lance Bass gazing out with that doe-eyed expression, JC Chasez sporting a rakish soul patch. Whodathunk that this ragtag band of crooners would go on to make some of the most giddily innovative pop music of the new millennium?
Their initial output followed trends more than dictating them; their self-titled debut album, released in Europe in 1997 and the United States in 1998, was sweetly saccharine boy-band goodness in keeping with their contemporaries, Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees. Max Martin-penned gems such as “I Want You Back” and “Tearin’ Up My Heart” hardly re-created the wheel, instead following the formula for uptempo teen pop about heartbreak, and gushy ballads like “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You” and “Thinking of You (I Drive Myself Crazy)” provided the perfect soundtrack for gingerly affectionate middle-school slow dances everywhere.
But their next album, 2000’s No Strings Attached, was less predictable, integrating hip-hop and funk influences for results that sounded, at the time, remarkably forward-looking. Singles “Bye Bye Bye” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” brought the group unparalleled success, and the album sold 1.1 million copies on its first day of release, then more than 2 million copies in its first week, which Entertainment Weekly called “perhaps the greatest mass spending of allowances in history.” The next year brought possibly their best (and final) album, Celebrity, a concept album (much of which was penned by Justin and JC) about the virtues and vicissitudes of fame that broke ground for that subject long before rap superstars made complaining about paparazzi a stock lyrical component. The lead single, “Pop,” was a weird, overstuffed, hyperactive piece of stutter-pop brilliance; their later single, “Girlfriend,” brought in Nelly and the Neptunes for a hip-pop remix that seamlessly integrated teen pop and rap in a way that felt fresh and unexpected.
+ Read more about why we want an *NSYNC reunion after the jump!
After that, of course, they went their separate ways: Justin becoming a massive solo star; JC working on solo projects and then moving behind the scenes to write and produce for artists as diverse as Girls Aloud, Matthew Morrison and his Backstreet Boys competitor A.J. McLean; Lance, well, coming out, writing books and prepping for interspace travel and stuff; Joey becoming a television personality; and, I mean, nobody’s totally clear on what Chris has been up to. And though it seems like all five are doing just fine professionally, Justin is the only one who maintained his level of (for lack of a better word) celebrity.
So why the reticence to reunite? Justin’s enough of a BFD that it’s hard to imagine why he’d want to take that stroll down memory lane, but by the same token, it is the platform from which he first became a star. Even if he’s a more than capable thespian (which he is!), he’s an absolutely unbeatable pop star, and I would love to see him back at the helm making music — where, in my opinion, he truly belongs. As a songwriter and an artist, Justin has always been a creative leader in pushing the boundaries of what pop can do. JC has, too, though he hasn’t always been recognized for it; his first post-*NSYNC solo album, Schizophrenic, was admittedly that, a manic manifestation of urban-pop swagger that was hipper and more innovative than most of what was being released at that time.
Boy bands have a reputation for being cheesy, but after *NSYNC shed their more manufactured ’90s trappings (shiny vests, awful haircuts, unfailingly cheerful demeanors), they were pretty damn cool. And now, with another decade’s worth of experience as entertainers, I bet they’d be wiser and more capable musicians than ever — even if their dance moves have suffered a little. Come back to us, *NSYNC. It’s time.