NEW YORK Like some boy-band Godzilla, pop group 'N Sync descended upon Times Square on Tuesday (March 21), trailing several thousand screaming, weeping young fans in their wake.
The quintet was in town to appear on MTV's "Total Request Live" and to sign copies of its just-released new album, No Strings Attached, at an in-store appearance at the Virgin Megastore across the street from the MTV studios. (SonicNet's parent company, Viacom, also owns MTV.)
Fans mostly girls in their early teens stood behind police barricades on both sides of Broadway, waiting for a glimpse of the group. "Just to be here, to know that we're near them, is worth it," said 14-year-old Kathleen Everingham of New Milford, Conn.
When the band arrived in the store Tuesday evening, it did so with all the pomp and circumstance not to mention the security detail of a presidential caravan.
"Do not move! Do not move!" a burly security guard shouted at fans waiting meekly in line as 'N Sync descended an escalator to the store's lower level. The fans' screams took on a higher pitch and volume as the group appeared, nearly drowning out the strains of No Strings Attached, which was blasting over the store's sound system.
Unfazed, 'N Sync struck cheerful poses for a pack of photographers. The group was mostly decked out in various shades of denim, though cherubic heartthrob Justin Timberlake stood out from the pack, wearing a brown leather jacket and a Tupac Shakur-style bandanna wrapped around his head.
Group member Lance Bass, who hurt his ankle during a recent taping of NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live," showed no sign of the injury Tuesday.
Standing underneath cardboard cutouts of themselves taken from their new album cover, 'N Sync smiled and waved at fans from a safe distance. They then disappeared for 20 minutes for what one store staffer said was a bathroom break.
When the bandmembers finally returned, they sat down and began signing autographs for their fans, who were rushed past them, assembly-line style.
But for many, even a brief brush with 'N Sync was an intense experience. Michelle Hammond, a 20-year-old from Indianapolis, burst out sobbing as she ascended the escalator after meeting the group.
"There's no way to explain how they make me feel," said Hammond, who added that she had driven 19 hours for a chance to meet them. Sniffling, she explained that 'N Sync, whose earlier hits include "Tearin' Up My Heart," are her "idols and inspiration."
But Sherrie Filipelli, a 14-year-old from Connecticut who was stuck outside the store, had little patience for such displays. "The little brats that saw ['N Sync] are crying. We should be crying we're the ones who didn't get in," she said.
'N Sync's label, Jive Records, shipped an unprecedented 4 million copies of their new CD to U.S. record stores, setting the stage for what could be one of the biggest opening weeks ever for an album.
Group members said last month that No Strings Attached, which finds the group experimenting with harder-edged, hip-hop- and R&B-inspired sounds, demonstrates a leap in maturity from its self-titled 1998 debut.
"Our audience is growing up with us," Timberlake said.
"Bye Bye Bye" (RealAudio excerpt), the new album's funky first single, is #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
'N Sync Timberlake, Bass, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and JC Chasez came together in 1996 in Orlando, Fla., which is also home to the Backstreet Boys.