In 2001, Rolling Stone called *NSync 'the biggest band in the world'. The bubblegum pop group was the making of heart-throb Justin Timberlake but the boy band met the inevitable fate of all manufactured pop.
NSYNC were five boys who sold tens of millions of records and made just as many young girls scream throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The group formed in 1996, and after a few years of touring and promotions became known for its good looks, cheerful pop melodies, and magnetic appeal to teenaged female fans. The quintet included Justin Timberlake (born 31 January, 1981), Joshua `J.C.’ Chasez (born 8 August, 1976), Chris Kirkpatrick (born 17 October, 1971), Joey Fatone (born 28 January, 1977) and Lance Bass (born 4 May, 1979). The group's first three albums sold over 30 million copies combined; they include *NSYNC (1998), No Strings Attached (2000) and Celebrity (2001). They were the heartthrobs who sang `I Want You Back’ and `Bye Bye Bye’ for their target girlie tweeny demographic.
At their height, they rivaled the Backstreet Boys and adorned bedroom walls of teens the world over. In 2001, they made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with a reporter describing them as “top dogs in the world of teen pop’’.
After being the first runner-up for a spot in the Backstreet Boys, Chris Kirkpatrick approached music manager Lou Pearlman about forming another pop group. Pearlman, who they would later take to court over his financial management, suggested that Kirkpatrick find other young male singers, which prompted Kirkpatrick to call Justin Timberlake, whom he had befriended through the Orlando music scene.
When Kirkpatrick told Timberlake of his efforts to form a pop group, Timberlake agreed to join and suggested they call his friend and former Mickey Mouse Club castmate JC Chasez. Kirkpatrick, Timberlake, and Chasez then approached Joey Fatone, whom they had known through mutual friends. In the beginning there was another band member, Jason Galasso but he was later replaced by Lance Bass. The boys had created the name *NSYNC out of the last letters of each of their first names - Justin, Chris, Joey, JC and Jason.
*NSYNC were riding high. The album No Strings Attached set a sales record for the most copies sold in a single week - 2.4 million - just over a million of which were sold the first day the album was released. This album, laced with hit songs helped to pull them out of the Backstreet Boys' shadow.
Rolling Stone noted that this success needed to stand the challenge of the re-emerging rock genre at the time. Bands such as Staind, Tool and Weezer, were splintering their audience and *NSYNC’s own audience were growing up.
With their 2001 album Celebrity, *NSYNC tried to push boundaries beyond what was expected from a boy band. The lead single, `Pop’ was co-written by Justin Timberlake and used techno producer BT, who had worked with Madonna, Tori Amos and Seal. The idea was to create a song that echoed the hip-hop phenomenon. By chance he heard Justin beatboxing under his breath.“I'm like, 'Dude, that's dope,’’ BT said. “You gotta go in there and do that! Get your ass in there. So we took a pair of broken headphones and used 'em as a mike, and I recorded four tracks of him beatboxing." BT took the track and did about 1,200 edits and buried them in the track.
*NSYNC felt that the album Celebrity, featuring co-production by the Neptunes, R&B star Brian McKnight and Rodney Jerkins showed them as more mature and musically diverse.
The boys worked hard and stage sets became just as much of a part of the act as the songs. With ever wilder stage engineering, an *NSYNC concert would feature pyrotechnics and flying dancers. During a rehearsal in New Orleans in 2000, Joey almost broke his leg when a platform under the stage released at the wrong time and sent 300 pounds of pressure springing up at Joey.
He later described the incident in gory detail: “As I picked my feet up the whole thing released and the weight shot up and caught my knee and my calf between the stage and the platform. It was like, wham! I was trapped for a split second." Lance was the first to reach him. “There was a hole," he says. “You could see the bone, you could see everything. So we applied pressure on it, and the fat was coming out, and it was not good. He can take pain good, but he was in pain. Oh, he screamed. It was bad. It looked like a bullet went through his leg.’’
The band members became incredibly rich and famous. Justin, who was dating Britney Spears at the time, admitted to an addiction to cars and shoes. At one point he said he owned 450 pairs of boots and sneakers, including every model of Air Jordans ever made, a Dodge Viper, an Audi TT, a Porsche 911, a BMW M Roadster, a Mercedes and a Cadillac Escalade.
Joey had a Star Wars-theme movie theater in his Orlando home. Lance bought three homes in Orlando, Mississippi and one on the border of Florida and Alabama. “There's actually a bar there where half of it's in Florida, half in 'Bama,’’ he says. “In Alabama, the bar closes an hour earlier, so everyone has to scoot to the Florida end of the bar.’’ JC invested in fine art, began painting and learning about wine.
Eventually there was a bloody battle to disassociate the group from their original manager Lou 'Big Papa' Pearlman. In 1999, *NSync announced that they were leaving Lou's Trans Continental Management and record company RCA after four years because they weren't seeing enough of their profits. Pearlman responded with a $150 million lawsuit. *NSync countersued for $25 million. They eventually settled out of court and the band left RCA, one album down on their original contract.
After winning back their earnings, *NSYNC signed with Jive records. In the aftermath of this very public legal battle, the boys tried to be as hands-on with their future as possible. Justin and JC were heavily involved in shaping the music, Joey and Chris were good at coming up with ideas for the stage show and Lance handled the business and management side of things.
After the group's 2002 Celebrity tour, they went on hiatus. They still went to award shows and events together, and regrouped at the 2003 Grammy Awards to sing the Bee Gee's Melody in tribute to the Bee Gees. It was the group's last televised performance. The last public performance for *NSYNC was at the group's 2004 Annual Challenge for the Children, where the group performed the Star Spangled Banner.
The end of the band signalled the beginning of a hugely lucrative career for one member. Justin Timberlake’s first solo album Justified was a No 1. He raised the ex-boy-band bar to a daunting level. In contrast, JC Chasez’s first solo album was released two years later to mixed reviews. In the Guardian, one reviewer said, “Tragically, his breathy tenor is more Prince Andrew than the Artist Formerly Known As.’’ While another in the same paper said: “Schizophrenic is an innovative, sophisticated, risk-taking album.’’
Not completely lost to history, Joey Fatone starred in Dancing With the Stars in 2007, while Lance hit headlines both for declaring his homosexuality and for planning to become one of the first space tourists. However, he was thrown off the training program after failing to pay the fees on time.
The boys, now men, have never regrouped but when asked about a possible reunion they say it could happen if the time and the project were right.