After winning over hordes of young listeners in Europe in the late 1990s, the five member vocal outfit ‘N Sync returned to their native America to meet equal, if not greater, approval. Along with fellow crooners Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync spearheaded a resurgence of boyish singing acts specializing in smooth harmonizing, with an eye towards the teen market. While ‘N Sync’s efforts were widely scoffed at by critics, who found the band’s appeal to be limited to their pin-up good looks, a legion of fans nevertheless pushed the quintet’s self-titled 1998 debut album to the top of sales charts. Hot on the heels of ‘N Sync, the group created an equally successful holiday album, Home for Christmas.
Unlike many groups marketed toward teens, ‘N Sync’s origins stem not from a savvy talent agent’s orchestration, but from a growing circle of friends’ appreciation for singing. However, ‘N Sync do share the wholesome, innocent image that a number of “boy groups” project, a fact evident from their earliest occupations. The initial momentum towards the formation of ‘N Sync began in 1995 when Chris Kirkpatrick, an employee at the Universal Studios family theme park in Orlando, Florida,
Members include Lance Bass (born May 4, 1979, in Laurel, MS), vocals; Joshua Scott “JC” Chasez (born August 8, 1976, in Washington, D.C.), vocals; Joey Fatone (born January 28, 1977, in Brooklyn, NY), vocals; Chris Kirkpatrick (born October 17, 1971, in Clarion, PA), vocals; Justin Timberlake (born January 31, 1981, in Memphis, TN), vocals.
Group began in 1995 by Kirkpatrick in Orlando, FL, where he and Timberlake crossed paths at the Universal Studios theme park; signed to Ariola, the domestic branch of the German label BMG and release self-titled debut album in Europe, 1996; toured extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, 1996-98; signed by BMG’s American label, RCA, who re-released ‘N Sync in the U.S.; release seasonal album Home for Christmas on RCA, 1998; launch major tour, 1999.
Addresses: Record Company —RCA, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10036. Fan club—‘N Sync Official Fan Club, P.O. Box 5248 Bellingham, WA, 98227.
befriended two ex-members of television’s Mickey Mouse Show, Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez. Next came Brooklyn-born thespian Joey Fatone, who was also on Universal Studio’s payroll, and had appeared in front of the camera as a bit player in the 1993 spoof of science fiction films, Matinee. The final link in the group’s circle was provided when Timberlake’s vocal coach steered the foursome in the direction of high school senior Lance Bass, a day care worker and ex-choirboy from Mississippi, who relocated to Orlando after initial reluctance.
In addition to an instant vocal compatibility, the five singers quickly discovered a strong harmony at the level of friendship. Reflecting both of these qualities—as well as the last letters of the quintet’s first names—Timberlake’s mother Lynne Harless christened the group ‘N Sync. However, while the fledgling act had quickly forged a sound and a group identity, they were a far cry from stardom, and soon sought a manager who could deliver them to an audience. Before long, ‘N Sync were taken under the wings of Johnny and Donna Wright. A husband and wife team, the Wrights had previously managed another popular ensemble of teen heartthrobs during the 1980s, New Kids on the Block, and had recently helped form Backstreet Boys, a five piece vocal combo with whom ‘N Sync would later be extensively compared.
By the fall of 1996, the Wrights maneuvered ‘N Sync into a contract with the BMG/Ariola label, and soon recorded their catchy debut single, “I Want You Back.” However, it was not in the U.S. but in Europe that ‘N Sync were first embraced with open arms, and the band spent the next two years extensively touring overseas. As Johnny Wright shrewdly assessed, European audiences had been generally more enthusiastic than Americans towards sugary pop groups such as Take That and Bros. Countries such as Germany proved no exception to the rule, sending “I Want You Back” and the follow-up single “Tearin’ Up My Heart” high on sales charts. Additionally, the intense so journ abroad allowed ‘N Sync to hone their live performance skills before their return home. As Bass frecounted to Billboard’s Wolfgang Spahr in 1997, the quintet “rehearse[d] in and old warehouse which doesn’t have any air conditioning, and when you have to jump around in 40-degree [Celsius] heat three to four hours four times a week, it makes you pretty strong.”
In the meantime, the public mood in the U.S. had shifted. Since the early 1990s, aggressive, guitar based acts with alternative and heavy metal roots held a virtual tyranny over sales charts, and record executives became sheepish about signing many groups with a light pop appeal. However, this trend of angst-ridden expression tended to alienate many music lovers—crucially, those in early adolescence. “People forgot that most of the kids in America aren’t particularly happy and would relate to music that said life can be good,” quipped record industry scout Steven Greenberg in Rolling Stone. “Everyone was aiming at an audience college age and above and hoping that the music would trickle down. The younger audience had no choice but to listen to music that was created for a much older audience.” Apparently, this suppression built up a hearty appetite amongst teenagers, and suddenly the U.S. devoured young outfits like Backstreet Boys and Hanson. Within this setting, ‘N Sync madetheirtriumphant return to their own shores.
In the spring of 1998, ‘N Sync’s debut album was finally released in America on RCA, nearly two years after the same disc had been pressed overseas. After gaining initial momentum from the high powered dance single “I Want You Back,” it did not take long before the quintet came into their own on the American sales charts. However, while record buyers embraced ‘N Sync’ s mix-tu re of catchy harmonizing and ballads of teen love gone awry, critics were generally unforgiving. “If all it takes for pop stars to win adolescent hearts and minds these days is the adequate abilities and pallid hooks of this bunch,” decried a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, “then every other semi-attractive singing, dancing young man in America should take heart.” In addition, ‘N Sync was also besieged with allegations of stealing the sound of Johnny Wright’s other runaway success, Backstreet Boys. While ‘N Sync themselves acknowledged the apparent similarities with their crooning contemporaries, they viewed such press with a grain of salt. “People try to make a feud out of everything,” Timberlake explained to Rolling Stone on the subject. “And we didn’t even see it that way.”
‘N Sync subsequently took their highly choreographed stage show across the United States, and like a number of youth-targeted groups before them, the quintet decided to perform in rather unconventional venues—in this case, roller skating rinks. As in Europe, the five singers soon found it commonplace to be physically bombarded onstage by enthusiastic female fans. Not surprisingly, such appeal was capitalized on by a number of publishers who created an onslaught of ‘N Sync posters, fan magazines, and hastily written paperbacks, but the band remained remarkably humble. “When we read teen magazines and they’re like These Fab Five hotties,” Fatone mused to People, “we’re like, ‘Wrong!’” Still, critics remained skeptical as to how much of ‘N Sync’s mass appeal was due to teen hormones rather than vocal virtuosity. The sudden release of the full length Home for Christmas album (given the secular title WinterAlbumin markets outside of the US) did not prove to be a radical departure from ‘N Sync’s bubble-gum style.
‘N Sync, RCA, 1998.
Home for Christmas, RCA, 1998.
Billboard, June 21, 1997.
People, February 8, 1999.
Rolling Stone, November 12, 1998.
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