Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Want You Back

Now that Lance Bass is back in the super-limelight after coming in 3rd on “Dancing With the Stars”, I figure now was as good a time as any to walk back down memory lane. It’s sad enough when I saw a clip of that “Man Band” show on VH1, which had to explain to everyone who Chris Kirkpatrick was. *NSYNC’s reign as Kings of Pop wasn’t that long ago. And everyone who loves the current slew of teen pop has *NSYNC in part to thank.

I know not everyone is an *NSYNC fan, but it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m certainly thankful for those five boys, who brought so much joy and happiness into my life 1998-2003.

FYI – this post is kind of epically large. I'm sorry, in advance, but if you're a teen pop fan, it might be worth your time. ;) Just saying.

You’re all I ever wanted.
You’re all I ever needed.
So tell me what to do now,
‘Cuz I want you back.

The whole *NSYNC phenomenon officially started back 12 years ago (can you imagine? I feel so old!) in 1996, when their debut single “I Want You Back” premiered in Europe. Two years later, the song debuted in the USA.

*NSYNC first went on my radar a year or so later, when the second single “Tearin’ Up My Heart” premiered. I first heard about them after watching a concert special on the Disney Channel, which recently had become free and a regular selection in your cable listing. It’s almost strange to think of now, but I remember back when the Disney Channel was an “extra” channel that you had to pay for, but for one week a year, they gave it to you for free to preview it. I remember watching “The New Mickey Mouse Club” (complete with mini-Britney, mini-Justin, mini-Christina and the gang) voraciously during that special one week of the year!

It’s tearin’ up my heart
When I’m with you,
But when we are apart
I feel it, too,
And no matter what I do
I feel the pain,
With or without you.

The guys had a slew of singles and music videos released only to Europe, and us Americans were left out. “Here We Go” was a great pop song, and “For the Girl Who Has Everything” showed these five guys could really harmonize, giving us a preview of years to come.

The third single released in America was the notorious “God Must Have Spent A Little Time On You”. The song was covered by country band, Alabama, and went to #3 on the Hot 100 Country Chart. If was shortly after this was released in 1999 that I saw *NSYNC for the first time live in concert in Albany, NY, with two of my friends. It was the first concert experience where I sang along to every word. I screamed a lot. I probably cried a little bit too. I can’t explain to you why. It just happens. Jonas Brothers fans now know what I’m talking about. ;)

Your love is like river:
Peaceful and deep.
Your soul is like a secret
That I never could keep.
When I look into your eyes
I know that it's true,
God must have spent
A little more time on you.

I vividly remember when the fourth single, “I Drive Myself Crazy”, was premiered on MTV’s “Total Request Live” in 1999. It was by far their worst selling single, and to do this day I think just about any other song from their debut album (expect “Giddy Up” or “I Need Love”…shivers) would fare better. I believe it's one of the only songs (and definitely the only single) to feature Chris Kirkpatrick on lead vocals during a verse, and you can hear all three distinct voices (yes, even Lance!) during the melodic breakdown. Still, when the video first premiered (in its entirety), it was an event. I videotaped it. I still have the tape. The group’s debut album, ‘NSYNC’, has since gone diamond in America, meaning more than 10 million units sold.

I lie awake.
I drive myself crazy,
Drive myself crazy thinking of you.
Made a mistake
When I let you go, baby.
I drive myself crazy
Wanting you the way that I do.
(Wanting you the way that I do.)

The final song released from this era of the boys’ career was “Music Of My Heart”, a duet with the incomparable Gloria Estefan for the movie of the same name, starring Meryl Streep. The song was epic, and was nominated for an Academy Award. It didn’t win (lost to Phil Collins), but the nomination was a big milestone for the group. The following video is the performance from the awards show.

You taught to run;
You taught me to fly,
Helped me to free the me inside.
Helped me hear the music of my heart,
Helped me hear the music of my heart.
You opened my eyes;
You opened the door
To something I've never known before,
And your love is the music of my heart.

I remember it feeling like forever before we got new music from the boys. It was due to their legal conflicts with former manager/svengali/crook Louis J. Pearlman (who also helped form the Backstreet Boys, LFO, O-Town and Innosense, amongst others). In early December of 1999, the boys appeared on the Rosie O’Donnell show (remember that one?), singing a few Christmas songs from their album “Home For Christmas” (featuring the awful goodness that is "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"...why were they so proud of having written that one?), and stating the new album would be out in February of 2000. You’d think the first single from the sophomore album, ‘No Strings Attached’, “Bye Bye Bye” was *NSYNC’s biggest hit. It wasn’t (chart-wise), but it certainly is their best remembered song. The music video is impossible to find to embed, but you can view it here.

Don't wanna be a fool for you;
Just another player in your game for two.
You may hate me but it
Ain't no lie, baby,
Bye bye bye. (bye bye.)
Don't really wanna make it tough;
I just wanna tell you that I've had enough.
Might sound crazy but it
Ain't no lie, baby,
Bye bye bye.

The album, ‘No Strings Attached’, came out March 21st, 2000. I remember the exact date because a few of my friends who were big fans and threw a party during our middle school lunch period to talk about the album, and how excited we were to get it later that day. But as fate would have it, on March 20th, 2000, a friend of mine called me around 6pm, and said our local FYE was selling the album early. So I convinced my mother to drive me to the mall. We bought the album a day early (now, knowing, this was totally illegal, and our FYE must have gotten in a ton of trouble for it), and I brought my clunky CD player with me with a big set of headphones so we could listen to the record in the food court. I’ll never forget that day. The album sold over 1 million copies in its first day, and around 2.4 million copies in its first week – a number unheard of nowadays. And to think – I was one of that 2.4 million! In my freshman “Music in the Marketplace” class in college, my professor talked about this album breaking so many records (then six years later). He did some math and stated that because it sold so many copies in its first day, “there is probably at least one person, if not more, in this room who bought during the first week.” :)

The second single from ‘No Strings Attached’ was the Max Martin stunner “It’s Gonna Be Me”, which became their first and only US #1 single on the Hot 100. The group performed this song live at the Superbowl Halftime with Aerosmith in 2001, with Steven Tyler howling "It's gonna be me" at the end of the chorus.

Every little thing I do
Never seems enough for you.
You don't wanna lose it again
But I'm not like them.
Baby, when you finally
Get to love somebody --
Guess what?
It's gonna be me.

The final single from ‘No Strings’ (although there really could have been several other singles – “It Makes Me Ill”, “Just Got Paid”, my personal fave “Space Cowboy” and even “No Strings Attached” come to mind) was the ballad “This I Promise You”, written by Richard Marx. All three singles from this album hit the top 5 on the Hot 100. I saw the group in concert during their “No Strings Attached” tour, shortly before they headed to Madison Square Garden. That particular concert was taped live and broadcast on HBO, which I of course watched (and taped). When I saw them in concert, Justin had cornrows. ;) Here's the song, performed live during this tour. The live video was just as popular with fans as the music video on 'TRL', and was a big wedding song back in 2000.

And I will take you in my arms
And hold you right where you belong,
Til the day my life is through
This I promise you.
This I promise you.
Just close your eyes
Each loving day
And know this feeling won't go away.
Every word I say is true,
This I promise you.
Oh, I promise you.

We didn’t have to wait too long for new music from the boys, as “Pop”, nicknamed “Dirty Pop” by the fans, was released in June of 2001. The song showed off a more mature sound from the group, a preview as to what the album, ‘Celebrity’ would show. The group’s third album featured more songs written by the group (read: Justin and JC).

Do you ever wonder why
This music gets you high?
Takes you on a ride?
You feel it when your body starts to rock
And baby, you can't stop,
And the music's all you got.
This must be: POP.
Dirty pop, baby, baby, you can't stop.
I know you like this dirty pop.
(This must be...POP.)

The unfortunate part of “Pop” was the main premise was that their music was more than just a passing trend. “We gonna bring it till the end”…which apparently was just a year or so later. ‘Celebrity’ was released in July of 2001. The second single, “Gone”, had a lot of hype surrounding it, even before the album or “Pop” came out. The song, written by Justin Timberlake, was rumored to be in demand by Michael Jackson, and was possibly about his breakup with Britney Spears. The song proved to be a great crossover song for the group to the Adult Contemporary Charts, and even into the Urban R&B market, as it was the only video by an all-white male band to be featured on BET’s music show “106 & Park”. The concept featured a ‘silent movie’ kind of feel, complete with sound crackles on the sound recording, to mimic older records. This song, along with "Girlfriend", continue to be in Justin Timberlake's repetoire today.

I've been sitting here,
Can't get you off my mind.
I try my best to be a man and be strong.
I drove myself insane
Wishing I could touch your face,
But the truth remains --
You're gone.

The above video is live from the “PopOdyssey” tour, which I saw in Toronto. I actually skipped my Math Regents test to see them, because we had 12th row seats. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the third and last time I’d get to see the group live. One of the opening acts was ‘Eden’s Crush’, which featured Nicole Scherzinger, now of the Pussycat Dolls. I actually saw the tour before the album came out, as the group toured with a lot of new material, premiering it live before the record was released in the summer of 2001.

“Gone” took on an ominous message following the events of September 11th, 2001, and I firmly recall listening to *NSYNC’s message as escapism from the hysteria surrounding the tradegy.

The final release from ‘Celebrity’, and *NSYNC’s final single as a group was “Girlfriend”, making all three single releases from *NSYNC’s final album all written/co-written by Justin Timberlake. I should have seen the signs then that things were starting to point toward it being all about Mr. JT, but I wasn’t complaining. He was my favorite after all. The song was premiered as a single at the 2002 Grammy Awards, with a performance by a “surprise guest” – Nelly. “Girlfriend” was later nominated for a Grammy…but didn’t win, leaving *NSYNC with no Grammy wins despite their success. Here’s that performance of “Girlfriend” at the 2002 Grammy’s, with an intro of “Gone”.

The middle of the night,
Is he gonna be by your side,
Or will he run and hide?
(You don't know 'cuz things ain't clear.)
And baby, when you cry,
Is he gonna stand by your side?
Does the man even know you're alive?
I've got an idea:
Why don't you be my girlfriend?
I'll treat you good.
I know you hear your friends
When they say you should.
'Cuz if you were my girfriend,
I'd be your shining star --
The one that shows you where you are.
Girl, you should be my girlfriend.

During the success of “Girlfriend”, the group went on what would be their final tour as a group – the one national tour I missed due to a blood-boiling story (still!) which I’ll save for another time – dubbed the ‘Celebrity’ tour. Shortly after this, *NSYNC began to fade from the spotlight, and word of solo careers from Justin and JC began to surface.

It’s hard for me to even believe that in total, *NSYNC’s career spanned only about seven years, technically just five in North America, because they were such a huge part of my life growing up, and a huge factor in my decision to pursue a career in music promotion. The shows they put on were epic, their songs addictive, their harmony incredible. To say they didn’t make a mark on music in a big way would be so wrong, as they brought us someone who is arguably one of the biggest male pop/R&B vocalists of our generation. Is much as I am a Justin fan, I’m still a fan of the group more. They way they used to joke around, and seemed so personable and funny.

Right before beginning college, I saw Joey perform on Broadway in “Little Shop of Horrors”. I joked about standing by the cast exit door, hoping to catch a glimpse of him, but figured my days as a teen pop groupie were over without looking slightly silly. But as we walked back to our hotel and I heard that scream, I just couldn’t resist. I didn’t get a picture (that came out clear enough to see who it was), but he did sign my program. So I have met 1/5 of *NSYNC. J

In 2008, I also saw Lance on Broadway in “Hairspray”, right before his stint on “Dancing With the Stars”. During that same week, I saw Justin perform solo for the second time (the first being in 2003 with Christina Aguilera, with opening act Black Eyed Peas…just before they hit the big time popularity-wise) in Madison Square Garden for his big FutureSex/LoveShow with Timbaland and Good Charlotte. It was one of the best concerts I had ever seen in my life, and to make it even better, the show was taped for his DVD, and is now available in stores. J So check the crowd shots, I’m in there somewhere.

*NSYNC will always be a huge part of me, and I will never give up for that reunion tour!

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