As they crammed into a closet lined with mattresses at the home of their manager Johnny Wright to put their spin on Christopher Cross’ Yacht Rock classic “Sailing,” little did the members of *NSYNC realize how the casual recording might impact music 25 years later.
Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, JC Chasez, Lance Bass and Justin Timberlake were in the early days of putting together their debut album when Wright suggested they record the 1980 song, which Drake has now sampled in “TSU” on his just-released new album, “Certified Lover Boy.”
“It’s flattering when things like this happen and with us, it doesn’t happen that often,” Kirkpatrick tells Variety. “It’s neat that I can tell friends who don’t know I was ever in a band, ‘Hey, I’m in this new record. Check it out!’”
“It’s like when Eminem wrote a [lyric] about me and at first I was like, ‘Wait, I have beef?’ Then I thought, ‘I’m in an Eminem song. That’s amazing,’” Kirkpatrick continues referring to Eminem’s “Without Me.” “And Ariana [Grande] did it [sampling *NSYNC’s ‘It Makes Me Ill’ in ‘Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.’] It makes you feel old, but also makes you go, ‘At least we affected music today.’ It’s cool we had a little hand in the landscape of music today.”
“Sailing” was written by Cross and released in 1980; that year, Cross cleaned up at the Grammys. Kirkpatrick says Wright always loved the song and thought it would be a good fit for *NSYNC as they got to work on their 1997 self-titled debut album.
“He threw out the idea and Robin Wiley, our vocal coach, did a ridiculously good arrangement on it and we replaced a lot of the synths, violins and sounds with our voices,” Kirkpatrick, 49, recalls. “At first, I was worried because I didn’t want to ruin the song, but we put enough of our own spin on it to make it different and likable.”
“The arrangement Robin came up with complimented the band so well,” he continues. “She knew our limitations and what we could do, so she pushed the boundaries, vocally. I was in there for a couple of days just doing layers and layers of backgrounds. It was in Johnny’s closet with mattresses pushed up against the wall for better sound – you do anything when you start out!”
It was Kirkpatrick who initially sang lead vocals on the track. And given how much he loved the song, he was disappointed when Chasez was asked to take over.
“Obviously, they listened to it and said, ‘We don’t want it to sound like a little girl’s singing it, so we’ll have JC do it,’” laughs Kirkpatrick, who along with his bandmates performed “Sailing” with Cross at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards in 1999. “I was a little heartbroken, but got over it.”
While the “*NSYNC” album spawned some of the group’s biggest hits, including “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back,” hearing Drake had used one of the record’s lesser-known tracks came as a surprise to Kirkpatrick.
“At first, it didn’t make sense because ‘Sailing’ was a cover,” he says. “It’s Christopher Cross’ song. So, when I heard he sampled our version, I was like, ‘I’m gonna go home and listen to it on some real speakers tonight and get excited.’ I love it.”
“If I could guess why Drake does what he does, I could be Drake,” Kirkpatrick adds about why he thinks the rapper featured the composition. “I guess he had an idea, went with it and it worked perfectly.”
*NSYNC isn’t the only male vocal group that Drake, 34, pays homage to with his new music. In the video for “Way 2 Sexy,” featuring Future and Young Thug, the trio are joined by Los Angeles Clippers player Kawhi Leonard while dancing against a snowy landscape in scenes reminiscent of Boyz II Men’s “Water Runs Dry” video.
Their all-white outfits could also be a nod to the “I Want It That Way” video by the Backstreet Boys (who previously took to Twitter, jokingly pointing out the similarities between Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and their own phone-related smash, “The Call.”)
Drake’s apparent nods to such groups come amid heightened interest and increasing collaborations between the bands in recent months. Fatone and Bass teamed up with Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter and AJ McLean for fundraiser “Bingo Under the Stars” at The Grove in Los Angeles in June. Fatone, Carter and McLean then formed a group with Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris for recent Las Vegas engagement “The After Party,” where the musicians sang each other’s hits, performed covers and were joined by surprise guests like Coolio and Bobby Brown.
And while speaking with Variety on Saturday, Kirkpatrick was heading home from Kentucky following another project – his latest gig with ATCK (All the Cool Kids), a side group McLean formed with producer Brandon Mashburn, aka DJ Lux. Its rotating members include Kirkpatrick, 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons and Canadian drummer Ryan Stevenson.
So, could Drake’s references to *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and Boyz II Men mean the ultimate cool kid is up for a further collab?
“He’s on another level,” says Kirkpatrick. “I would just sit back and go, ‘Tell us what you need us to do and we’ll figure it out.’”
Until then, Kirkpatrick – who’s yet to discuss “TSU” with his bandmates – says the idea of hearing snippets of “Sailing” in grocery stores and gas stations today is one of the “best parts” of *NSYNC’s legacy. He adds that “TSU” is also a reminder of how ‘90s fun became something bigger than he ever imagined. (It should be noted that “TSU” also samples an R. Kelly song, which has drawn sharp criticism.)
“It’s things like this song that really puts it in perspective,” Kirkpatrick says. “We were five guys having fun and things just happened to go crazy and we got to do all these amazing things without really understanding what was happening. It’s now – looking back, going to all these places, getting accolades and people knowing me in strange worlds I’ve never even visited – that it really hits and you’re like, ‘It wasn’t just five guys goofing around. It was very meaningful.’”
Joey Fatone and JC Chasez share the wisdom gained from their swan song.
A longside the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC—JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass, Justin Timberlake, and Chris Kirkpatrick—were the poster children for everything a boy band should and could look like during their global domination in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Each member had his own personality, own style, own dance moves. Young fans fawned over each member, obsessing over every piece of information available in magazines and on TV, plastering bedrooms with posters of their favorite members. Not much older than their core fanbase at the time, *NSYNC were mostly teens when things really kicked off. So not only were they learning to grapple with the fame and attention of being the biggest pop group in the world, they were also simply growing up and learning how to be adults. “Lance and Justin were the really young ones,” JC Chasez tells Apple Music two decades later. “I was in my late teens when we were starting to get momentum. So for me, it was like a college experience. But for Justin and Lance, it was high school.”
By the time *NSYNC released their final album, Celebrity, in 2001, they were the biggest pop group in the world. Chasez and Timberlake co-wrote most of the tracks, and they’d started experimenting with hip-hop, dance beats, and other sounds and styles that intentionally expanded beyond the boy-band sound they’d become so famous for. Their previous album, 2000’s No Strings Attached, had become the fastest-selling album of all time, and Celebrity came in at a close second. “It was like a roller coaster,” Fatone tells Apple Music. “You go on that roller coaster, it’s going really fast, and when you eventually stop, you’re just like, ‘Wait, what just happened?’” For the group, who unofficially disbanded a year or so later, it took a while before they were able to stop and properly reflect. “When you’re in it, it’s a totally different thing,” says Fatone. “There’s so much you can forget. We were touring, we were constantly writing. We were constantly shooting videos, we were rehearsing for performances for award shows. For me personally, it was only when you stopped, when we finally took a break, that you could start to look at everything and go, ‘Holy shit.’” To celebrate 20 years of Celebrity, Fatone and Chasez look back to the turn of the millennium, sharing the life lessons they learned from their time in one of the biggest pop groups in history, and from the time they knew it was just about over.
Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open
Fatone: “Celebrity really was all about learning. As far as grabbing some things from Europe, samples, those beats, that’s what it made it different and exciting and unique. For Justin and for JC, it was a time for them to really dig into writing. We had a lot more of a hand in these songs. It wasn’t necessarily a coming of age, but it’s more or less going, ‘This is what we like, this is the sound that we want, and we’d love to try to bring that out.’”
Keep Things Interesting
Chasez: “We always had the mindset of, like, ‘Whatever we’ve just done, now we have to do it better.’ With success comes a bit of ego, and ego brings that confidence. So I felt pretty comfortable trying different things, but there was a purpose to it as well. I didn’t want to make the record that I made before when I was writing, because I already made it. I always liked it when my favorite artists would hit me with something totally different and excite me in a new way. If you have people’s attention, you have their attention for a reason. If there’s something they like, you don’t want to backhand them and not give them what they want. If you go to a concert, you want to hear your favorite. You want to grow and you want your audience to grow.”
Study the Game Tape
Fatone: “Every day, you’ve got to focus, you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to keep it all fresh in your mind. I think that’s why we worked so well as a group. There were times right after the show where we’d get on the bus with a VHS tape and we’d look at the show. I remember JC, Justin, and Chris were on one bus, me and Lance were on the other. They’d watch the show, and when we pulled over they would take it out, hand us the VHS tape, and say, ‘Hey, look at what we did. Did we do something wrong? What was it sounding like?’ We were always critiquing ourselves just to make sure we were that much sharper than everybody else, because that’s what we prided ourself on.”
Learn to Sleep Anywhere
Chasez: “When you’re in the thick of it, you really have to have an endless amount of energy, because you have to show up. If you don’t, people call you out on it. It’s just the reality of the world. You are your reputation, and the way to make your reputation is showing up with the goods. Over and over and over again. If you have a bad night, that’s what gets picked up. You can have 100 great shows, but if you have one bad show, what’s the press going to pick up on? That’s just the reality of it. And to keep that energy up, you’ve got to learn to sleep anywhere. I am a trained specialist in the artistry of sleeping. I can do it anywhere, anytime.”
There’s Always a Bigger Wave
Fatone: “It was always like, ‘Don’t kid yourself—no matter how famous you are, there’s always somebody more famous.’ We might’ve been the biggest pop group in the world, but we were opening up for Janet Jackson. When you get offered a stage with another band that’s big in their genre, you go, ‘Wait a minute—So this is what big looks like.’ You think you might be a big wave coming in and all of a sudden you see what a real big wave looks like. I remember a night off when I went and saw The Rolling Stones play. That’s what a big wave looked like.”
Look Out Behind You
Chasez: “I’m always happy to talk to the younger bands, but of course I can’t in any way, shape, or form try to tell somebody how to live. These people are on their own journey. I can tell them, ‘Hey, this felt wrong to me, this felt right to me, so keep that in the back of your head for what it’s worth. Obviously you’re successful for a reason, because you’re doing you. So that’s probably what you should keep doing. If there’s anything you feel unsure about and feel like there’s an answer out there and you think it could be here, I’m easy.’ What worked for me might not necessarily work for someone else, but I’m happy to share whatever experiences I’ve had.”
Fatone: “The whole music industry has changed so drastically that the advice that we might give them might be obsolete now. It’s interesting to see the whole social media thing, because we never had that. You’d rely on what you saw on TV, and unless it was TRL, it wasn’t instant gratification as far as seeing it live right then and there. You had to go out to concerts and things. Now you can just pop on your phone and see a video or a concert. You’ve got groups like BTS now, a different kind of boy band, but it’s amazing to see what they’re doing. When we first started out, we were inspired by all the people we looked up to throughout the years. It’s interesting to see these younger artists looking up to us now. I’m like, ‘Why are they looking up at us for?’ But it’s the music they loved, the vocals, it was everything that was driving them. It’s very humbling for me. It’s very admirable, and it’s weird, but it’s amazing.”
As he gets ready to become a first-time dad to twins, Lance Bass is reflecting on his journey from being “so closeted” while hiding his sexuality during his youth, to celebrating his identity and announcing his parenting news during Pride Month. Bass and his husband of six years, Michael Turchin, revealed they’re expecting twins in a fun, horror film-themed TikTok post.
“It’s perfect timing,” Bass recently told Romper at Bingo Under the Stars, where he joined forces with *NSYNC bandmate Joey Fatone and Backstreet Boys members Nick Carter and AJ McLean to debut their collaborative group “Back-Sync.” “It’s an added bonus to be pregnant right now, because Pride is all about celebrating our freedoms and for so long, our community didn’t feel like we could even have families. We were always told, ‘No.’”
Bass, who has previously shared how struggles with his sexuality caused depressionduring *NSYNC’s heyday, added that back in the nineties he could never have imagined the day would come when he would not only get to embrace and celebrate his identity publicly, but do so while starting a family.
“I never thought this moment would come,” he said. “Never. Back in the day, I was so closeted. I look at my interviews from when I was with *NSYNC and I feel like that wasn’t even me. I don’t sound the same, I don’t act the same. I was hiding my true self, but now I get to just be me and it’s the best feeling.”
Bass, 42, and Turchin’s road to parenthoodhas been fraught with challenges, including multiple attempts at surrogacy, IVF heartache and a miscarriage. The two reportedly went through nine egg donors and will welcome their twins via a surrogate later this year.
Having endured so many setbacks, the couple are thrilled to finally be able to enjoy preparations for their babies’ arrival. And, the postal service has their work cut out for them as a result: Bass notes that he and artist Turchin, 34, can’t keep up with opening all the packages that loved ones keep sending their way.
“We’ve been inundated with so much baby stuff already – everyday, 10 boxes show up with strollers, Pampers, you-name-it,” he says. “It’s insane. They’re not even here yet! It feels like my friends are more excited than we are.”
With just a few months to go, Bass has also been doing lots of reading. “I’ve been reading lots of books on how to make sure you can keep babies alive,” he laughs. “That’s important!”
Bass does have one advantage when it comes to raising his daughter — his extensive experience with *NSYNC fangirls around the globe over the last 20+ years. And he would be more than happy if his daughter became a fangirl someday.
“Being in a group like *NSYNC, I got to know women very well. Our market was 99% women,” he says. “If my girl turns out to be a really great fan, I would love that because we met some incredible ladies along the way. We have some of the best fans ever.”
The ongoing love and loyalty of those fans was rewarded with *NSYNC’s partial comeback via Back-Sync at The Grove in Los Angeles. The boy banders united for a performance and bingo night in celebration of Pride Month. The evening benefitted LA Pride and The Trevor Project, who were presented with a cryptocurrency check for $1 million in $TKINU tokens on behalf of the singers’ involvement with cryptocurrency project Mission Tsuki.
“It’s such an amazing organization saving so many lives out there,” Bass said on stage about The Trevor Project, which provides support to LGBTQ youth. “If you need someone to talk to, give them a call – even anonymously. That’s what they’re there for.”
*NSYNC was one of the sonic spaceship’s main navigators, thanks to the group’s sophomore album, No Strings Attached. The album (which turned 20 on March 21) saw the quintet transitioning from the thumping, Swedish synth-heavy jock jams of 1998’s self-titled album to exploring their urban influences. The end result? Millennial interpretations of New Jack Swing, and staccato rap-adjacent flows that were previously made mainstream by Destiny’s Child and TLC.
Helping to lead the charge was JC Chasez who, along with fellow *NSYNC lead vocalist Justin Timberlake, earned his first official album credits on No Strings Attached. He stretched his talents to co-write and co-produce four songs, with assistance from songwriter Veit Renn and production duo Riprock ‘n’ Alex G: “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay)” featuring Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes,” “Digital Get Down,” “Bringin’ da Noise,” and the title track.
“From a business standpoint, this is exactly when we became far more involved and took control,” Chasez tells Billboard, as *NSYNC had to delay the album’s original fall 1999 release due to a messy legal battle with former manager Lou Pearlman. “We always had our opinions about our music and tried to be open-minded. We recorded songs that we don’t love and ones that we do, and that’s just a part of the experimental process.”
That experimentation led to immediate success. It made history as the first album to sell over 2 million copies within its first week of release (a record later broken by Adele with 2015’s 25), and birthed three top five singles (“Bye Bye Bye,” “It’s Gonna Be Me” — which topped the Hot 100 for two weeks — and “This I Promise You”). In 2001, it also earned a Grammy nomination for best pop vocal album.
Below, JC Chasez speaks to Billboardabout the stories behind the songs he helped curate, the legacy that No Strings Attached leaves behind, and what he really thinks about the boy band’s eyebrow-raising tour outfits. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
No Strings Attached is a lot more R&B-inspired compared to *NSYNC. Was that intentional?
We were raised in the States, and at the time, music had more urban influences — even before our first record came out. I think what happened — and this could be just me taking a shot in the dark — we moved to Europe to record our first album. And you’re a product of your environment. You get excited about things that people around you are excited about, so we were actually opening our minds up to something new at that point. We were in the middle of it, so we took on those [Swedish] influences. For the No Strings Attached record, we came back home and essentially called upon those influences inside of ourselves that were always there. We were just in the environment to allow those things to flourish. It happens naturally.
Did you guys draw from any specific inspirations?
I think the main thing when we were working on songs was we wanted it to translate live — we always saw the song live in our mind. We knew that it had to be theatrical in a way, because that’s the most fun to see. And we were very passionate about our shows. So as we were recording songs, we’d think “It would be cool if we did this and the crowd reacted this way” or “Everyone can sing this part.” We were conscious of our audience.
Can you recall any particular fun stories while you all were recording?
When you’re in it, you don’t think it’s crazy at the time. But then people look back at you and say, “Y’all were nuts!” [Laughs.] I didn’t even think of it that way. But because “It’s Gonna Be Me” has become a meme for the month of May, it was interesting when we cut that record. It was actually a very conscious choice to say it that way, because we wanted it to really punch.
For certain words, we bent the pronunciation. We were hitting the L’s hard on “lose.” Instead of saying, “You don’t wanna lose” — which would be kind of boring — we’d be like “You don’t wanna NLUUSE.” But when you’re listening to someone in the studio singing it that way, at first you’re like, “What is wrong with you?” But you have to dig and hit these different shapes of consonants and vowels to give them energy. Instead of saying, “It’s gonna be ME” we said “ET’S GONNA BAY MAY!” for it to hit harder.
Those conscious choices sound funny from the outside, but when it all comes together it sounds amazing. There weren’t memes back then, but we knew it needed to be more.
What was the decision behind getting more involved in writing and producing with Riprock ‘n’ Alex G?
I always wanted to be involved, and even in the beginning I had written some of the demos we shopped our [record] deal with. When we got signed, we moved to Europe to record and it was a bit of a fish-out-of-water [experience]. I was recording on kind of an amateur level with my production and writing skills at the time. When you’re put out into the world, you need to develop those skills and need to be around other high-level musicians.
So the first album was a great learning experience for me, to be around all these writers and producers. I acted like a sponge and learned as much as I could inthe process while still being myself and giving my point of view on my vocals. By the time the second record came around, I felt I had learned a bit and wanted to use that knowledge.
Riprock ‘n’ Alex G were producers in their own right who came together as remixers. They remixed a couple of our tracks. One day, we were working in different rooms in a studio and we started talking and exchanging ideas. We became friendly, and before you know it, we were working together. It was a very easy working relationship and friendship.
I want to get into the songs that you personally worked on, starting with “Space Cowboy.” Were you all in the studio when Left Eye recorded her verse?
Yeah, she was a really kind person. I went down to Atlanta to cut that record at Dallas Austin’s studio and she had people that she liked to work with. So I met that whole team — it wasn’t like a huge entourage. TLC was the girl group, and they were people that I listened to. So I was excited just to have the chance to work with her.
The song really encapsulates that signature Y2K sound. Did you guys feel that paranoia during that time?
Look, the song was written for that purpose. Some songs you want to be timeless, and others you speak about the time. And this was absolutely one of those songs where I had the opportunity to do so. I wanted it to be entertaining and fun, and also a bit interesting to capture that moment. Luckily it came out the way I wanted, which was exciting.
I always thought you had one of the more powerful vocals within the pop sphere at the time, and your voice really shines on the title track.
That’s very nice of you to say. I guess I got the chance to sing loud and aggressively. [Laughs.] That was the whole point of it. I was thinking in terms of how it would inject energy into the record and into a room full of people.
“Digital Get Down” always stood out to me with the way you guys thematically pushed your sexual limits. Were you wary of that?
It was just an instinct. It was kind of like, “Look man, this is gonna happen. We can either shy away from it or go right at it.”[Laughs.] As an artist, I don’t think you should be running from yourself. You can’t be afraid of everything. The sound of the song gave it a tapestry that maybe was less offensive. It was more of us making it dance-y, and it won’t be as intrusive as if we did it slow and sexy, and really put it in somebody’s face. We made it fun, but still got our point across.
Oh the point was definitely made! Can you confirm if the song is really about cybersex?
I don’t know if “cybersex” is the exact term that I would use. I would say it’s using a digital construct to flirt. It can be as explicit as you want it to be, but it’s essentially putting away your inhibitions and sharing something through the digital stream.
“Bringin’ da Noise” is definitely more of what we expected from *NSYNC with its synth-y, Europop sound.
Originally, I think something came up about a movie soundtrack. So I started there with [the song]. The soundtrack went away, so the thinking was to just go all the way with it — because to me, it’s kind of like the little brother to “Here We Go” on the first album. Putting it on the album made for a bit of continuity, because we were pushing for some of the songs to be different from the last record. But you don’t want to leave your entire fanbase by just making something so different that they can’t connect with any of it. So we thought, “Hey if you liked the first record, here’s something that’s still living in that vein.”
Were there songs that came easier than others? Or was the process a bit challenging since this was the first time your pen could really shine?
I wasn’t worried about my pen shining, I was just hoping that my songs were good enough. With every artist, you believe in these songs yourself, but you never know how people are going to accept them or not. But the song that was the most difficult yet the easiest at the same time was “No Strings Attached.” The chorus was what I wrote first, but I didn’t have the line “no strings attached” at the end of it — it was something totally terrible.
So I never laid down the track because it wasn’t really going anywhere. Then all of a sudden, when we came up with the album title, I now had the “No Strings Attached” concept in my mind every day. I revisited the old song and thought, “Wait, if I just chop this off and find a way to connect these [ideas] this could be really interesting.” So what was originally a rough go at a song — because I liked pieces of it and I was struggling with it — became very easy once [the album title] joined the record. Then the song wrote itself.
How involved were you all with choosing the collaborators for this record? You did end up reuniting with a few of the Swedish producers that worked on *NSYNC.
They were crazy and fun to work with, so when it came time to do a second record we were excited to work with the Swedish producers again. Once you sell records, everyone is going to want to start working with you. Then it’s up to you to understand who is pitching what and remain calm and remain yourself. As soon as Max [Martin], Kristin [Lundin], Rami [Yacoub] and all those guys had some songs that they said were 2.0, we were ready to hear it. We went off to the races to cut them.
“It Makes Me Ill” was such a standout record on the album.
We just wanted a concept record. We were excited to work with producers and writers Kandi [Burruss] and She’kspere [Briggs]. They had a great run at the time. And again, keeping in line with the Atlanta vibe that was going on, it was killer down there. So we ended up being lucky enough to work with those people some more. When we were working on the tune, we thought, “How do we make this pop? How will this translate on stage?”
What was your initial reaction to the way Ariana Grande used the song for last year’s “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored”?
I thought it was great! You never know what songs will translate or become timeless. So to hear a piece of our song be put in a modern setting, and essentially be interpreted in her own way because it’s not the exact same way. She took a piece of something that she liked when she was young and gave it a new identity. I thought it was rad. I’m always excited to see people take the next step.
I was personally excited to hear it because I think “It Makes Me Ill” is in *NSYNC’s top five best deep cuts.
It’s one of the better ones, 100 percent! And we feel that way as well, by the way. [Laughs.] To me, that song is a BOP.
What were some of your favorite songs on No Strings Attached?
“It’s Gonna Be Me” is always going to be one of my favorites. “Bye Bye Bye” is fun because everyone likes to do the dance. “This I Promise You” is such a good memory for me, just working with Richard Marx. That was a full-circle moment because the first thing I ever sang in public was a Richard Marx song. [Editor’s note: JC Chasez sang Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” for his The All-New Mickey Mouse Club audition in 1989]
Full disclosure: “This I Promise You” is going to be my future wedding song!
Good! It’s a beautiful song. He writes treasures, that guy. When he gets the guitar in his hand and has an idea, he’s incredible. Because we sold so much on the first record, everybody was ready to work on this record. And we were fortunate enough to have people like Marx and Diane Warren come to us and say, “We want to have you record this.” It was an absolute honor.
I actually wanted to bring up the fashion during this time. You all wore some pretty out-there outfits, especially for the No Strings Attached Tour.
Look, I’d wear that stuff again! I think if you’re going to be on stage in front of 20,000 people, don’t be boring and don’t dumb it down. If you’re on a stage that big, your costume needs to be big. You need to give people theater. It’s more interesting to me to watch.
I’ve always enjoyed when people push themselves. We took the mindset that we need to heighten reality. If we just came onstage in the same thing that everybody else was wearing at the time, we would just blend in. And the point of being on stage is to take the opportunity to go bigger. [Performing] “Digital Get Down”was a perfect example: We can kind of look like robots, but there wasn’t enough going on. So we were like, “Let’s cut some mesh and stitch some silver in it and run a light through it! MORE!” [Laughs.]
Did you keep any of your stage outfits?
I have a ton of that stuff. We ended up getting a star on the Walk of Fame [two years ago], and we wanted to do a pop-up shop for any of the fans that wanted to check it out. So we pulled out different stuff for each of our storage units and threw it in there. We wanted everyone to see the real thing in person.
Every so often, your name pops up on Twitter where fans think you didn’t get your due credit. Did you ever feel that way?
Uh, no. [Laughs.] Look, I’m fully aware of my contributions and I feel confident in that. I mean, if you listen to the songs you’ll hear me sing on them. I’m good with it!
Looking back on No Strings Attached20 years later, how do you think it fits within Y2K’s pop legacy?
I don’t really concern myself too much with the thought of “legacy.” My hope is that people had fun, you know. The entire reason we were able to go out there and sing those songs is because people seemed like they were having fun. We wanted to make sure we did that for those [fans] who invested in us. When I look back on it, I think I tried my best to show you a good time. Everything was so elevated at that time, but again we didn’t lose perspective. Understand that it’s elevated and crazy, and have a laugh about it.
I know you guys had your head in the ground while recording. But aside from the album’s major accolades, is there anything else that stands out from this era?
It just felt BIG. At the time, you just feel like everything is heightened and at a [level] 12. That’s the best way to explain it. There was never a moment or a day that you were awake and you didn’t feel like there was something at stake. It was a pressure cooker for sure, but we made tasty food. [Laughs.]
Twenty years ago this month, *NSYNC released their history-making second album No Strings Attached. On its cover Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, and Lance Bass appeared as five puppets on strings, but at the time, the group was at the peak of its cultural control. They shifted 2.4 million copies of the album in its first week of sales alone (a record only since topped by Adele, 15 years later) and surpassed any other album released in the year 2000. It heralded their split from their disgraced former manager Lou Pearlman, and with its forward-thinking mix of funk, R&B, and electronic-pop, secured their standing as one of the biggest boybands to ever exist. Frontloaded with their signature hit “Bye Bye Bye” and the meme-inspiring “It’s Gonna Be Me,” the fivesome created memorable videos, choreography, and outfits to match the bombast of the songs. To celebrate the milestone anniversary, Lance Bass and Chris Kirkpatrick reminisced with Vulture about their halcyon days making dirty pop, picking the best and worst and most and least of *NSYNC.
Best *NSYNC Song
Lance Bass: My favorite has always been “It Makes Me Ill.” Kandi Burruss wrote it and I freaking love her. [Ed. note: Ariana Grande last year interpolated the song on “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored”; Bass, Kirkpatrick, Chasez, and Fatone joined her onstage at Coachella 2019]. I knew the Ariana sample was happening because we have to approve them. We just had no idea what it was gonna sound like. It was so sexy. The fact she used a sample from my favorite song makes me love her even more!
Chris Kirkpatrick: “It’s Gonna Be Me.” Once we got to perform the song and rehearse choreography it was so much fun to do. The music video was all crazy puppetry. Nine hours of makeup. It was a 24-hour shoot and we didn’t sleep. It’s funny that “it’s gonna be May” caught on so much because when Justin was doing it, the producer was like, ‘Yeah I need you to say it more like mayyyy, like a meaner “me.”
Worst *NSYNC Song
Lance: Ah there’s so many contenders! When you first start out as a new band, especially when you’re teenagers, you don’t know what your sound is yet. We were an acapella group so the only sound we knew we loved was Boyz II Men or Az Yet. We were just playing around with different styles and songs we thought would be cool. We played around with a little techno in the late ’90s and it was never good. There was a song called “I Need Love” [“I need love, you need love, we all need love”]. We performed it on our first tour and I never felt right singing it. I don’t even think it made it to the first American album.
Chris: There’s a song called “Riddle” that’s absolutely horrible. It was on the European album — this big European dance song. We did it for the record label, not for us. It didn’t sit well with us. It had no harmonies. Nah.
Lance: One of my favorites to perform was “Bye Bye Bye.” Any time a song has an iconic dance move in it like that it’s a beast. To this day, several times a day I hear someone walk by me and go “Bye Bye Bye” and do the hand motion! When I joined the group I was not a dancer. The other guys were incredible dancers. I was from a show-tune world and we were all about spirit fingers. So it was a lot of work for me. You had to adapt quickly; there was no other option.
Chris: My favorite routines were for awards shows. For the 2000 MTV Awards we had TV screens for “Bye Bye Bye.” That was really fun. There were a couple of other songs we did during it like “Just Got Paid” with this whole cartoon-y theme. I loved the award show dance routines because when we’d done “Bye Bye Bye,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” and “Girlfriend” so many times [with the same choreography] it wasn’t fun with muscle memory.
Lance: There were a lot of dances that tested my patience and made me frustrated. One of my favorite choreographers was Marty [Kudelka]. He did “Girlfriend” and the last tour, and he had this different style that we hadn’t been doing. It was way more groovy and so much more smooth. It was the hardest for me to pick up even though it seemed like the simplest. And we were supposed to be perfectly in sync.
Chris: We had a routine where we had these canes, and we had a little ring connected to a fishing line and we had to throw the canes a couple times and they’d come back and we’d catch them. We had another one where we worked with staffs for the opening of one of our tours. We came out like Blue Man Group — these neon-looking people with these neon staffs. And there was a part where we all tossed the staffs to each other. If someone dropped the staff or you didn’t get a good throw to somebody else or you just lost your staff it would screw up the whole thing.
Lance: I love how JC moves. He’s such an incredible dancer and he can pick it up in two seconds. Joey’s great at picking up things. That’s how Joey got in *NSYNC!”
Chris: JC started working on back handsprings. Justin was a great dancer. Joey’s got moves that are really good, and Lance did cool stuff. It would be a toss-up between Justin and JC.
Best Video Shoot
Lance: It’s hard to pick one that was the most fun. Most of them were very boring. Some I definitely wanna forget! I loved doing the “It’s Gonna Be Me” shoot but we spent way too many hours in makeup. It was a big day for me because it was the first day someone asked me if I was gay. Chris Kirkpatrick sat me down and said, “Hey dude are you gay?” No one had ever asked me that. I was super in the closet and way too young to even know or care what was happening. But I remember getting so freaked out on that set because he caught me so off guard. I’m sure at that point people were wondering — so why don’t you have a girlfriend? It was very blunt. It scared me. I said, “No, what are you talking about?” I wasn’t even telling myself. I definitely wasn’t gonna tell Chris.
Worst Video Shoot
Lance: The video for “Pop” was the hardest by far. We had not slept in days, we were rehearsing for a tour starting in three days, Joey was injured, we were filming this thing that was supposed to be 24 hours but now it’s 30 hours, 48… We were also shooting for MTV’s Making the Video so we had to be on the whole time. It got to us. We all voiced our concerns at that point about being overworked. We had just gone through that crazy Lou Pearlman situation [ Ed note: In 1999, the group sued Pearlman for unpaid royalities] and we were looking at everything in a different light. We weren’t kids saying “yes, we’ll do everything you ask.” We wanted to start looking out for ourselves and our health. I haven’t seen the “Pop” video in years. The one I see the most is “Bye Bye By”e because any bar you go into that’s playing. If a DJ sees me in a bar then they immediately play an *NSYNC song.
Chris: I had a tantrum at the “Pop” shoot. I was just really tired and over it, and they were like, “Alright Justin here’s a part where you’re gonna dance with these girls over here, Joey you’re gonna sit with all these girls over here, and JC you’re gonna be in the club with these girls over here, and Lance you’re gonna be in this club with these girls over here, and Chris get back up and stand at the turntable.” That sucked. I wanted to dance with girls.
Chris: For tour we were really hands on with everything. We did this song “The Game Is Over” and we had these cool costumes that they’d put glowsticks in, and we were all on treadmills, and I had motorcycle gloves on. I thought it was really cool. Looking back I go, what the heck were we wearing? The amount of FUBU jerseys that we wore? No wonder we were friends with those guys. Every color imaginable.
Lance: We had horrible fashion, especially at the beginning because we couldn’t afford anything. One of our first outfits were these oversized beekeeper outfits that were all white. We went go-kart riding and they gave us free go-kart helmets. So we would open our show like Storm Troopers and do this crazy Star Wars thing made up of clothes we got from the go-kart place. When we opened up for Janet Jackson on the Velvet Rope tour those outfits were pretty special. Some of them are hanging up in Hard Rock — these crushed velvet Asian inspired Kimono outfits. Each of us had our own color. I was green. We all had our own favorite colors. JC was always blue. Joey was always red. Justin always had to be baby blue.
Lance: We stood out with our hair. The best era for all of us was probably really No Strings Attached. I liked Joey with the bright red, Chris had short hair, JC was back short, and Justin had the famous curls.
Lance: When I joined the group I came straight from Mississippi. I did not know a thing about getting a haircut. I had the typical bowl cut with long shaggy hair, kinda gross. So they gave me this combover and also dyed my hair. They tried getting it blond but it was just orange. So the first two months I just had this greasy orange combover hair. Later I got the frosted tips. You know once I discovered frosted tips I never went back!
Chris: Are you really asking me about hair moments right now? Honestly the best and worst moments in *NSYNC hair were mine; I got both ends covered. I started out with the braids and it became a thing and then I got over it. I thought it was different. Something that nobody else was doing. I did it. It made me stand out. But sometimes … that’s not always a good thing.
Lance: Being with all the guys after the night we won all those 2000 VMAs for “Pop.” Michael Jackson performed with us, we won every award we were up for, and it was such a real moment. Every artist dreams of being that top artist. To do that was so overwhelming, knowing how hard it took us to get there. It was a beautiful moment.
Chris: The success. Not really an award as much as taking something that the five of us believed in and working really hard for it. No matter how tired we got we were all there to pick each other up. I put this band together. We were all friends. We’re brothers. We fight like brothers and we love each other like brothers. It’s crazy after all this time that we’re still all so close. We still have grudges against each other. There’s a few things that some of us get angry at each other for, but that’s what brothers do.
‘It’s *NSYNC’s World, We Just Live in It’: An Oral History of ‘No Strings Attached’ Selling a Historic 2.4 Million First-Week Copies in 2000
Following our Billboard staff-picked list of the 100 greatest songs of 2000, we’re writing this week about some of the stories and trends that defined the year for us. Here, we flash back to late March of that year, when one of the biggest groups in pop music released their much-anticipated sophomore album — and set a record-breaking mark for runaway success that stood for 15 years to come.
Twenty years ago, pop heartthrobs *NSYNC set an industry standard with their sophomore album, No Strings Attached. The LP sold a whopping 2.4 million copies in its first week in March 2000, doubling the record their boy band contemporaries the Backstreet Boys had set the year before with their own blockbuster sophomore effort, Millennium.
For *NSYNC, the timing of their second full-length release couldn’t have seemed more perfect: Big pop acts were beginning to take over the music industry, with the prior few years seeing the rise of boy bands, as well as teenage darlings Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. CD sales were at an all-time high, as artists of all genres (Dixie Chicks, Kid Rock, Santana) were reaching diamond status around the turn of the century; meanwhile, MTV’s Total Request Live was at its peak, giving those young stars a platform to connect with fans (and promote the hell out of whatever project was coming next).
But while the scene was set for *NSYNC, the new millennium marked a period of uncertainty for the group, as they were coming off of a highly publicized legal battle with their initial label, Trans Continental/RCA Records, and now-disgraced mogul Lou Pearlman. The fivesome — Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Justin Timberlake — sued Pearlman for defrauding, nearly losing their group name (and $150 million) before a judge ruled in their favor in November 1999. The decision allowed *NSYNC to sign with Jive Records, an independent label that was home to Spears and, ironically, the Backstreet Boys.