When I’m not talking about resisting the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, I’m probably gushing over some pop culture darlings. More often than not, those darlings end up being the mid-to-late 90s boy band phenom *NSYNC.
If those previous two sentences were news to you, then we probably aren’t very close friends (but on the plus side, you now know everything you need to know about me, so now we can be really close friends).
In the two decades I’ve spent on this earth, I’ve been lucky enough to run into people who understand my profound loyalty to this pop group. There are people who have come into my life and understand why I proudly displayed my *NSYNC buttons on my messenger bag for a large part of my sophomore year of undergrad. There are people who have entered my room and smiled at my poster instead of laughing at it.
But still, others shrug off my love of *NSYNC as a strange mix of pathetic and endearingly eccentric, which makes me afraid that not everyone really, truly gets what this group of males means to me. If they did, they wouldn’t jump at the chance to say “The Backstreet Boys are better!” (debatable) or “Justin was the only talented one out of the group!” (he isn’t).
When those blasphemous phrases are uttered, I often find myself at a loss for words. In most cases I am able to swallow my protests, eager to uphold the relationship in spite of such poor judgement from my so-called “friend.” However, I can no longer bite my tongue. As 2012 comes to an end, I feel that I have maintained this silence long enough. I am coming in with trumpets sounding, declaring to all that will listen, “I am a strong, powerful woman of color and I will express my love for a 90s boy band as I please!”
With that image in mind, below the cut is a collection of blurbs and links outlining why I will always have a spot in my heart for a group that was once described as “the five dreamiest white boys on Earth,” and ultimately why discussion around pop groups matters.
“I’ll Never Let Go, Jack”: Why I’m Holding On
In many ways, *NSYNC pings every part of the very white supremacist capitalist patriarchy I’m trying to resist, but I know that you know it’s more complex than that. Consider the following excerpt from a Backstreet Boys-centric essay entitled ‘I Want It That Way’: Teenybopper Music and the Girling of Boy Bands, written by Gayle Wald:
Indeed, girl-consumers also use boy bands, among the most slickly produced and marketed youth/music industry products of recent memory, in intensely personal, individually empowering, and occasionally unsanctioned ways. This includes recasting the industry imperative to consume boy bands according to a straightforwardly heterosexual model of desire – a model materialized through the fashioning of different personas for each member of a boy band (one’s the shy one, one’s the prankster, one’s the romantic, one’s the rebel, and so on) – and instead using boy-band fan practices to mediate intimate relationships between and among girls.
As Wald explains above, the love that a fangirl feels (and expresses) for a boy band can deviate from the original marketing plan and can prove to be an empowering experience for females. As a result, this isn’t something to be taken lightly, despite popular media telling us otherwise. On a related note, it is possible that the swift dismissal of boy bands stems from the larger issue of vilifying teenage girls. Sabi, a vlogger for Those Pesky Dames, states her video entitled “Feminism, Education, and the plight of the teenage girl” [trigger warning for mentions of self-harm]:
People don’t wanna be compared to the teenage girl; the teenage girl is hated, teenage girls hate themselves. If you listen to a certain kind of music, or if you express your emotions in a certain kind of way, if you self harm, you write diaries, all those kind of activities are sort of laughed at and ridiculed because they’re associated with being a teenage girl. Even just things like being cripplingly self conscious or overly concerned with our appearance, that’s considered like a teenage girl thing and therefore its ridiculous, it’s stupid, it’s not relevant or legitimate, and you know, what we needed at that age was legitimization and respect and support but all we got was dismissal and “oh you’re such a teenage girl.”
In short, boy bands aren’t taken seriously for a number of reasons, many of which are outlined in Wald’s essay (the reasons range from lack of “legitimate” historical “roots,” such as those found in rock n’ roll, to the association with teenage girls mentioned by Sabi above). However, these groups (and the fannish activities centered around them) can have a huge impact on a fangirl’s life, and while I feel there are definite negatives that come with boy band fangirling (which could probably lend itself to another monster of a blog post), most people do not witness enough attention focused on the positives.
In my case, I often cite *NSYNC as one of the reasons as to why I have the singing voice that I have (which isn’t the best but isn’t exactly the worst, either). It isn’t uncommon to hear me say, “Everything I know about singing, I learned from 90s pop.” Additionally, this particular boy band has the vocal ability, stage presence, and narrative that continue to appeal to me to this day. And yeah, they were initially marketed as the non-threatening pretty boys who could sing and dance, so… as a human being, that’s difficult to resist.
Oh, and it also helps that I, like many others, tend to crave nostalgia in times of uncertainty – and if there’s anything to be said about post-undergrad life, it’s that it’s uncertain.
The *NSYNC *Narrative
Truthfully, if you wanted to get a solid overview as to why I love *NSYNC, most of it would be covered after you watch their VH1 Driven special. Thanks to the power of the internet, you can view that one-hour special by clicking this link. You’re welcome.
The special itself gives insight into each of the members (yes, including Chris and Joey!), their vocal experience, how the group was formed, and the messy Lou Pearlman drama that erupted before the release of No Strings Attached (not mentioned, however, are the allegations that Pearlman was a sexual predator). The special also uses a lot of *NSYNC songs, so what’s not to love?
For those of you who don’t have an hour to spare, here’s a quick summary of *NSYNC’s story: it isn’t as polished as they would like us to believe. Joey’s father summed it up best in the special when he says, “This is a dirty business.” In spite of all of that, they worked hard, tightened their harmonies, danced their butts off, and gained international superstardom. They were [marketed as] non-threatening boys who could carry a tune! Basically, if you’re rooting against them, there’s a good chance that you need to take a step back and think about your life choices.
Now That’s What I Call Harmony: *NSYNC’s Vocal Ability and the People Who Love It
While *NSYNC often reminds people of impressively outdated choreography and marketable pretty boy looks, their harmonies have always stuck out to me. This is where the group shines, and where the whole *NSYNC-only-has-two-singers thing really falls apart. Each member contributes to this sound. Below are a couple of links to some of their a capella stuff, in case you’re interested (as you should be):
- Five-part harmony in “I Drive Myself Crazy”
- “More Than a Feeling” cover on The Early Show
- Happy Birthday to Rosie O’Donnell
- Bee Gees medley live at the 45th Grammy Awards
The videos speak for themselves, really. They could deliver live. It’s no wonder they were able to work with artists such as Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Richard Marx, and uh, Tim McGraw. They’ve also done work in supergroups (Super Bowl XXXV or “What’s Going On,” anyone?). Additionally, *NSYNC and its individual members have done work with Blaque, TLC, and Nelly, which worked to further cement them as culturally relevant during that era of pop music.
Nowadays, *NSYNC is most often mentioned when it comes to record sales. To this day, the group continues to hold the record (for the SoundScan era) for the largest one-week sales: 2.4 million albums sold in one week for No Strings Attached. In today’s digital era, that record is a tough one to crack, and it is a number that many *NSYNC fans hold dearly (though it is true that the Backstreet Boys sold more records as a whole worldwide… we’re talking instant gratification, people – the one-week record is an excellent example of extreme fanaticism! see also: this entire blog post you are currently reading).
I Have Don’t Have a Witty Title to Talk about JC Chasez Being My Favorite Member of *NSYNC
If we’re talking about fanaticism (and we have been, unless you just magically happened upon this monster of a post on a whim), it’s always a good thing to note who your “favorite” is – especially when we’re talking about *NSYNC. Now, we could talk for days about why we can’t play favorites with human beings, but it’s important to look at boy bands as what record labels look at them as: tools that can make serious bank. With multiple members in a boy band, consumers are bound to find at least one member that appeals to them. This is because boy bands tend to fulfill certain archetypes. A good reference point is V. Arrow’s Boy Band Trope/Archetype Equivalency Chart on her personal tumblr.
To get to the point, my favorite member (or “member that resonated with me the most,” I guess) of *NSYNC is JC Chasez for the reasons outlined below:
- He can saaaang and his tone is beautiful
- Justin Timberlake thinks JC can saaaang too. In an interview about JC’s unreleased (and never-will-be-released) sophomore album, Timberlake says (bold emphasis mine):
“He and I have written three or four songs now that I kind of put a producer hat on for, which was an honor, because in my opinion, he had the best voice out of all of us,” Timberlake revealed recently. “Out of all the boy bands, call ’em what you will, he was the one that could out-sing all of us. … And I’ve known him since I was 10, so it was fun to sit behind the board and push him.”
- He once saved a baby’s life while vacationing in Miami. Seriously.
In addition, he’s also good-looking, sometimes says funny things, and has a nice backstory (in case you forgot: watch his section in the Driven special). So yeah, I have extremely legit reasons for liking this dude, and it is because of this Highest Legitimacy that I will continue to fangirl over him until the end of time, along with the rest of the guys in *NSYNC.
Really though, I have some mad love for every member of *NSYNC. My feelings on Justin Timberlake probably warrant a separate private conversation, but *NSYNC as a whole! I love them! I don’t know if you caught this in my last section, but their harmonies are kinda awesome, I think!
Conclusion: *NSYNC is Here to Make You People Scream
*NSYNC and other teen idol-type figures are important parts of the tweenage years because they play a vital role in identity formation. As much as we would like to talk about going on a soul-searching journey in middle school, it’s important to note that most of us were socializing around pop culture. With a group like *NSYNC, fans like myself felt a connection to the group, to individual members, to the performances, and to other fans. Boy bands and other pop groups are forces to watch not just because of how lucrative they are, but also because of how much power they hold in shaping the lives of audiences around the world.
I know, I know. It might sound crazy, but it ain’t no lie…