*NSYNC’s ‘No Strings Attached’ Turns 15: Backtracking
Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Our friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
The Year 2000 brought huge historical events like George W. Bush winning the major U.S. presidential election, three astronauts reached the international space station for the first time and Russian president Vladimir Putin was officially sworn into office. But let’s stick to the more important things, shall we?
We’ve made it quite clear here on Idolator that we’re shameless fans of pop music, no matter which era. But 2000 was the start of the New Millennium, when just 12 months prior people believed the world was going to end. This frenzy brought game-changing albums like Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time… debut, The Writing’s On The Wall from Destiny’s Child and TLC’s Fanmail.
As you may have noticed, we didn’t head into an apocalypse once Y2K hit — which meant the pop music business was still in action! One of the biggest LPs to come from this year was hands down No Strings Attached, *NSYNC’s sophomore project. The boy band’s LP was released 15 years ago on March 21, 2000 — and today (March 20), we are celebrating one of the most memorable pop albums of our generation.
Ever since their respective debuts, Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC have been constantly compared to each other — from the choices of the band members to their sounds. In 1997-8, it was all about pure pop. Yet once the sophomore projects rolled along, their distinctions were immediate. Backstreet Boys chose a more romantic, traditional route for Millennium while throwing a few dance tracks in the mix. As for *NSYNC, they broke the mold of what it meant to be a boy band in the new millennium (add in the fact they can dance their asses off)! They went above the norm by infusing soul, funk, R&B, New Jack Swing into their pop sound — which made No Strings Attached an entertaining album that still held substantial weight.
At the time of the LP’s recording process, Lance, JC, Joey, Justin and Chris was in a highly-publicized legal battle with their former financier — the infamous Lou Pearlman. The boy band sued him for illicit money practices and fraud, a move that led them to cut their contract with RCA Records as they transferred to Jive (home to Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears). Hence the albm’s title, which hints to the band members craving their musical and financial independence. This defiance and motivation to stay true to themselves is felt throughout the project, from them posing as puppets on the cover art to the track’s palpitating rhythms.
The album kicks off with the first single and arguably the most popular one — the Grammy-nominated “Bye Bye Bye.” It signals the end of a relationship that wasn’t working out (a typical boy band theme), but it could also allude to the end of their business relationship to Pearlman. The resistive lyrics (“I loved you endlessly, when you weren’t there for me/ So now it’s time to leave and make it alone”) combined with the thumping bassline that would drive any ex up the wall made for a bold album opener that set the tone for the rest of the album. With a song like “Bye Bye Bye,” in no way is *NSYNC trying to gain your affection.
*NSYNC — “Bye Bye Bye”
Following is “It’s Gonna Be Me,” which is generally a song about love but with a slight twist that gave it an edge above their boy band competitors. With every layered harmony and crystal-clear enunciation of the Max Martin-written tune, *NSYNC convinces you that they are not like your other boyfriends: “Every little thing I do never seems enough for you/ You don’t wanna lose it again/ But I’m not like them.” Also, who could forget the tune’s classic video? It shows the guys portraying large dolls in a toy store, which led to this infamous “MAY!” meme.
*NSYNC — “It’s Gonna Be Me”
As stated before, No Strings Attached dabbles in funk and New Jack Swing, which is evident in tunes like the Lisa Lopes-assisted “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay)” and “Just Got Paid” (their cover of Johnny Kemp’s 1988 single). Like many songs of the new millennium, these two tracks did not grow well when listening to it 15 years later. But despite the novelty wearing off, they are still fun tracks that you can bop to in the discretion of your bedroom!
“Digital Get Down” is another example, which is heavy on the Autotune and the sexual allusions. The computerized romp is clearly about cybersex that showed the band’s post-pubescent mindframe: “Baby baby we can do all that we want/ We’re gettin nasty nasty, we’re getting freaky deaky/ Baby baby we can do more than just talk/ Cause I can hear ya hear ya, and I can see ya see ya.” It also highlighted the early days of the Y2K Internet takeover, as seen with songs like TLC‘s “Fanmail” and Britney Spears’ “Email My Heart.”
*NSYNC — “Just Got Paid”
But not all of No String Attached is a dancefloor-breaking romp! One of the very rare tender moments of the album that showcases the boys’ true talents is “This I Promise You,” the LP’s third single. Composed by Richard Marx, this melodic, piano-and-strings based ballad was (and still is for some) a romantic tear-jerker that was played endlessly at proms and weddings across the country. *NSYNC may have the various pop stigmas, but songs like this prove they can actually blow!
*NSYNC — “This I Promise You”
Once you were finished wiping your tears away, the album picked right back up with the title track — “No Strings Attached.” This uptempo found band member JC Chasez at the forefront, where his strong soulful vocals held its own with the song’s punch of a bassline that was sliced with space-age synths and in-your-face harmonies led by Justin Timberlake. When they sing “Baby you’re not the only one/ You don’t have to be afraid to fall in love,” you believe them!
But while the album derived its influences from R&B (and the future), there were tunes that fit the mold of European synth-pop that was popular at the time. “I’ll Never Stop” and “If I’m Not The One” placed *NSYNC among the ranks of Backstreet Boys, Westlife, 98 Degrees, 5ive, Boyzone and more. Because of this, it becomes one of the weaker moments on No Strings Attached as the band blends into the of-the-moment trends instead of breaking out of them.
*NSYNC — “I’ll Never Stop”
No Strings Attached went on to sell 1.1 million units in its first day alone and 2.4 million in its first week, a feat that not even Taylor Swift could touch 15 years later with her chart-breaking 1989! The album is unapologetically boisterous and commands your attention, and it shows in its overall units! The LP was eventually certified 11x Platinum in the United States and 7x Platinum in Canada, making it the best-selling albums of 2000.
Since the release of No Strings Attached, many boy bands have entered the pop realm (One Direction, The Wanted, Jonas Brothers) and used the danceable charm of the album to create their own hits. Ground-breaking pop projects like *NSYNC’s sophomore LP as well as Backstreet Boys’ Millennium shifted the gears of pop music for Y2K and beyond — and if you don’t agree with that, well bye bye bye!
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