in The People's Album

If I’m being honest, this is not the first time I’d heard this album.  Though I can at least say that for the purposes of this post was the first time I listened to this album on purpose.  You see, I had a younger sister growing up in the early ‘00s, and though she may have been a few years younger than ‘N Sync’s main teenage demographic, she most certainly had this album, and listened to it a lot.  Granted, I mostly just overheard this album’s bouncy and boisterous reverberations echoing from my sister’s room next door, but I’m still man enough to admit that me and No Strings Attached aren’t complete strangers.

Album: No Strings Attached
Artist: ‘N Sync
Release Date: March 21, 2000
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 
12.7 Million

Why Was This Popular?

Because America Loves Capitalism

No band wants to be regarded as a mere money-making machine, with their audience nothing but mindless consumers.  And I’m sure ‘N Sync themselves never thought of their band in this manner, but it’s hard not to when objectively looking at the fact that ‘N Sync are basically a quintessential product of American capitalism.  After all, many corporations are built on the principal of taking what other companies have done, and churning it into a slicker, more streamlined, and more immediately appealing entity.

By the time ‘N Sync came around, the boy band formula had already been well-established by the Backstreet Boys as a vehicle for airtight harmonies, flashy dance moves, and preconceived teenage lust over a bunch of pretty, young-ish dudes.  ‘N Sync (with the help of many shrewd managers and accountants I’m sure) took this approach and applied it to their own brand of this admittedly silly and disposable brand of pop music.  And even though ‘N Sync weren’t really doing anything revolutionary in this regard, their songs were catchier, their dance moves were more memorable, and they promoted the shit out of themselves – and accordingly, their brief world domination followed.

Of course, it’s really hard to look at ‘N Sync as a bunch of moneygrubbing capitalists, since their music and image would have you believe the exact opposite.  These were just a bunch of fun guys looking to have a good time!  Singing about gettin’ with girls and raising the roof and whatnot.  Which maybe you could theorize was some elaborate trick that ‘N Sync pulled over on all of America’s teenagers and their neon-colored pocket books.  And perhaps the fact that they had a very public break from their noted moneygrubbing capitalist manager Lou Pearlman prior to No Strings Attached’s release was just another calculated way of evading this notion.

Or maybe people just didn’t care that they were throwing their money away at a giant corporation who just happened to make music.  The year 2000 was after all the peak of America’s pre-9/11 economic corpulence, which naturally seemed to flow over in to the music industry, with each platinum-selling pop group taking aim at topping each other in terms of first week sales.  And in this regard, ‘N Sync came out on top.  No Strings Attached sold a staggering 2.42 million copies in it’s first week — a number that has never been broken and couldn’t ever really be broken in the wake of the music industry’s collapse in the mid-00’s.

Did It Deserve To Be Popular?

Upon listening to an album like this, the phrase “You can’t just eat cake all day.  You’re gonna get sick” comes to mind.  Which maybe isn’t quite a common phrase, but let’s just pretend it is for the sake of the point I’m trying to make.  The point in question being that this kind of sugary sweetness is good in small doses, but as a whole can be a bit much.  I mean there is literally no depth to these songs, and why would there be?  They’re all flash and no substance.  But hey, that’s what popular entertainment is supposed to be when it’s done right (Good lord, I’m starting to sound like some label executive corporate fuck).

Now you may have noticed a few sentences earlier when I stated that this kind of music is good in small doses.  So does that mean that I’m saying that I think ‘N Sync is good?  Well, as a heterosexual male who grew up in a time when it wasn’t just acceptable, but encouraged to hate pretty boy bands like ‘N Sync — it’s a tricky question.  So instead of risking every little inch of musical credibility that I have, I’ll just take the easy road and merely say that these are some very well-crafted pop songs.

‘N Sync (or their management or whoever) brought in some of the best songwriters in the business on No Strings Attached, and for the most part they deliver the goods, albeit in a very shiny and plastic kind of way.  I had a hard time not getting songs like the surprisingly rockin’ title track or the hit single “It’s Gonna Be Me” out of my head after listening to this album.  And I probably would’ve gotten “Bye Bye Bye” stuck in my head too if that song hadn’t been so insanely popular that such a thing is basically impossible at this point.  I don’t know if that necessarily makes these good songs, but they most certainly did their job, assuming we can agree that their job was to be really catchy while selling a lot of bedsheets with Justin Timberlake’s face on them.

Would I Pay Money For This?

Hahahaha don’t be ridiculous.

However, I feel I should address the gorilla in the room and pose a question that’s been half-ironically asked by pretty much every member of my generation at some point.  That question of course being… ‘N Sync or Backstreet Boys?

Now, I still have yet to listen to any Backstreet Boys albums (oh don’t worry, we’ll get there).  But I’ve always been an ‘N Sync guy, and I think I can pretty easily stand by that.  After all, ‘N Sync gave us Justin Timberlake, arguably one of the most likable and charismatic entertainers of his generation.  The Backstreet Boys gave us… that Brian guy.

Also, ‘N Sync appeals to me on the grounds that three of the band’s five members seem like they should’ve been regarded as a little too goofy to be taken seriously as teen idols.  Of course I’m talking about Lance “The Gay Space Cowboy” Bass, Chris “You Can Get Your Ass Kicked” Kirkpatrick, and Joey “The Fat One” Fatone.  Also, if we’re speaking strictly in terms of music, sure, it’s hard to deny that BSB’s “I Want It That Way” is the definitive late ‘90s boyband anthem.  But ‘N Sync’s songs strike me as generally more fun and upbeat instead of being mired in dopey balladry.  And isn’t that the kind of thing you’re looking for in music that’s this inherently silly?  Yes, and that’s why I gotta go with ‘N Sync hands down.

Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ll talk about an album called Whitney Houston by the singer Whitney Houston (sorry, I don’t know any songs off this album so I can’t make any bad puns).