February 20, 2001
'N Sync Cleans Up With "Dirty Pop"
Group establishes its independence with record-setting year in 2000
"We sat down at a table one day and were told straight to our faces, 'You guys are a one-record act. It's never gonna happen for you again. What you had, enjoy it now. Because it's over.'"
'N Sync's JC Chasez still vividly recalls the darker moments of the legal wrangling that accompanied his group's switch from RCA records to Jive. "It's hard when you have people who are in the record business, putting out multi-platinum records, telling you this stuff," Chasez adds. "That was their tactic to get us to shut up. But we never changed our game plan, which is to make our music and do our shows. And if people want it, they'll come get it."
Which they did. Far from proving 'N Sync a one-hit wonder, the group's second album, No Strings Attached, moved a record-shattering 2.4 million units in its first week of sales, and has continued to do stellar business, giving 'N Sync one up on their perennial chart rivals, the Backstreet Boys.
"We never really freaked out," says 'N Sync's Chris Kirkpatrick of the lawsuit. "Because we had each other. And if we had to start all over again, we would have."
Although 'N Sync slot neatly into the boy band format, they pride themselves on being self-created, rather than assembled by some record producer or A&R exec. Chasez formed the nucleus of the group with tousled heartthrob Justin Timberlake in 1995. Both are veterans of Disney's teen pop farm team, the "Mickey Mouse Club," although they'd both moved on by the time they met.
"We'd been off the show for about a year, and we were both writing songs and doing demos in Nashville," Chasez recalls. "In a weird, freaky way, we gravitated towards each other and ended up writing tunes together."
'N Sync hit it big in Europe before releasing their self-titled U.S. debut album in '98. That disc yielded hits like "I Want You Back, " "Tearin' Up My Heart," "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You" and "I Drive Myself Crazy." But when the time came for a follow-up album, 'N Sync were ready for a change, both business-wise and stylistically. It was Kirkpatrick who coined the phrase "dirty pop" to describe the harder edged sound the group was after.
"I was just joking around," he recalls. "We were laying some beats in the studio one day and I said, 'We should make it real dirty.' We started laying down some dirty beats and then put some good pop hooks over the top of it. So I just started calling it dirty pop."
"On your first album, you kind of play by the record company's rules," says Chasez. "But we decided to take the reins ourselves on No Strings Attached."
Chasez comes to the fore as a co-writer and co-producer on four of the album's 12 songs, including the title track. But the disc's first big hit was "Bye Bye Bye," penned and produced by Kristian Lundin, Jake, and Andreas Carlsson of Cherion Productions, which is headed by Swedish teen pop mastermind Max Martin (Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Ace of Base).
"As soon as we heard the demo," Kirkpatrick recalls, "I was one of the ones in the group who said, 'This is going to be really huge for us.'" But Chasez was skeptical at first. "I was the one guy who took a little bit of convincing," he says. "When we were walking out of the studio after putting our own vocal arrangement on 'Bye Bye Bye' -- that's when I knew it was going to be a hit."
The group also worked with ace R&B producers Teddy Riley and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs and songsmith Diane Warren in making No Strings. But it was '80s chart vaulter Richard Marx who supplied the hit ballad "This I Promise You."
"It was an honor being approached with that song," says Chasez. "We all grew up listening to Richard Marx. That's even how I got my first gig. I auditioned for the 'Mickey Mouse Club' singing one of his songs. So doing 'This I Promise You' was a wonderful moment. It was like life had come full circle for me."
Plans for 'N Sync to do a movie have been put on hold while the group works on a follow-up album to No Strings Attached, which they hope to have out by the summer of 2001. "With us the music always comes first," says Kirkpatrick.
Meanwhile, there has been plenty to keep 'N Sync busy. The group contributed a track to the Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas soundtrack and released a concert video, Live at Madison Square Garden. They've done a slew of TV guest shots and appeared at the 1st Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards on September 13, 2000, performing "Yo Te Voy a Amar" -- the Spanish single version of "This I Promise You."
"It was a great opportunity for us, " says Kirkpatrick of the Latin GRAMMYs. "We got to meet a lot of Latin acts that night, and we got to do a song in Spanish. We just hope we didn't butcher the language too much!"
'N Sync are also casting a hopeful eye toward the GRAMMY Awards in February. "Winning a GRAMMY is the pinnacle in any musician's career," says Kirkpatrick. "It's the one award where we can honestly say we'd be happy just to be nominated."
"A GRAMMY would be top of the shelf, baby," enthuses Chasez. "When people think of awards shows, they think of the Oscars and the GRAMMYs. Everything else kind of falls underneath that. When you think of the GRAMMYs you think of people like Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder. When we get there I think we're gonna be pretty awestruck. If we get to perform, we'll be concentrating on our performance more than anything else."
-- Alan di Perna
(Alan di Perna has been writing about music for over 20 years and is currently West Coast Editor of Guitar World Magazine) 'N Sync