Emerging from the depths of Orlando, Fla. — home also to the group's crosstown rivals the Backstreet Boys — the five squeaky-clean young lads of 'N Sync seem destined to duplicate the success of musically like-minded performers such as the Spice Girls.
Fittingly, perhaps, the group's professional origins can be traced to the Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club, on which Joshua "J.C." Chasez (born: Aug. 8, 1976; favorite food: Chinese) and Justin "Curly" Timberlake (born: Jan. 31, 1981; favorite foods: spaghetti and cereal) appeared together — and where they worked with future pop star Britney Spears — for nearly three years. Following the program's demise, the two headed for Nashville, Tenn., where they shared a vocal coach while working on respective solo projects. (The two also took dance lessons from a former choreographer for Prince and Michael Jackson.)
Fate soon brought Joshua and Justin back to Orlando, however, and, upon their return, they teamed up with Pittsburgh native Chris Kirkpatrick (born: Oct. 17, 1971; dream girl: Gwen Stefani) and New Yorker Joey Fatone (born: Jan. 28, 1977; favorite foods: tacos and pizza). At Kirkpatrick's instigation, the quartet began working on an act built around a cappella harmonies, and, with the addition of bass vocalist Lance Bass (which is his real surname, by the way), things came together.
By late 1997, the quintet managed to land a contract with RCA Records. Enlisting the help of several high-profile producers — among them Kristian Lundin, who has worked with the Backstreet Boys, and the late Denniz Pop, whose clients included Robyn and Ace of Base — the newly christened 'N Sync created a batch of crisp, radio-friendly pop songs and issued its debut album exclusively in Europe, a move that had worked to perfection for the aforementioned Backstreeters. Subsequently, the fivesome headed overseas, where they were fervently embraced in Germany and the Netherlands. Returning home triumphantly in the spring of 1998, the burgeoning dancemeisters felt confident enough to unleash their self-titled debut on America.
'N Sync was slow in getting out of the gate in the United States, but by early fall, a Disney Channel special, heavy MTV exposure, and two Top 40 hits ("I Want You Back" and "Tearin' Up My Heart") had propelled the album to platinum sales. Publications such as Rolling Stone began playing up a competition between 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, and, indeed, in early August, the two groups began vying for position on the Top 10 charts. Moreover, in a true measure of 'N Sync's success, teeny-bopper magazines such as Tiger Beat and Girls' Life began shrieking out headlines proclaiming the group to be the Next Big Thing.
In the fall of 1998, 'N Sync released Home for Christmas, a holiday album that crept up the charts rapidly and that featured the band's version of classics like "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and "O Holy Night." As 1999 began, the boys were finishing their sold-out U.S. tour, planning a studio stint to record their next album, and watching sales of their eponymous debut skyrocket. In May of that year, the group took a brief break to spend some time meeting and talking with students from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., following the tragic April 20 shooting incident there.
All seemed to be going well for 'N Sync until July, when the group claimed that Louis J. Pearlman, the developer and financial backer of 'N Sync, and his label, Trans Continental Records, had failed to fulfill their contractual obligations to the group. The fivesome declared that it was therefore no longer signed to RCA, Trans Continental Records' distributor and a subsidiary of BMG, and jumped ship to sign with Jive Records, the distributor of both the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. BMG Entertainment filed a $150 million lawsuit later that fall, seeking to ban the band from recording or performing under the 'N Sync moniker, among other things. A few weeks later, it was 'N Sync's turn to sic the lawyers on BMG and Pearlman, as the group countersued for $25 million.
"Pearlman posed as an unselfish, loving father figure and took advantage of our trust," J.C. Chasez said in a statement, also calling Pearlman "unscrupulous" and "greedy," and accusing him of "hugging us and calling us 'family' [while] picking our pockets, robbing us of our future, and even endangering our health."
The legal entanglements forced 'N Sync to postpone the release of its second original record, which was originally slated for fall of 1999. Good news came that December, however, when a judge ruled that the quintet could continue to use the name 'N Sync and could release its sophomore effort, No Strings Attached, with Jive. The ruling facilitated a closed-door, mediated meeting between the parties, which led to an undisclosed settlement in late December. Things kept looking up for 'N Sync, as the year ended with their debut album at No. 11 on a list of the 20 best-selling albums of 1999 (with more than 3.27 million copies sold).
In January of 2000, the band released "Bye, Bye, Bye," the first single off No Strings, to both radio and MTV and began a string of non-stop TV appearances that included stints on Total Request Live and Good Morning America, all in preparation for the March 21, 2000 release of the new record. A jaunt to Los Angeles for the Grammys Feb. 23 wouldn't really have been necessary; though the group was nominated twice, for its collaborations with Alabama ("God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You") and Gloria Estefan ("Music of My Heart"), it didn't get to take home any of the little golden statues. Still, the members of 'N Sync must have taken some small consolation in watching "Bye, Bye, Bye" speed its way up the Billboard charts and onto radio playlists.
The video for the song featured the five cuties as marionettes manipulated by a rather demonic young woman (a girlfriend, perhaps?) and offered a striking thematic counterpoint to the band's earlier work, which focused largely on longing and love. In an interview with Wall of Sound, Justin explained: "We needed something for us guys because [TLC's] 'No Scrubs' came out and [Destiny's Child's] 'Bills, Bills, Bills' came out, and it was all dissing guys. And I think when we heard ["Bye, Bye, Bye"], it was cool to have a message like that in a dance song."
With the label woes and Louis Pearlman troubles behind them, 'N Sync was poised for No Strings to become their greatest triumph. But no one expected what happened next: No Strings debuted at the top of the record charts with a whopping 2.4 million copies sold in its first week of release, the all-time single-week sales record. With a successful tour, a show-stopping appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, and three awards for their videos (including the coveted Viewer's Choice award), 2000 has turned into a banner year for the "other" boys from Orlando.