Then & Now: *NSYNC’s Rise to Pop Superstardom

*NSYNC—the powerhouse pop group of Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, and Chris Kirkpatrick—warmed the hearts of millennials everywhere when they reunited at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards. Days later, they released “Better Place” which is featured in the 2023 animated film Trolls Band Together. It marked their first new song in 21 years, fulfilling fans’ longtime dreams of a reunion.

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*NSYNC originally stormed the late 1990s and early 2000s with signature hits like “Bye, Bye, Bye” and “I Want You Back,” solidifying themselves as one of the greatest boy bands of all time. Below, we look at *NSYNC’s journey throughout the years.

Debut in the late 1990s

Though *NSYNC debuted in 1995, it would take the world a few years to catch on to their sound. It all starts in Orlando, Florida, where Kirkpatrick was based when he recruited all the band members at the request of now-disgraced businessman Lou Pearlman, who promised to fund the group. Timberlake and Chasez had worked together on The Mickey Mouse Club, while Kirkpatrick and Fatone had met while working at Universal Studios Florida. They later found Bass, who was living in his native Mississippi at the time, and joined the group as a bass singer.

In 1996, they shipped off to Sweden to work on their first album. Their debut single “I Want You Back” was first released in Germany before making its way to the U.S. It would take another two years for the hit to stick, with “I Want You Back” peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998.

Their self-titled debut album was released in May 1997, spawning other international hits, “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “Here We Go.” The album topped the charts in Germany and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, setting a solid foundation for their inevitable superstardom.

No Strings Attached

Following the release of their holiday album, Home for Christmas, in 1998, *NSYNC spent the next two years working on what would become their blockbuster album, No Strings Attached. Prior to the album’s release in March 2000, the lead single “Bye Bye Bye” catapulted them into superstardom. The song was a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, while the video famously depicts the five members as dancing puppets. No Strings Attached debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and set a record for the biggest first-week sales in the US, selling a whopping 2.4 million copies in its first week alone (the record was later broken by Adele’s 25 in 2015). It was also the best-selling album of 2000. “It’s Gonna Be Me” and “This I Promise You” are the other hits No Strings Attached produced.

[RELATED: 5 Things to Know About *NSYNC]

Celebrity

Following the success of No Strings Attached, the band wasted no time releasing their follow-up album, with Celebrity arriving in July 2001. While it spawned a trio of Top 20 hits on the Hot 100 (“Pop,” “Gone,” and “Girlfriend”) Celebrity was slightly less commercially successful than its predecessor. It also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of nearly 1.9 million copies.

After two massive stadium tours—PopOdyssey Tour in 2001 and the Celebrity Tour in 2002—the group went on hiatus when Timberlake announced he wanted to embark on a solo career. His bandmates were under the impression that he’d return to the group after the release of his 2002 debut album, Justified, and subsequent tour, but instead, the group remained on an extended hiatus.

“I was not blindsided by the breakup; I was more blindsided as far as him coming out with music and not knowing that he was going to go and do an actual album/tour thing,” Fatone explained to Yahoo Entertainment. “It was more of, ‘Hey, I’m going to do some music, and then we’ll get back together.’ That’s what that was. And it wasn’t him — it was the record company…We thought he was just going to go out and just come back after the [Justified] tour. I was like, OK. But then when he went on tour and then things started going, I was like, ‘All right, I’ll go do Broadway.’”

“Better Place”

*NSYNC reunited for the first time in 2013 for a brief appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards during Timberlake’s set where they performed a medley of “Bye Bye Bye” and “Girlfriend.” They also reunited in 2018 when *NSYNC received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. After a series of one-off reunions over the years, *NSYNC finally gave fans what they’ve been waiting more than 20 years for when they released “Better Place” in September 2023. It’s the lead single off the Trolls Band Together soundtrack. The song reached the Top 30 on the Hot 100 and the Top 15 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary and Adult Top 40 charts.

“It is beautiful, you know?” Bass remarked about fans’ reaction to the reunion. “To be this age and the fans are still this excited. It is a dream come true,” Bass said. “I had no idea the fandom would go this nuts.”

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for MTV

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