Getting the last laugh: ‘N Sync shrugs off the parodies

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
March 26, 1999

You’ve heard their song “Tearin’ Up My Heart” on the radio. You’ve seen the video on heavy rotation on MTV. And if you have a little sister, young niece or a daughter with a subscription to Teen People, there’s a good chance you could even pick Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone Jr., Chris Kirkpatrick or Justin Timberlake – the Fab Five who make up the pop band – out of a dreamy lineup.

But if you’re just a grownup wondering why today’s bands can’t have normal names like the Beatles, Falco or, um, the Crash Test Dummies, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell ‘N Sync apart from the young men in the Backstreet Boys. Or Boyzone. Or 98. Or even the New Kids on the Block, for Pete’s sake.

Let’s make it a little easier to  identify ‘N Sync. They’re the five-man band that features two former members (Chasez and Timberlake) of Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club.” Their castmates included Keri Russell of “Felicity” and girl-of-the-moment Britney Spears (“. . . Baby One More Time”), who says Timberlake  gave her  her first kiss.

All the ‘N Sync members are Christians who sport bracelets with the letters WWJD (“What would Jesus do?”) on them.

And on the strength of their soulful pop songs, which are laced with sweet harmonies, ‘N Sync has sold out every single date of their current tour of enormodomes, including two concerts this weekend at the Rosemont Horizon.

But with fame comes jealousy. And, even worse, parody. David Letterman has been featuring a fake boy band called Fresh Step that performs semi-regularly on his  “Late Show.”

“I never saw them, but we saw the `Saturday Night Live’ spoof of us,” said Chasez, 22. “It was pretty funny. It’s gonna happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. So you can drive yourself crazy about it or take it with a grain of salt and laugh. I don’t care. We make fun of plenty of people, and we make fun of ourselves,   sometimes. We’re fair game.”

Of course, parodies are a minor annoyance when your self-titled debut album has sold more than 6 million copies in the United States alone.

“If you asked me three years ago whether I thought we’d ever be selling all these records, I wouldn’t have even been able to really imagine it,” said Timberlake, 18. “We just played an arena where 20,000 fans came to see us. You can’t think up something like that! We’re just kind of blown away at the position we’re in.”

Timberlake said sometimes when he’s standing inside one of these arenas – venues that also host sporting events – he thinks about things besides music.

“I daydream about playing in the NBA,” said the 6-foot-1 singer (whose favorite color is baby blue). “I can’t dunk, though. I’m a white boy. I’d have to work on my vertical. I could probably gain about four inches to my vertical if I worked on it.”

Laughing, he quickly added, “Nah. I’ll stick to what I’m doing now.”

Although the group didn’t take off until last year, the members have been together since 1995. They hooked up with the Backstreet Boys’ management and began rivaling that group in popularity. Both bands deny any competition, but the Backstreet Boys have since changed managers.

Unlike groups such as the Spice Girls, whose members were picked to play certain roles within the group, ‘N Sync was put together by the singers, who range in age from 18 to 27.

Oh, and about that band name of theirs. Besides the obvious – a play on “in synch” – they took the last letters of their first names (JustiN, ChriS, JoeY, LanstoN (which is Lance’s nickname) and JC) to come up with ‘N Sync.

“The name really means something to us because we’re all really good friends,” Timberlake said. “In no situation will we battle against each other. There’s no reason for that.”

Timberlake said the group keeps sane on the road by working on music and playing video games.

When it is suggested that video games seem to be to boys what malls are to teenage girls, Timberlake said, “I beg to differ, because I love a good shopping trip. My mom was always like, `Sometimes I think you’re a girl.’ And I’m like, `Hello?! Don’t you be saying stuff like that to me.’ I get all mad when she says that. But she’s my mom, so there’s not much I can say back, right?”

Though the band comes across as carefree, the musicians do ponder their future. They say they’re doing everything in their power not to disappear from the album charts come 2000.

“This is only our first album,” Chasez said. “It hasn’t finished its run yet. We want to establish ourselves. And the way to do that is to have a successful second album.”

(Technically, they do. Their holiday record, “Home for Christmas,” has gone platinum.)

“We want to show that we’re not just a fad,”  Chasez said. “When people come to our shows, we want them to see that they’ve latched onto true entertainers. We want them to feel justified that they bought our album in the first place. And we want them to feel good enough about us to buy our next album, and the one after that. And if that happens, then we’ll have accomplished our goals.”



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