The pop band remains a hit despite predicted trends

By Clarissa Cruz
Updated December 23, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

You probably began the year as we did — believing the teen-pop clock was ticking faster than a Max Martin syncopated beat. But in January, along came ‘N Sync’s ”Bye Bye Bye” and it was hello to a new chapter in pop-music history.

The group (made up of Lance Bass, 21; JC Chasez, 24; Justin Timberlake, 19; Chris Kirkpatrick, 29; and Joey Fatone, 23) sold a remarkable 1.1 million copies of No Strings Attached its first day and 2.4 million copies its first week last March, obliterating existing sales records. (More than 9 million have sold to date.) Tickets vanished for their 55-city stadium tour, and there was no escaping the barrage of singles on MTV’s hit barometer Total Request Live, which retired ”Bye Bye Bye” after 65 days on its countdown. As ‘N Sync mania raged out of control, one fan went so far as to scale a 70-foot rigging at a concert just to get close to them. ”She jumped to the rigging ladder, shimmied down, got to the top of the stage, went down (another) ladder, and got right next to us,” recalls Bass. ”We were just staring at her. It was funny at the time, but, wow, she could have gotten hurt.”

How did ‘N Sync, once considered just a Backstreet wannabe, become a serious rival (BSB’s latest, Black & Blue, sold 1.6 million in its debut week, failing to best ‘N Sync’s opening sales). ”People are quick to dismiss them (as) a pop act, but this is a 360-degree band — it’s the TV performances, the concerts, the touring,” says MTV exec Tom Calderone, who believes the band’s commitment to accessibility is key to their staying power. ”They have a self-deprecating style. They don’t take (themselves) that seriously, and that’s why fans gravitate to them.” Clearly, this band isn’t afraid to sully their airbrushed images: They’ve spoofed themselves on Saturday Night Live, inspired a gaggle of anatomically incorrect dolls, and honored their promise to AOL exec David Colburn to play at his daughter Rachel’s bas mitzvah in June.

Looking back on the year, Bass cites the December 1999 settling of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit with ex-financial backer Lou Pearlman (head of Trans Continental Records) as the group’s biggest catalyst. ”Getting away from Trans Continental and switching labels (from RCA to Jive) really did create this new group,” says Bass. ”Now 100 percent of everything we do is us. The hardest part is trying to reinvent yourself, and that’s something that we have to do in order to keep progressing and keep (fans) evolving with us.”

This includes band members dabbling in everything from movie production (Bass started A Happy Place to develop film projects for musicians and athletes) to clothing design (Kirkpatrick helms a fashion line called FuMan Skeeto) in addition to their next album due in the spring. The syncopated beat marches on.