When reports broke Tuesday that ‘N Sync will reunite onstage at this Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, high-octave shrieking (or its virtual equivalent) erupted from the grown-up fans of the most follicly ambitious boy band of the 1990s. If the reunion actually happens, it will be a rare high-profile performance for Lance Bass, who has spent his post–‘N Sync years judging beauty competitions and advocating for closeted pop idols everywhere; Joey Fatone, who has served as an announcer for wrestling matches and game shows; JC Chasez, who just launched a new 11-member mega-girl-group called Girl Radical; and especially Chris Kirkpatrick, who just inked a deal to sign autographs at a minor-league baseball game in Bradenton, Fla.
A reunion is a great opportunity for the lesser members of ‘N Sync to prove that they’ve still got some tightly choreographed sassy waves and oddly raunchy “surprised” faces in them. But it’s an even better one for Justin Timberlake, the sole breakout star to survive the ‘90s boy-band bust.
When Timberlake released his first solo album, Justified, in 2002, he all but cut ties with the group that launched his stardom. ‘N Sync’s last televised performance as a group aired in 2003; when ‘N Sync appeared in cartoon form on Robot Chicken in 2005, Timberlake declined to voice his own character. (Breckin Meyer stepped in.) Meanwhile, Timberlake has cemented his solo successes not only through his impressive recording and acting work, but also by poking fun at his roots. Timberlake’s Saturday Night Live boy-band send-ups like “Dick in a Box” and “Motherlover” helped him shake off the ‘N Sync image and emerge as an authentic individual act. Meanwhile, Lance et al. were trapped in the ‘90s boy-band mold like a set of pleather-panted marionettes.
But at this point, perhaps Timberlake needs ‘N Sync more than it needs him. Timberlake’s most recent album, the 20/20 Experience, was, by all accounts, a commercial and critical success. It debuted at No. 1; its first week of sales broke Timberlake’s personal record. Yet the only white-boy falsetto anyone seems to care about right now belongs to Robin Thicke, who beat Timbo at his own game with the summer megahit “Blurred Lines.” Record sales may indicate that Timberlake is on top, but Internet chatter says otherwise: Timberlake doesn’t know what “Take Back the Night” means; he toured this summer with Jay Z, another survivor of the ‘90s music landscape who got really cool but lately seems like he’s trying too hard.
An ‘N Sync reunion would remind pop fans of how they fell in love with Timberlake in the first place and cement Timberlake’s reputation as a generous star who is willing to share the stage with old friends who haven’t fared so well. JT, I know just the song to serenade them with.