10 of 10 pt II: Celebrity
In honor of the star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame...
Brooooooooo...we're gonna switch gears from pop-punk to pop! Some good ol' fashioned pop shit, fa sho. I'm actually writing this on the heels of Part I. Same day. Because it took a couple hours to write the last one, and ain't nobody got time for that, so I'm taking advantage of a slow day at work and writing tomorrow's blog today. It's probably the only time in my life I've ever been proactive.
Back in middle school and high-school I taught myself 7 *Nsync dances. How? By buying their concerts on DVD and slowing them down so I can mimic their movement. And no, in case you were wondering, I didn't have many friends. Over the years they've become sort of a party trick. I actually "earned" my girlfriend's phone number two years ago when I busted out the Pop dance break in the middle of a bar. During my shift. True story. Let this be a lesson to you kids...if you be yourself, learn something weird, and suffer through years of loneliness and a somewhat crappy high-school experience, it'll all pay off when you're thirty. The dances were: Pop, It's Gonna Be Me, Space Cowboy, No Strings Attached, Digital Get Down (holy shit, remember that one?), I Want You Back and Tearin' Up My Heart. I never learned Bye Bye Bye in its entirety, but I know that chorus like the back of my hand. I'm better at that dance right now than Justin Timberlake was before he learned it. So suck on that.
Any way, yes. I'm a huge fan of *Nsync. I was hoping for a reunion at the same time I was hoping blink would get back together back in 2007. I'm STILL hoping for a reunion. I know they came out around the same time as Backstreet Boys, and it was all very cookie cutter, and a lot of the songs sounded the same, and it was a group of guys dancing in unison whilst wearing tacky outfits and over sized overalls and singing to the girls they were singing about. "THIS SONG IS ABOUT ME!!" Shut up, wasted chick at a stranger's house party. Let me call you an Uber so you not only get home safe, but also so you stop saying that about every boy band song. *Nsync always stuck out to me because even though their songs sounded like the other boy bands at the time, they felt different (insert your own joke questioning my sexuality here). I can't really describe it. There was some vibe or some element about their music that sort of set them apart. Even though their debut album sounded an awful lot like the Backstreet Boys' first one, I still preferred *Nsync.
Then came No Strings Attached, which held the record for most albums sold in a week up until 2015 (curse you Adele for stealing that honor from them...you're a worthy opponent indeed). It still holds the record for most albums sold in a day with 1.1 million units moved in a 24 hour period. It's a fantastic album. It broke out of what a boy band was supposed to be and the group started to explore what they could be. There was Digital Get Down, already mentioned, but it deserves a second shout out, because it was raunchy as hell for a group with such a squeaky clean image. No Strings Attached and Bye Bye Bye were angsty anthems of record label protest disguised as break up and love songs. It's Gonna Be Me and Bringin' Da Noise were as aggressive as pop was allowed to be. Space Cowboy a departure from love and focusing on surviving the end of the world (read into that song what you will), and I Thought She Knew proved that they can, in fact, actually sing. In two albums *Nsync saw a change that takes most groups or bands three or four albums to achieve, and it made sense. Nothing jarring. Nothing that took a sharp eft turn. Just a natural progression of a pop group that was amplified by five.
And then. Came. Celebrity. The reason why we're here. It's taken me a while to get to the point I'm trying to make because I think I'm hilarious, and me jokes need to be heard. Shut up. Celebrity is my number 2 of 10 most influential albums. And here's why, because I bet you're just dying to know.
The album is almost entirely a giant "fuck you". It's a middle finger to people who put them in a box, the fictitious and true to life relationships (names have been changed, yada yada), and fame. But perhaps most importantly, it was a humongous "fuck off" to formula. If you listen to the music underneath their polished vocals, it's completely different than both of their previous albums. There are elements of pure techno, some electronica, a little house thrown in there. "Game Over" was inspired by and possesses a video game sound throughout. "The Game Is Over" and "Tell Me, Tell Me...Baby" both question faithfulness (or faithlessness, which ever you focus on) and waning passion, "See Right Through You", "Celebrity" and "Don't Tell Me That" call the faithless out on their bullshit and continue to question the validity of a lady's attraction toward them. This is completely foreign territory for a boy band. At the time it was all lamenting a woman that didn't want to be with them because, I dunno, they weren't good enough for whatever reason. Maybe there skin was too clear, or their stomachs were too flat, or they're hair was just too damn fly. But never, to my knowledge, and I haven't done any research so I'm pretty sure I'm 102% correct on this, did any boy band ever acknowledge their own fame and fortune and not only use it as a topic for one of their songs but also create almost an entire album around the notion that their lives have become questionable in terms of who they surround themselves with. These are anti-love songs of men who want the truth and hold romantic interests accountable for their actions. Fame breeds a certain kind of insecurity (I'm guessing. Nobody knows who I am yet), and the guys face it head on with a determination to find truth in love and put those fake ass gold diggers on blast. Boys have become men. Pairs have been grown.
I'm not sure if anyone here knows of or remembers the "7 second rule" of song writing, but at the start of the millennium, when people's attention spans begin to shrink at a quantum rate, it was deemed necessary to introduce some new layer to a song in order to keep a listener engaged. Sometimes it's an obvious grasp for retention, like an unnecessary key or tempo change, or a flugelhorn in a metal song, or someone saying "hail satan" in a christian song. To my knowledge that last reference has never actually occurred. It was just a joke. Calm down. Don't hail satan, kids. It's wrong. Anyway, sometimes bands hit the nail on the head with the whole 7 second thing. You've got a band like Slipknot where (whether they do it intentionally or not) they can garnish a song with some sampling, record scratching, or custom percussion. The Offspring have a tendency to throw in some things to keep songs fresh, like Method Man on "Original Prankster" or the delayed guitar chord in "All I Have Left". And then you've got a group like *Nsync who release a musical melting pot like Celebrity. I know I've already talked about the different genres of music featured on the record, but they also use a flamenco-esque classical guitar that never plays the same lick twice on "Gone". There are different samples and digitally altered sound effects at the beginning of and all through out "Tell Me, Tell Me...Baby". "Up Against The Wall" is a two step song, with some solid arpeggiating of different synths up in there. Basically...the 7 second rule is about layering in different elements in an effort to change the depth of the music. Some people butcher the process completely. Others, when knowing full well that if you take care of the music it'll take care of you, treat the practice of stacking sounds with respect, and in *Nsync's case, the variety of synth, programmed drums, guitars and harmonies, it paid off in spades. Celebrity is number 3 on the list of most albums sold in its debut week, just behind No Strings Attached. And then, yeah...Adele.
This record is, undeniably, a total *Nsync record. Back to the whole "exploring what a boy band could be" point I so geniusly brought up earlier in the article, they live in a genre where other people write their songs, and all they do is sing and dance to the tune. The first album was like that. They're only credited for writing one song, "Giddy Up", and they're credited as "Nsync". On the second album, JC co-wrote 4 songs while Justin was co-writer on only one. On Celebrity, however, Justin wrote 6, JC wrote 4, and Chris wrote 1 song that was only featured during their Pop Odyssey Tour. On every album, these guys wrote more and more. More songwriting leads to more involvement with the composition, and more involvement leads to more knowledge and credit or production. Justin is actually credited as a co-producer on 5 tracks. WHAT?! You mean these "fuckin' brats" who "can't sing" (Eminem, "Marshall Mathers", Marshall Mathers LP. Track 11. 2001) actually wrote and produced a bulk of their third album? In a genre where that type of responsibility is handed off to a record company and song writers they never even meet? That, to me, is mind blowing. Not because they actually did it and did it well, but mostly because they fought and clawed to get to a position where they had the freedom to do it all. I'm not gonna get into all that drama the guys went through, but I'll link to a nicely summed up Rolling Stone blurb, and from there if you wanna do your own research or see how the suit was settled, do it on your own. My point is, where most pop figures seem to have no problem with letting other people do their shit for them, Nsync said, "No sireebob" (verbatim, I'm sure) and took control. Hell, even Lance said he didn't get a chance to write much on the first album, so he started jotting some ideas down after the 2002 Celebrity tour in order to be prepared for the fourth album. The group set themselves up to be masters of their destiny.
Here's a new thought that...I dunno how it fits into the whole article, but here you go anyway. I don't know how bands write songs. Sometimes I'm fully convinced they think they only need one good song and can write 12 shitty ones around it and call it an album. Record labels appear to only care if you can write one legitimate hit and don't care if you can spread your talent across a full CD. I dunno if any bands ever consider what kind of show they can put on with their songs. But *Nsync, if you've ever seen them live (I have, and the show is easily in my top 3 connect experiences of all time), seemed to compose a record based on how what kind of show they wanted to do. Have you ever seen the Pop Odyssey Tour? I've seen it a million times. There's not a lot of focus on the dancing as there was during the No Strings Attached Tour or the Celebrity Tour, but it was a spectacle the behold. The set was three stories high with trap doors, three legs, a middle-of-the-crowd section where they mysteriously appeared at the beginning on the show, a shit load of props, effects, grand entrances...good god, it was a delight. The songs were brought to life in a way that not many other people had ever done (I dunno...maaaaaaaybe the Up In Smoke Tour?) have been able to replicate. *Nsync's shows were a one of a kind experience, and they made the music to go along with it. I think there's a reason the Pop Odyssey tour was their biggest one. The songs on Celebrity required the showmanship. Again, this paragraph might not even fit into the whole point of the article, but it's worth noting that one of the highest grossing tours of all time (don't fact check that) followed on the heels of one of the fastest selling records of all time.
There's probably a reason that people still want an *Nsync reunion. Last album in 2001, last tour in 2002, last performance in 2013, and a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame yesterday (April 30th). There's also the fact that Justin Timberlake still circles around as a meme every year around the end of April. I hate that thing. But regardless, there's a reason for their continued popularity even though it's been 17 years since their last official album. It's not because of the nostalgia factor. People were clamoring for a reunion before they wanted Will & Grace or Roseanne reboots. No, there's something else to it. I personally think it's because they let the entire world know what a boy band could actually accomplish. We've seen what's possible when five like minded guys decide to grab the reigns and go for it, proving those who had written them off to be completely wrong, while not even caring about the negative views of boy bands in the first place. I'm sure the guys in *Nsync ever thought they had anything to prove, or if it was a natural evolution of the microcosm they created for themselves. Either way, they showed everyone what they were made of, what was possible within the realm of bubble gum pop, and they left us with their strongest effort as their last. If the 2 minute ovation they received when all five walked onto the Ellen set today seemed weird to you earlier, it shouldn't anymore.
I'm done. Thats enough. After today's article I'm nominating my girlfriend for this 10 of 10 thing. We always disagree over *Nsync or Backstreet Boys.
Thus endeth the stroking of *Nsync's collective ego.
Editor's Note: I don't have an editor. This is not proofread. It only is what it will ever be. The message remains the same. Look, it's either gonna me be, or it's not...