Though it doesn’t seem likely, or fair, the world has changed a lot in ten years. A decade ago, I stood in line at the local Best Buy to buy one of the most anticipated albums of the year: 'N Sync’s No Strings Attached. The place was more crowded than usual, and many people in line were buying it, but hardly anyone suspected that it would not only break a sales record, but also become the highest selling album of the decade. Since this was years before I had internet access, I learned the news of how well it sold a week later, when 'N Sync appeared via satellite on Early Today. I was shocked then, but looking back on it now, I’m not.
Experts will tell us that it was the high point of a “teen pop” trend, when the combination of a high number of teenagers and a good economy equaled success. Truth is, I was that optimum age at the time, but I can tell you that many more factors were a part of it.
No Strings Attached was originally planned to come out in late 1999, but legal problems between the group and their former manager, who is currently doing jail time for fraud and tax evasion, led to postponements. This led to a slow simmer of promotion and hype that drove their fans wild. I remember sitting through the painfully stupid 1999 Radio Music Awards just because of the rumor that they would perform the first single off their new album. After that, a promotional blitz went on for months. Every TV talk show you could think of at the time had 'N Sync on as guests, at some point it seemed like they were on TV at least once a day. “Bye Bye Bye” just seemed so different from everything else that was on the radio at the time. It was pop, but it had a slightly harder edge to it. It was insanely catchy, and it didn’t just appeal to teen girls. It spawned a still-cool music video featuring marionettes, attack dogs, a train, a revolving room, and a car chase, which in turn inspired toys, parodies, and even an animated “C” watch. All of this built up a crazed anticipation. When my mother went Christmas shopping that year, someone at the mall tried to sell her a supposed bootleg CD of it. Predictably, years later the recording industry blamed future low sales of other albums on illegal disc copying and MP3 file sharing websites.
In March of 2000, however, the compact disc was king. Stores still even had a section for cassettes, but records were only something you seen at garage sales. I paid $15.99 for my CD of No Strings Attached, though I thought the price was only high because it came with a free CD visor. A year later, a lawsuit was filed against record labels and retailers for conspiring to raise prices. The prices didn’t discourage the buying public, though. No Strings Attached broke a record by selling 2.4 million copies in its first week. It went on to sell over 10 million copies and stay on the Billboard charts for eight weeks straight, making it the best selling album of the last decade.
Critics either bashed it or felt indifferent to it at the time, but it was influential to my generation. The albums included the No.1 hit “It’s Gonna Be Me” and No.5 single “This I Promise You”. Nevertheless, the real talk was about the strong R&B influence on non-singles such as “It Makes Me Ill”, “Digital Get Down” and “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay)”, which featured a guest rap by TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who tragically died two years later. There was even a cover of Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid”, which some people still think to this very day was an original. It was startling to me, and my parents, who wondered why I bought a “rap album”.
Though No Strings Attached will go down in history as a time capsule of its time, it’ll always hold special memories for me. I can remember listening to it as I did pre-algebra homework. I wrote my first review of anything when I entered a “Popstar!” magazine contest for the best reader review. I didn’t win that autographed pillow, but I never guessed that it would lead me to what I do today for PopMatters. I don’t think N’Sync will ever reform as a group and release another album someday, but if they do, I would like to review it for PopMatters, for old times’ sake.