‘No Strings Attached:’ Why This NSYNC Album Remains a Cultural Icon

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The beginning of the 20th century saw a booming music industry. The business was better than ever with new music releases averaging $18.52 during the era of CDs. And it was all thanks to the artists of that year.

Known as the “Unofficial Year of Pop,” the year 2000 saw Britney Spears climbing up the charts; Destiny’s Child debuting their first video with new members and Christina Aguilera winning the Grammy for Best New Artist. It was also during this time that boy bands enjoyed huge waves of success.

During that time, the Backstreet Boys were the Kings of Boy Bands with their 1999 album Millenium. However, NSYNC came for the crown with their second studio album No Strings Attached. Until then, NSYNC was just an afterthought compared to The Backstreet Boys. But with No Strings Attached, NSYNC managed to overthrow them. The release of their second studio album on March 21, 2000, saw the sale of 2.4 million copies in just the first week. No Strings Attached was also the first album in music history to sell more than two million copies in seven days (a record that singer Adele eventually broke in 2015 with her album 25). Eventually, the album was hailed as the best-selling album of the year.

There is much conversation surrounding No Strings Attached due to its genre-expanding collaborations, forward-thinking productions and iconic choreographies. This NSYNC album overflowed with ambitious ideas and changed the direction of music in pop culture.

The History of No Strings Attached: NSYNC vs. Lou Pearlman

As NSYNC’s popularity grew during the end of the ’90s, so did their awareness of Lou Pearlman, their manager, and his scams. The manager only paid the members $10,000 despite the time and effort they put into performances, appearances and other projects. In 1999, the band started separating themselves from the person that bought them together.

Pearlman sued, everyone reached a settlement and strings were cut — which was a subtle foreshadowing of the No Strings Attached album.

Chris Kirkpatrick was wary during the months leading up to the release of No Strings Attached. Their first album was successful and they were on the brink of a make-it-or-break-it moment. They had also just changed labels and were going through the lawsuit with Pearlman. It was a trying time and the pressure to be successful was too much. When they finally released the album, it felt as if a weight was lifted off their shoulders and they were astounded by the response. It catapulted all NSYNC members to greater heights of success.

Introducing No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached
Who knew NSYNC’s sophomore album would forever impact music? (Photo from Pinterest)

Finally free from Pearlman, NSYNC became more confident in the studio. They started experimenting with new sounds. No Strings Attached was a combination of hip-hop worship, uptempo R&B and new jack swing revivalism. NSYNC’s sophomore studio album let them distance themselves from the competition (like the Backstreet Boys) by releasing genres that would shatter charts.

No Strings Attached begins with a climbing string crescendo that is immediately followed by Justin Timberlake’s iconic “Hey hey” and eventually bursts into the “Bye Bye Bye” we all know so well. Unlike their first album’s lovesick puppy message, “Bye Bye Bye” inspires listeners with sexy self-assurance while maintaining the band’s innocent yet macho image. It was still a pop song, but a dirty one. And people loved that.

“Bye Bye Bye” was an abrasive move. NSYNC combined their smooth vocals with buzzy electronics, which distinguished them further from The Backstreet Boys and their doo-wop approach to music.

An Experiment Gone Right for an All-American Boy Band

The other songs in No Strings Attached adopted tricks from dance music, hip-hop and funk that other boy bands hadn’t discovered. If you listen to their sophomore studio album, you’ll hear staccato stabs everywhere. They also added syncopated rhythms, which you can easily hear in the songs of today’s bands (check out “Black Swan” by BTS).

While No Strings Attached did lack some bars, its pop songs showcased its hip-hop sensibilities. For example, “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay)” featured Lisa Lopes of TLC. Through collaborations, NSYNC managed to marry hip-hop and pop.

According to Kirkpatrick, the band was always thinking about the next thing they can do with their music.

No Strings Attached: NSYNC Used Dance to Their Advantage

Apart from its sound, No Strings Attached set itself apart from the other boy band albums with its choreographies. NSYNC didn’t want to be the basic band that did some step-touches. According to Kirkpatrick, they wanted “balls-the-wall dancing.”

NSYNC then turned to Darrin Dewitt Henson for the dancing part of the album. Henson was already a star choreographer who taught celebrities like Jagged Edge, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. He made sure to teach NSYNC a choreography that no one else had. His dance for “Bye Bye Bye” included steps people can easily imitate. The best part was the steps became part of the song’s identity. You could do the three-part hand clap and some fist pumps and people would know that you’re jamming to “Bye Bye Bye.”

While NSYNC wanted to be edgy with No Strings Attached, they knew the importance of diversifying their audience in terms of genre. Their song “This I Promise You” impressed the older audiences and couples. The song snagged the first place on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart and became a favorite at weddings.

Never Forgotten: No Strings Attached Will Forever Be an Icon

The band members would eventually release a third studio album titled Celebrity. Their junior album leaned more into R&B. While the album sounded good, it couldn’t hold a candle to No Strings Attached.

A year later, NSYNC announced an indefinite hiatus and started pursuing separate ventures. Despite the separation, people still can’t get enough of their songs, particularly the ones from No Strings Attached.

It has been years since NSYNC released its iconic sophomore album. Many songs have topped the charts, but there’s no denying that the legacy left by No Strings Attached couldn’t be more relevant to the pop market of today. “This I Promise You” remains a wedding staple, “Bye Bye Bye” is a karaoke favorite and people use “It’s Gonna Be Me” for memes.

NSYNC carved their place in music with No Strings Attached and for that, we are all grateful.

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