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for following mainstream music trends, changing their appearances to adapt to new fashion trends, and performing elaborate shows.1 However, to a fan of a boy band, the band is seen as so much more and is incorporated into daily life. Boy bands exploded onto the music scene in the late 1990’s. Although there were at least a dozen groups that fit the mold, only a few were able to become more than one-hit-wonders. *NSYNC became the most successful of these bands,2 selling millions of CDs and selling out concert venues. *NSYNC was created as a brand, targeting pre-teenage3 girls who were searching for an interest that could become part of their identity. Because these tween girls idolized *NSYNC’s image, and not just the music, *NSYNC was able to use their image to sell a plethora of products. Fans bought these products because being an *NSYNC fan was part of their identity, and they had to consume as much as they could in order for their *NSYNC collection to grow. Although the peak of the boy band phase did not come about until the late 1990’s, the term teenybopper has been around since 1960.4 These girls had the notions of the “fickleness, superficiality, and aesthetic bankruptcy of the material forms that girls' desires take in popular culture”.5 Elvis, the Beatles, and New Kids on
For further explanation see “boy band” at www.wikipedia.org. Throughout the paper *NSYNC will be referred to as a band, even though some people feel this is an incorrect classification, as none of the members played musical instruments. 3 Pre-teenagers have become known as “tweens.” 4 The American Heritage Dictionary described a teenybopper as an early adolescent girl "held to be devoted to perpetual stylistic novelty, as in fashion or social behavior." 5 For more information, visit genders.org.
the Block are just some examples of performers that had a similar teenybopper appeal. Thus, it was not *NSYNC who created the teenybopper, yet the teenybopper chose *NSYNC6 as their connection to popular culture. The resurgence of the boy band in the mid 1990’s can be credited to Lou Pearlman, an entrepreneur who initially worked in the airline industry.7 When chartering a jet for New Kids on the Block, Pearlman learned that they had earned over $100 million, and decided to create a boy band of his own, catering to a younger audience. After holding auditions, the Backstreet Boys were formed. Pearlman did not hide his intent to create the band as a brand, and wrote of the band’s early years, “If Backstreet turns out to be a dominant brand like Coke someone is going to come along and create a Pepsi. We might as well beat them to it.”8 Thus, *NSYNC was created. Because these bands were given monetary support and did not have to struggle for a record contract, and because they targeted teenage girls, many people felt that they lacked credibility and weren’t a “real band”. In response to this, Backstreet Boy, Kevin Richardson purported: “A lot of people want to discount us. Because unlike a rock band or a garage band, they don't think we paid our dues. A lot of people don't know we've been together seven years. We weren't playing bars, but we played high schools all over the United States. High schools aren't bars, but teenagers are tough crowds, man.” Although the bands were initially backed by Pearlman, they were forced to sign a contract that resulted in Pearlman receiving the majority of the profits. When
This can be applied to Backtstreet Boys as well. Pearlman’s family owned Transcontinental Airlines, who specialized in chartering jets. 8 Pearlman was quoted in the 11/14/02 issue of Rolling Stone.
the members of *NSYNC became superstars they were still receiving much less compensation than what was due to them. The band filed a lawsuit against Pearlman, and settled out of court. As a result, they were allowed to break their contract with Pearlman, and moved to Jive Records.9 Although *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were seen as interchangeable to many, to tween girls comparing the two was like comparing apples and oranges. However, both had five members – the pretty one, the rebellious one, the shy one, the ugly but funny one, and the talented one. This way, any tween girl could find someone she related to based on which of those characteristics were most important to her. Both bands had a mix of slow, romantic ballads, and upbeat dance songs – most of which they did not write themselves. Tweens had to devote loyalty to one of the two bands and could not be fans of both, because this would create an identity conflict. *NSYNC named their second album No Strings Attached in response to their new-found “freedom.” However, they knew that if they broke too far away from their initial image their fans would not react well and, therefore, although their sound became a little “edgier” their corny lyrics and synchronized dance moves remained. Although the Backstreet Boys were originally more successful, when No Strings Attached, was released it became the fastest-selling album in history.10 The music itself was not created by the band – over sixty people were credited in the creation of the album. That did not matter; the fans loved it anyway. According to Wired Magazine, “Jive had perfected the elusive formula for making a hit. In
Backstreet Boys also managed to break their contract with Pearlman in a similar fashion. No Strings Attached sold 1.1 million copies its first day, and 2.4 million copies its first week. It was top of the charts for 8 weeks, and sold 10 million copies its first year.
retrospect it was so obvious: What worked for the Monkees could now be replicated on an industrial scale. It was all about looks and scripted personalities. The music itself, which was outsourced to a small army of professionals hardly mattered.”11 The music didn’t matter as long as it fit the image. By the time *NSYNC’s third CD was released, those who had been fans of *NSYNC for years convinced themselves that they liked the music regardless of what it sounded like, due to cognitive dissonance.12 Because being an *NSYNC fan was part of one’s identity, a tweens entire lifestyle was not going to change based on whether she liked the new single or not. Although *NSYNC was criticized by some critics, they graced the cover of the most prestigious music magazines. Rolling Stone, who previously scorned “flavor of the month bands” featured *NSYNC on the cover multiple times. Editor, Jann Wenner, stated that her reason for featuring *NSYNC, and not past boy bands such as New Kids on the Block, was change in demand. She explained: "Those groups were never as dominant as what you've got now, and what you've got now is a very genuine, legitimate trend going on here." Wenner’s comments basically implied that she featured *NSYNC in order to increase sales. At one stage there were six different versions of the magazine13, so that fans would buy six copies instead of one. This strategy would not work with the majority bands, but because of *NSYNC’s cult following, fans would buy all the versions to add to their collections or to hang on their walls.
For more information, see Wired Magazine, “The Rise and Fall of the Hit”, July 2006. Cognitive dissonance is when one changes his/her feelings in order to match his/her actions. 13 There was a cover that featured the whole group, and then covers that featured each member separately.
*NSYNC’s image was created only partly by their music and videos. Media coverage was a huge aspect of the *NSYNC phenomenon, with every move strategically planned by publicists. Relationships were a part of the *NSYNC brand. It took years before *NSYNC members were allowed to admit that they were dating someone. Although Justin Timberlake would never date a thirteen year old girl, it was important for the tweens to be able to fantasize about meeting him and having him fall madly in love with them. Feeling this way would make tweens much more likely to continue to feed into the brand. When it became impossible to deny relationships completely, some relationships got a lot more media coverage than others. When Justin Timberlake finally admitted to dating, Britney Spears14, they became media favorites. Although his fans were insanely jealous, they had to admit that the two seemed perfect together as they were pop music’s prince and princess. Justin and Britney were in the tabloids every day, whereas few people even knew that another band member, Joey Fatone, had married his high school sweetheart and the two had a child together. The importance of relationships in the band’s image affected Lance Bass the most. Lance Bass admitted to being gay in 2006, five years after *NSYNC’s final CD was released. Bass explained in People Magazine: "I didn't know: Could that be the end of 'NSYNC? So I had that weight on me of, like, 'Wow, if I ever let anyone know, it's bad.' So I just never did ... I had four other guys' careers in my hand, and I knew that if I ever acted on it or even said [that I was gay], it would overpower everything." When I found out that Lance was gay I thought it was almost ironic. In Junior High boys would always “Why do you like *NSYNC? They are so gay.” I would quickly
Britney Spears has sold over seventy six million albums, and has a similar fan base as *NSYNC.
defend them without thinking twice, convinced that their dancing and tight clothes, which are often associated with homosexuals, applied to them differently because they were celebrities. I agree with Lance’s statement that their careers would have been at stake if he had come out earlier. Millions of little girls’ dreams of marrying Lance would have been crushed. Because homosexuality is still not completely accepted in our culture, the band would have been viewed completely differently, their dance moves and corny lyrics would have seemed “gay” and their appeal would have been lost. By closely examining *NSYNC’s video “Bye Bye Bye” we can further understand the appeal that the band had for its fans. The video features the band members as marionettes controlled by a girl. When the video was released, I interpreted the marionettes as a reference to Lou Pearlman. Now, however, I interpret it differently, and see the girl controlling the marionettes as a symbol of the fan base. In order to succeed, *NSYNC were slaves to their audience, forced to portray a clean cut image. The defined roles of each member can also be seen in the video. The video portrays Justin as the star, and goes so far as to cut the music while zooming in on Justin smiling at the camera. Although many argue that JC is the most musically talented, Justin was the “star” and was given the most camera time because he had the largest fan base. The video also combines masculinity and feminism. The video switches between scenes of the guys racing in an expensive sports car while being chased by a girl, and scenes of the band doing synchronized dance moves. The dance includes a synchronized wave to the words “bye, bye, bye” and is seen as extremely feminine. This mix of masculinity and femininity helps the tween girl audience relate
to the band. Gayle Wald believes that “such "girlish" masculinity is, in turn, an important source of their success with fans, who use it, singly and collectively, to negotiate their own fluid gender and sexual desires.”15 Therefore, the band members must act masculine to fulfill their roles as sex symbols, but by being feminine the female audience can relate to them more. The lyrics of the song themselves, are cheesy and have very surface level meaning. The cheap rhymes such as “I’m doing this tonight, you’re probably gonna start a fight” seem like they could be written by an infant, yet were written by professionals in the business. The song is catchy and danceable, and will sell – and that is all that matters. The music videos defined the band’s image, and the image could then be adapted to another media. For example, Best Buy sold exclusive *NSYNC bobble heads. Each week for five weeks a different bobblehead was released.16 The bobble heads cost $9.99 with a minimum Best Buy purchase of $25. Thus to buy all five bobble heads one had to spend over $175. In order to make this work, the bobble heads were considered “rare collectors items” and each came with a numbered certificate of authenticity. The bobble heads didn’t sing or dance, and didn’t even really resemble the band members very well. Fans purchased them because they went with the image. If one’s room was plastered with *NSYNC posters, it seemed like a necessity to have these little dolls sitting on their dresser. The band members had become icons and the fans had to purchase anything related to the band in order to keep their identity as an *NSYNC fan. If a girl was known as “the girl who is obsessed with *NSYNC” at school but didn’t buy the bobble heads, then was she
See “I Want it That Way” at genders.org for further explanation.
really obsessed? And if she no longer maintained that identity, what identity did she have? This concept worked not only for the bobble heads but for myriad other products. From flip-flops to custom instant messaging services, there was an *NSYNC branded version of hundreds of products. A little girl could go to school wearing an *NSYNC shirt and *NSYNC flip-flops, carrying an *NSYNC backpack containing an *NSYNC notebook and pen. A lot of these branded items are items that parents would buy for their children anyway, so parents would not mind buying their child an *NSYNC backpack since they have to buy a backpack anyway. Other products, such as dolls or posters are not necessities, but tweens craving these items could get them as gifts or purchase them for themselves. Also, by simply putting the *NSYNC brand on existing products, fans would buy products that they would not normally buy just so they could add it to their *NSYNC collection and maintain their identity as a fan.17 When companies realized how much of a demand there was for these branded items, they decide that they needed to cash in on the craze. McDonalds sold exclusive *NSYNC CDs and videos, with previously unreleased songs. Microsoft introduced a customized *NSYNC version of their instant messenger program. Companies opted to cross promote with *NSYNC whenever possible. When Lance Bass and Joey Fatone starred in the movie, On the Line, companies thought product placement would be extremely beneficial for them. In the film, Bass played an advertising executive, and Verizon paid to make it seem like they were one of
For example, a person who does not usually eat fruit snacks would buy them if they had a picture of *NSYNC on the box.
Bass’s accounts.18 Because tweens are so easily influenced, Verizon believed that tweens would choose Verizon as their cellular phone provider if they believed that Bass and Fatone supported the company. Not only was product placement important, but cross-promotion was important as well. McDonalds offered On the Line themed happy meal bags to increase sales, and Radio Shack had a contest in which the winner would get a call from Bass himself.19 The film received scathing reviews, and only grossed $4 million in box office sales, while $10 million was spent on production.20 This may be seen as a failure, but in terms of overall profit, the various promotions and strategic product placement earned Miramax21 a fortune. However, if it was not for Bass and Fatone, promotions for the film would be nowhere close to what they were. Companies were not interested in the film itself, but rather saw it as an extension of the *NSYNC brand, with a guaranteed following. The *NSYNC brand became so successful because of its target audience. Teenagers spend over $150 billion annually, and influence the spending of another $50 billion.22 *NSYNC’s members were all Caucasian, and therefore their fan base was Caucasian, with more purchasing power than the average American. Another key question is what made these girls become so infatuated with the band? When answering this question, I have looked at my own personal experience. While some of my friends played tennis or were involved in theater, I did not have an activity that I was passionate about. Therefore, my passion became *NSYNC. Being
Verizon created a storyboard to be used as a prop in the film, along with mugs, hats and T-shirts. Ticketmaster, Teen People, Seventeen, Radio Disney and several other companies held contests as well. 20 More information about the film can be found at the Internet Movie Database at www.imdb.com. 21 Miramax Studios were the producers of the film. 22 More purchasing statistics can be found at emptytomb.org.
known as “the girl who is obsessed with *NSYNC” gave me an identity. I was the girl who stood in line at Wal-Mart at 7am the day No Strings Attached was released; I was the girl who spent $250 on a single concert ticket. I would go onto *NSYNC message boards, and spend hours browsing websites. It seems pretty absurd to compare a band to a sport or club, but these things are all hobbies and *NSYNC was mine, and the hobby of millions of other girls who were also looking for an identity. We could connect together on the internet – on message boards and fan sites, with a unifying interest that made us feel that we were not alone. When Lou Pearlman created the *NSYNC “brand” his solel goal was to make a profit. However, the end result was that millions of young girls used the band to help themselves create their own identity. By taping TV appearances, and collecting rare items, these girls felt like they had a purpose, and could relate to others that felt the same way. Although *NSYNC are no longer together, and their teenybopper fans are now in college, they have shaped their fans into who they are, and many of these young ladies will forever be known as “that girl who was obsessed with *NSYNC.”
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