JC’s vocal dexterity was prominent ever since *NSYNC’s early singles like “Here We Go” and “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” and it only grew stronger during his time in the group. The singer’s voice beautifully ebbed and flowed through the R&B-tinged “I Just Wanna Be With You” from their debut album, while the club mix of “For the Girl Who Has Everything” found him taking control of both verses, without the need for Timberlake’s solo presence. He also tapped into his inner-Jodeci with the unforgettable line “Are you feeling my Timbs?/ My baggy jeans?/ My thug appeal?” on “Bring It All to Me,” his 1999 collaboration with girl group Blaque that earned him a hit outside of *NSYNC years before Timberlake.
Once the recording of their sophomore album -- 2000’s No Strings Attached -- was underway, JC graduated to co-writing and co-producing a handful of the songs. He fused otherworldly dance synths and hip-hop drums on “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay),” featuring the late Left Eye, and managed to make naughty cyber sex seem divine on "Digital Get Down," unlike Timberlake, who still sounded prepubescent. “This I Promise You,” No Strings Attached's third single, proved that JC’s strength lied with lovestruck ballads that showcased his sonic magnitude. By the time 2001’s Celebrity -- *NSYNC’s final album -- was released, he shared credits with Timberlake.
Celebrity was designed for Timberlake to shine, as he was on the brink of solo stardom -- but JC still one-upped him by utilizing urban-inspired beats that felt more authentic. His bandmate teamed up with big names like Wade Robson and The Neptunes for hit singles “Pop,” “Girlfriend” and “Gone,” while JC opted for pushing the envelope with blippy PlayStation sound effects on deeper cuts like “The Game Is Over,” laced his affectionate vocals on the sticky-sweet “Two Of Us,” got adventurous on the funkified “Up Against the Wall,” inspired by two-step U.K. garage, and channeled his inner Brian McKnight with his emotional belts on “Selfish” (the R&B great produced the ballad).
Following the success of Celebrity (it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was certified five times Platinum by the RIAA), *NSYNC announced a temporary hiatus that later became permanent. Both Timberlake and Chasez took advantage of this time, heading to the studio to work on their solo projects: 2002’s Justified and 2004’s Schizophrenic, respectively.
Part of the reason JC’s solo effort was eclipsed by Timberlake’s massive success was simply because his bandmate was quicker to release his first album, which was backed by The Neptunes, Timbaland and Scott Storch. Timberlake's debut single, “Like I Love You,” peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, while top five follow-ups “Cry Me a River” and “Rock Your Body” officially catapulted Timberlake to international superstardom as a solo artist. Unfortunately, JC couldn’t keep up -- but that didn’t mean his own solo music wasn’t noteworthy. Timberlake wanted to express a more “mature” R&B sound on his album, but JC took the literal meaning of his album title and created an overwhelming mashup of genres (including reggae-pop, rock, electronica, soul, disco, funk and new wave) that was a little less streamlined than his *NSYNC counterpart.
JC’s love for pure R&B carried on throughout his album, where he called upon Dallas Austin (who’s worked with the likes of TLC, Pink and Madonna) for his top 40 hit “Blowin’ Me Up (With Her Love),” which was previously featured on the Drumline soundtrack in 2002. The singer’s random trend of utilizing parentheses continued with Schizophrenic's lead single, “Some Girls (Dance with Women).” The song had all the potential to become a surefire hit, from JC’s come-hither vocals to the snakecharmer hypnosis of the production. But it barely cracked the charts, peaking at No. 88 on the Hot 100. The song’s defeat could also be attributed to the content itself, as women dancing with each other isn’t a mind-blowing concept. While Timberlake already had a handful of smash singles tucked under his belt, JC was lagging behind.
What made matters worse is that Timberlake’s infamous Super Bowl moment with Janet Jackson in February 2004 caused a negative ripple effect. JC was meant to perform “Blowin’ Me Up” during the Pro Bowl in Hawaii a week following the halftime show, but his appearance was later nixed due to the song’s “inappropriate” content. The NFL understandably wanted to be on the FCC’s good side, but lyrics like “She was leaning on me/ Getting horny/ Maybe we'll get naughty” do not really compare to exposing a famous singer’s breast on national television.
Schizophrenic is JC’s only solo album to date and later became a cult favorite for die-hard fans as Timberlake continued to take over the pop world with his follow-up albums FutureSex/LoveSounds, The 20/20 Experience (parts 1 and 2) and Man of the Woods. JC decided to parlay his boy band knowledge into writing and producing for artists like David Archuleta, Sugababes, McFly, Basement Jaxx and even his onetime pop rivals the Backstreet Boys. After parting ways with Jive Records (which stalled the release of any possible follow-up album), JC kept his face in the spotlight as one of the judges on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew from 2008-2012. He also appeared in films like Killer Movie, Red Sky and the musical comedy Opening Night alongside Topher Grace.
JC had all the essentials for becoming a successful pop star just like Justin, but poor marketing, overtly sexual lyrics, a debut album that tried to accomplish too much and overall bad timing didn’t take him down that path. But if he ever decides to return to the music industry with a proper sophomore album release, I’ll be right here anxiously waiting.