Why the *NSYNC Show Must Go On -- Even if That Means Replacing Justin Timberlake (Critic's Take)

If you’ve never been to an *NSYNC concert, allow me to share one snapshot from inside Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park on June 29, 2001.

My friends and I -- all deep into our 20s -- were sitting waaaaay too far away to make out their faces on that stage in the middle of the stadium. And, duh, we were all shrieking too loud to hear the nuances of their harmonious melodies. Didn’t matter. We were giddy just because we were seeing a panting boy band perform catchy singles and tight choreography at the peak of their fame. A unicorn could have pranced across that stage in the middle of “It’s Gonna Be Me,” and we still would have fixated on those five guys.

Alas, that balmy summer night was 18 years ago. That’s why I developed a highly rare case of Coachella FOMO when I heard that the remaining members of *NSYNC -- J.C. Chasez, Lance Bass, Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone -- would be the surprise performers alongside headliner Ariana Grande. Sure enough, the April 14 set was a rousing feel-great success story that generated almost as much social-media buzz as the Game of Thrones premiere that night. Now the guys are considering a full-scale reunion... minus gone-solo star Justin Timberlake. Maybe a tour or a Las Vegas residency. Maybe more.

Should they? Could they? Isn’t *NSYNC without JT kinda like PB&J without the J? To those concerns, I say forget ‘em (and that ain’t no lie). They need to get the boy band back together.

This is the chance for eternally youthful teens to see their one-time favorite group live on stage for the first time in a generation. Think about it: The Eagles were on hiatus for 14 years before their Hell Freezes Over Tour in 1994, and that wait seemed like an eternity. *NSYNC has them beat by four years! If anything, the epic gap in between concert tours is a legit selling point. The fans are old enough to bring their kids -- most of whom weren’t alive when No Strings Attached sold a record-smashing 2.4 million copies in its debut week in 2000, but have since surely heard staples like “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back” -- or they can take advantage of a girls’ night out to relive their own teenage memories. The boys have turned to men, but they still have the moves and the pipes and the clean-cut looks. Win-win-win.

The decision seems like such a no-brainer that I suspect the only explanation as to why the ink isn’t dry on the contracts yet is because of the Timberlake factor. A ridiculously accomplished star, he has little incentive to revisit his curly-haired past and participate in a nostalgia-scented tour with his less-fortuned bandmates: It’s an understatement to say that they need him more than he needs them. Timberlake sang lead on many of their biggest hits, never once danced in the back, and though I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was the soul of *NSYNC, there’s a reason they couldn’t regroup after he released his first solo album in 2002. (FWIW, the group never officially broke up.) While he’s only one of five, the math never added up as long as he wasn’t part of the equation.

If you caught a clip of the Coachella performance, then you know the quartet can carry on without Timberlake and still maintain *NSYNC’s OG essence. But I suggest they take it one choreographed step further by pulling a Fleetwood Mac, and finding a logical new fifth member to stand in for JT.

Seriously. If the iconic Lindsey Buckingham can be swapped out for Mike Campbell and Neil Finn after being in the same Hall of Fame band for 45-plus years, then Timberlake can be swapped out as well. Nobody is irreplaceable. Not David Lee Roth in Van Halen; not Steve Perry in Journey; not Peter Gabriel in Genesis. Even Queen has found new fans since Adam Lambert took over for the late, extremely great Freddie Mercury. A substitute isn’t necessarily better than the original -- Timberlake’s talent in particular is the gold-record standard for all past, present and future boy banders. But fresh blood can shake up the dynamic in exciting ways. A newbie adds an unexpected twist on the familiar, creating a sense of anything-can-happen suspense. For *NSYNC, inserting a freshman would keep the rest of the guys on their toes.

This is not to say anyone who’s ever drunk-karaoke’d “This I Promise You” can slide in next to Lance Bass and Joey Fatone. You need a pro that can work a crowd with smooth vocals, a nimble body and charisma to reach the nose-bleed seats. It can be done! Consider these five doable alternatives:

1.  Harry Styles. Why not? The well-coiffed former One Direction singer is already well-versed in all things boy band, and he and Timberlake have similar vocal stylings. He can take the time to master the group’s choreography while they figure out how to slot their harmonies into his haunting, apocalyptic solo single “Sign of the Times.”

2. Aaron Carter. What a perfect opportunity to stir up the long-dormant Backstreet Boys vs. *NSYNC debate. The younger brother of BSB-er Nick Carter never quite built up an arena-level fan following as a solo act. He’s now mature, friendly with the guys and can handle the occasional frontman duties.

3. Usher. It’s a shame *NSYNC went belly up when they did, if only because their music was shifting away from sugary pop and more toward grittier R&B. (Take a listen to “Girlfriend” off Celebrity.) Their mega-talented peer Usher Raymond, who had his own hits with The Neptunes around this period, can bring out this flavor.    

4. Nick Jonas. Right, right, the Jonas Brothers are back together too. Yay! But lest we forget that Axl friggin’ Rose toured with Guns N Roses and AC/DC and lived to tell about it. There’s no reason why Jonas, who’s so, so silky on “Jealous,” can’t pull off the same feat.  

5. Christina Aguilera. Hear me out. She grew up on the New Mickey Mouse Club with Chasez and Timberlake. She’s underrated as a singing-dancing double threat. (See: Burlesque. I mean it.) In one thrilling swoop, she and Chasez can put a power-duo spin on “What A Girl Wants,” “Beautiful” and then everyone can go all in on a playful rendition of “Bye Bye Bye.” The double bill is too tantalizing to not consider.

The prospects for *NSYNC are bright once again — a sentence I never thought I’d type as a tax-paying, 401(k)-saving adult. We may never go back to the highfalutin times when Carson Daly wore black nail polish on TV every afternoon to introduce new music videos, but we still have boy banders that want to entertain us. Let’s let them. I’d bet my entire CD collection that Timberlake himself would agree.  

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