Following *NSYNC’s surprise appearance during Ariana Grande’s headlining set at Weekend One of Coachella, could a more substantial reunion — as a quartet, without Justin Timberlake — be on the horizon for the best-selling pop group?
The reaction to the April 14 Coachella appearance — in which JC Chasez, Lance Bass, Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone joined Grande to perform her hit “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” and their own smash “Tearin’ Up My Heart” — has been so positive that the group and its team is taking a look at a more prolonged return, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Although sources add that talks of a comeback have not accelerated in the week following Coachella and that all future plans are still TBD, the surprise appearance — *NSYNC’s first performance without Timberlake since the group broke up in 2002 — demonstrated that the four other members could rule the stage as a quartet. As the foursome considers a full-blown return without Timberlake, who is highly unlikely to take part in any reunion, Coachella could prove to be a turning point for the group’s comeback chances. (Reps for *NSYNC and Timberlake did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
“There’s such a hunger now for great pop, for nostalgia,” says one industry source. “It’s almost like a warm, comfortable blanket, especially for the generation that grew up with them, who are now moms and dads. The timing is right.”
“The four of them would be great,” says Brad Wavra, senior vp touring at Live Nation, who served as *NSYNC’s promoter throughout their original run in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “There’s no denying the talent that Justin has, but the four of them together proved it [at Coachella]: the music sounded great, they looked great, the fan response was awesome and I think that that would be the same all across America.”
An *NSYNC reunion has remained a tantalizing possibility for years, ever since the quintet went on hiatus in 2002. In the half-decade prior, *NSYNC became one of the most successful pop groups of all time as a leader of the turn-of-the-century bubblegum movement. Its studio albums have sold a combined 28.9 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen Music, and the first-week 2.4 million-copy bow for 2000’s No Strings Attached held the record for the biggest single-week album debut for 15 years, until Adele’s 25 surpassed it in 2015.
Following their 2001 album Celebrity and subsequent tour — which grossed $34.6 million over 37 dates in 2002, according to Billboard Boxscore — Timberlake kicked off his solo career with 2002’s Justified. *NSYNC’s hiatus became a permanent breakup as Timberlake emerged as a superstar and its other members focused on their own music, film, television and stage projects. The group reunited over a decade later, when Timberlake briefly brought out his old group mates during a performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, and the full lineup came together in 2018 to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Timberlake did not attend *NSYNC’s Coachella performance with Grande, but congratulated the group in an Instagram post following the surprise set.
While Timberlake has remained active as an arena headliner, sources say that the four other members of *NSYNC have kept in close contact and speak regularly, with Chasez and Bass living in Los Angeles, Kirkpatrick in Nashville and Fatone splitting time between L.A. and Florida. As the members joined forces in Los Angeles in the week prior to Coachella for their first dance rehearsals in years, a source with knowledge of the rehearsals says that the quartet was encouraged by the quality of their choreography and staying power of their vocals.
What would an *NSYNC live comeback look like? “The good news for them,” says one source, “is that they have the greatest template in the world for re-emerging, and it’s called the Backstreet Boys.” Indeed, *NSYNC’s one-time boy-band rivals have laid the groundwork for a successful comeback, even though BSB never actually disbanded: after experiencing diminishing commercial returns in the late 2000s, Backstreet Boys used a Las Vegas residency to reinvent themselves as a nostalgia act with a polished, dance-heavy live show. Their Larger Than Life residency has grossed over $38 million to date, per Boxscore, and set up their first headlining arena tour in over a decade, which kicks off in May.
Meanwhile, New Kids on the Block engineered a comeback in 2008, 14 years after breaking up, and have spent the past decade as a successful touring act, with multiple headlining treks and another arena run as part of a package with Salt-N-Pepa, Naughty By Nature and more slated for the summer. And Jonas Brothers, who became teen superstars in the years after *NSYNC’s breakup, recently kick-started their own reunion, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their comeback single “Sucker.”
Wavra thinks that if *NSYNC did reunite as a quartet, Las Vegas might be a good place for them to start, just as the Backstreet Boys turned to Sin City for a career rejuvenation. “Or maybe they’re part of a package [tour],” he says. “You’d have to test the waters a little bit, but I think [the Coachella appearance] was a very good first test.”
One veteran booking agent believes that the group could immediately secure arena dates even without Timberlake, thanks to the universal desire to hear *NSYNC’s biggest songs — “Bye Bye Bye,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” “I Want You Back” and more — live for the first time in over 15 years. “There’s a whole new generation of fans that haven’t had the opportunity to see the songs live,” the agent notes.
The problem for *NSYNC, compared to Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, is that they had a de facto frontman during their original run who wouldn’t be present for a potential reunion. Along with Chasez, Timberlake was a primary vocalist in *NSYNC, which has always made the possibility of a comeback as a foursome more difficult.
One industry veteran believes that the rest of the group should do whatever it takes to convince Timberlake to join a live reunion. “If I were the other guys, I would say, ‘JT, come out with us, let’s split the money 50 percent to you, and we’ll take the other 50,’” the person says. However, sources say that Timberlake, who recently wrapped a world tour in support of fourth solo album Man of the Woods, has given no new indication of returning to the group that made him a star, and is not expected to come back in the foreseeable future.
Instead, the possibility of a comeback rests on the shoulders of Chasez, the group’s other lead singer, who briefly embarked on a solo career of his own in the wake of *NSYNC’s success. Although Chasez did not achieve the same level of superstardom that awaited Timberlake once the group disbanded, he would have to carry the brunt of the vocal duties should *NSYNC reform. If the group does decide to reunite, it will be because Chasez feels comfortable with the creative vision and execution.
“We’re not opposed to anything,” Chasez told Ryan Seacrest in an interview last year following the Walk of Fame ceremony. While downplaying reunion rumors in that interview, Chasez added, “We are always going to be open to anything, to any idea, as long as it’s a good idea. For us it’s got to be the right thing for the right reasons.”
In the wake of the Coachella reunion, Bass and Fatone have both liked tweets calling for an *NSYNC comeback from their official Twitter accounts. If all four members can buy in to a return, the Coachella performance could be the start of a new chapter that *NSYNC fans have been anticipating for over a decade.
“I hope that this gave them all confidence that they can pull it off, that the fans will respond to them,” says Wavra. “I’m sure they look over and miss their fifth member, but it doesn’t mean that that music shouldn’t be heard.”