15 Years Later: UTG Reflects On *NSYNC

We’ve said it before and we’ll probably say it again before the month is out, but nostalgia is the trend to beat in 2013. From albums, to books, movies, and television, people are in love all over again with the things they used to love. This weekend, one of the biggest pop music releases of all time turns fifteen, and try as we might we just could just not bring ourselves to let the occasion pass without a mention.

If you recall, earlier this month we informed you that UTG would only be covering a select number of nostalgic moments in 2013 to cover. Further, any coverage we do plan around these aging relics of our collective youth will strive to be something more than your average news post or Buzzfeed inspired listacle. Our goal is to celebrate these releases and pry into what makes them have such lasting appeal, and this time around our focus is on the debut album from *NSYNC. So sit back, crack open a yearbook from the late 90s, and get ready to take a musical trip back in time.

Girls, Gymnasiums, and God: The Day I Learned To Dance

Written by: James Shotwell

Fifteen years ago I was ten years old and just a bit over halfway through my second semester ever as a student in Constantine, MI. My parents had relocated us to the mitten state the Summer before due to my father’s job being transferred, and while I strived to fit in as best I could there were more days spent alone than with the few friends I had managed to make in my short time as “the new guy.” One thing I did find solace in, however, was music.

Looking back now, it’s easy to highlight the seminal releases that also had lasting mainstream replay value, like Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty, but having spent so many years writing about the world of punk (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) I’ve found I often shy away from mentioning releases that I once loved because they now seem dated when compared to current pop culture trends. However, shortly after rising from my slumber this morning I learned one such release was officially old enough to begin driver’s training, and now I cannot stop the memories from flooding back to my mind.

Do you remember where you were the first time you heard *NSYNC? I don’t. My guess is that I probably stumbled across their high-gloss confectionary version of music while riding in the backseat of my mother’s car, or possibly while watching television after school (TRL host Carson Daly was a God in those days). Either way, the time between discovering them and becoming obsessed with the ‘second coming of boy bands’ was shorter than any entertainment addiction I had known up to that point. It reads a bit silly to me now, reflecting on my younger self as an obsessive pre-teen male who couldn’t get over the pitch perfect harmonies of five slightly older guys who could likely care less if any other males ever heard their music, but at the time my fandom was the most important thing in the world to me, and I cannot help thinking it was this addiction that (at least in part) pushed me towards the career in music I have today.

While I may not remember my first time experiencing *NSYNC, I do have one memory in which their music plays a pivotal role. It was sixth grade and for the first time in my life I was standing on a dance floor. Okay, it was my middle school gymnasium, but for the sake of keeping my childhood somewhat magical I’m going to continue referring to the space that only hours earlier was filled with dodge balls and poor excuses to not run laps as a dance floor. It was my first dance in fact, and I had made the decision to go in spite of not having a date. The event started at 3:30, and just over an hour after the music began the DJ informed the room he would be slowing things down for the next song. Having watched thousands of films in my day, I knew this meant a slow dance was coming, but for some reason my feet, hands, and mouth refused to move. I was stuck, frozen in a strange state of being fearful no one would want to dance with me while simultaneously being petrified that a girl might actually want to dance because I knew in my heart I did not have the slightest clue how to move my feet in a way that would win over the opposite sex.

Before I knew it the music began to slow and the lighting from the DJ’s rig started to dim. Just when I thought I would be noticed as the boy frozen in fear alone on the floor, I felt a hand grab my arm and turned to see a girl with brunette hair standing to my right. She said she was there on behalf of her friend Kayla, whom I knew from my class the year before, and asked me if I thought her friend was cute. I felt like no other person who had ever walked the Earth, let alone anyone who spent their life in small towns like me, had ever been so lucky. I stumbled over my words and began sweating as if I had just stepped into the Texas sun, but somehow found the courage to mutter sounds that this girl understood as “yes,” and shortly afterwards the brunette girl was gone.

Seconds passed like minutes and more couples began to appear on the dance floor. Not wanting to be any more embarrassed than I currently felt, I began to move toward the infamous “school dance wall” where various loners and future readers of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower had gathered to diss on those attempting to make romance work at a young age. I was just feet away when I heard a voice call my name, and I turned to see that same brunette, only this time accompanied by Kayla. We stared at each other awkwardly as if we had suddenly forgotten how human beings interacted with one another, but the brunette caught on to our apparent state of romantic paralysis and pushed Kayla into me (literally). We collided, almost falling to the ground, and as we stood there in our awkward, hug-like embrace the first notes of “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You” began to play. We looked at one another as if we still had no idea how our bodies worked, and soon Kayla’s friend stuck her face between us to say, “c’mon guys, dance!” I had never been so scared in my life, but in that moment I knew I had to move. I shuffled my feet, hitting Kayla’s more often than not in the process, and eventually we began to spin ever-so-slowly to the croons of Justin Timberlake and crew. It lasted only a few short minutes, but in that moment I felt more alive than I ever had before.

Life is not a fairy tale, of course, and young love rarely lasts forever. Kayla and I were destined to love other people and live completely different lives, but that moment of transition from childhood to adulthood and from carefree kids to people who struggle to understand the concept of love that we shared all those years ago will always be one close to my heart. It was the day that I learned to talk to girls, or at least the day I learned it was possible to do so without fainting in front of them, and it was the first afternoon I can remember when a girl expressed genuine interest in me. When I look back now at all the adventures I’ve had, the late nights and early mornings, it’s the little transitional moments that mean the most. Those instances that are gone in a flash, but that in the moment feel like they could last forever. Those are the moments that make you who you are, and mine would not have been the same without *NSYNC. They were a victory anthem of sorts, letting me know that I could connect with people (cute girls, no less), and no matter how dated their looks become I will always argue there is something special about the music they made together. They are part of the soundtrack to my life, and even though the lyrics of ” (God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You” are in no way something tweens should take to heart, standing on that dance floor that afternoon I clung to every word like gospel.

My love for *NSYNC didn’t stop there. I was an avid follower throughout the life of the group, but this memory is one I hold especially to close to my heart. I could have chosen to tell you about the Summer I spent trying to learn the dance from the “Bye Bye Bye” video, or the one about how I learned “This I Promise You” was not a good song for mixtapes, but No Strings Attached won’t turn 15 for another two years so those tales will have to wait.

James Shotwell
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2 Responses to “15 Years Later: UTG Reflects On *NSYNC”

  1. Kriston McConnell says:

    This, is awesome.

  2. Jorge David says:

    He’s come a looong way.. really liking this song from him http://smarturl.it/JustinMirrors