arlier this month, *NSYNC’s surprise appearance at the MTV VMAs set the internet – and a thrilled Taylor Swift – ablaze. The late Ninties boy band got together in public for the first time in 10 years to present the singer with the gong for Best Pop Video, and as she collected the award for Anti-Hero, Swift grilled the group over their future plans.
“What are you doing now? Are you doing something?” she asked. “They’re gonna do something and I need to know what it is!” she told the room. “You’re pop personified.”
Rumours had already been swirling around a long-overdue reunion, with the lads previously getting together for a handful of appearances. The band last performed together as a five-piece in 2013. Six years later, Chris Kirkpatrick, JC Chasez, Lance Bass, and Joey Fatone all performed live with Ariana Grande, though Justin Timberlake – now an established solo artist – was conspicuously absent. Not any more!
Now, Better Place – their first new song since 2002’s Nelly-featuring remix of Girlfriend – makes things official, and Timberlake is very much a part of it. “It’s hard to put in words how much the four of you mean to me,” he says in a teaser clip, made up of archival throwback footage. “Through hard times, through unbelievable times, through the times when we were going, ‘What the f**k?’ I just love all of you so much.
So far, so good – but sadly there’s a catch. A big one. At the moment, the only scrap of hope we have comes in the shape of a contribution to the soundtrack of the third Trolls movie, out November 17. At the moment there are no plans for a reunion record or tour.
It all raises a troubling question: have the trolls threatened Justin Timberlake with some sort of ungodly curse unless he fuels their never-ending series of films with new music? Has he signed his soul away to these perpetually beaming creatures for some unknown price? Or is the pop star – who has acted as the franchise’s music producer several times, supplies a good portion of their soundtrack, and voices a character called Branch – simply just obsessed with them?
Whatever went down behind closed doors, this is where we’ve ended up: *NSYNC’s first song in two decades is destined for a Trolls film, and will appear on Trolls Band Together’s soundtrack. Though you have to commend Timberlake and the rest of the Troll-squad for engineering a distinctive brand of peppy pop that stands out more than Poppy’s fuschia hair-plume, it means that this whistling ditty feels interchangeable with virtually any other artist or song to take part in this highly specific musical universe.
Which is a shame, because *NSYNC – the first time around – cultivated a unique sound that toughened up the clean-cut pop of the era with bright, cartoonish flourishes, and bold beats that took influence from both hip-hop and new jack swing. Though Better Place is one big lyrical euphemism (“I wanna dance all night /You like it nice and slow”) it also has the allure of a Ken doll. The boyband’s trademark sound, once shaped by the likes of influential producers like Babyface, Max Martin, and Teddy Riley, doesn’t cut through, not even in an evolved or developed sense.
It may be Bye Bye Bye no longer, but for a full-blown reunion, we’ll need a little more more more.