Pop Culture Showdown: Backstreet Boys Versus N’Sync

Some genius once said, “You can get with this or you can get with that.” (shout out to Black Sheep) This statement has never been more true when it comes to the defining boy bands of the late 90s and early 00s. Draw a line. Choose a side. Get with this or get with that.

Back before smart phones and iPods, back even before Rio audio players and Dell Digital Jukeboxes, our lives were inundated with an avalanche of teen pop music. Besides the CDs you purchased or ripped illegally this music played everywhere. You heard it on Top 40 radio stations, MTV (especially on TRL), at the mall when you walked by Hot Topic, pizza places on Fridays, in the hallways as groups of people were choreographing their own dances, Saturday nights in your best friends’ bedroom, and basically anywhere else. There was no hiding from the boy band craze that swept a nation (or at least some select suburbs). There were hundreds of them out there (shout out to O’Town’s “All or Nothing” which to this day remains my karaoke song of choice alongside “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias). But in your heart you knew there were only two choices.

N’Sync or Backstreet Boys is like Coke or Pepsi. McDonald’s or Burger King (I now realize all these examples are bad for you unlike N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys). It’s a litmus test for who you are as a person (or who you were if you now deny ever buying those albums at $20 a pop at the local Borders Books, FYE, Tower Records, Sam Goody, or Coconuts). Let’s jump in.

(As always hat tip to Dr. Jack Ramsey and Bill Simmons)


The word iconic is oftentimes thrown around when describing stuff that doesn’t merit that kind of diction choice. For instance, one time I heard a teenage boy say that Wildberry Poptarts are iconic. Now while I love Poptarts, Wildberry especially, I know that toaster pastries don’t necessitate that kind of adulation. This is all just my roundabout way of explaining that I know the importance of the word iconic (DJ Khaled voice). I don’t throw that word around lightly (Ovaltine is iconic. Except for there).  So when I tell you that N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys have some truly important songs I’m not just saying it for the benefit of this article. I’m saying it because those are the facts.

Right off the bat N’Sync comes with the hits (wordplay is important). Here is the list of the songs you should know off their US debut album. 1. “Tearin’ Up My Heart” 2. “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time on You” 3. “I Want You Back” 4. “I Drive Myself Crazy” (more on this one later)  Pretty good. But wait…

Backstreet Boys throws out: 1. “Quit Playing Games with my Heart” 2. “As Long as You Love Me” 3. “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” 4. “All I Have to Give” (which is a perfect song)

When measured this way, single against single, the groups wind up being pretty even. For every “The One” there is a “It’s Going to be Me.” For every “This I Promise You” there is a “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely.” So perhaps the best way to look at this is through the most iconic of the songs. The way I’ve selected this is through my carefully created algorithm called, “Don’t over think it hipster.” When I say the groups name what song do you think of? Play a little word association except with songs while your bored refreshing your slack channel at work. The ones you probably came up with, if you’re not being a hipster, are “I Want it that Way” and “Bye Bye Bye.”

I’ll be honest, I love both of these songs, just like I love both of these groups, but the truth is only one of them stands the test of time as an important song (notice how I didn’t say music video). No matter how many times I practiced singing, “Just hit me with the truth” in my best Justin Timberlake voice, I feel like “I Want It That Way” remains important outside of the late 90s early 00s context. It’s a perfectly written pop song that once you start humming you physically can’t stop. It doesn’t rely on cheap ploys or dance moves. We just get some dudes singing very earnestly about I’m not sure what. And for me, the what never mattered, just as long as I could listen to it every single second of every single day. N’Sync may have had the perfect school slow dance song “This I Promise You” but Backstreet Boys had the perfect song period.

Also, people forget that “The Shape of My Heart” is a perfect song.

EDGE: Backstreet Boys

Music Videos: 

Music videos were as important or more important than just about anything having to do with the boy band brand. Songs on the radio were great but in order to be the world dominating stars that these labels wanted their groups to be you had to generate music videos. I always thought that the Backstreet Boys played it a little safe.Walking around in airports, dressing up in Halloween costumes, and face morphing like in that one Michael Jackson music video.

N’Sync was willing to take more chances. Jumping off tops of trains, transforming into plastic dolls, and pretending to be in insane asylums (some of these risks ended up being not so great as the case with “I Drive Myself Crazy”). However, there is no risk without reward. I think that’s what people say.

EDGE: N’Sync 

Dancing Ability:

Dancing is important. I know boy bands don’t do it anymore (I’m looking at you One Direction. Does PrettyMuch dance? Is that the new boy band of choice. I’m very old). The immediate reaction is just to give this to N’Sync and move onto the next category. They have Justin Timberlake and they have JC Chasez who was a host on some dance show that I never watched (America’s Best Dance Crew). However, Chris Kirkpatrick, Lance Bass, and Joey Fatone were not exactly earth stoppers with their moves. Also, I’ve tried to do the chair dance the Backstreet Boys did in “As Long As You Love Me” many times. As far as chair dances go, its probably as important as the hora (maybe not). And even with all that thrown into the mix you still have to give it to N’Sync. I mean B2K once said they wanted to model themselves after N’Sync because they continued to keep dancing even after the first album (I think they said this it might have just been a fever dream I had hosted by Carson Daly and Ananda Lewis).

EDGE: N’Sync 


Backstreet Boys > NSYNC

Millennium = No Strings Attached (yeah I’m not picking between these two)

Home for the Holidays > The Backstreet Boys hate the holidays

Black & Blue > Celebrity (Don’t @ me. “Girlfriend” is the precursor to Justin breaking off as the solo star that the world needed but even back then I knew “Pop” was corny)

The Entire rest of the Backstreet Boys catalog > The nothing else that N’Sync put out as a group after Celebrity.

EDGE: Backstreet Boys 


After Black & Blue, the Backstreet Boys proceeded to drop four albums (some of the songs off these albums were pretty fun and probably would have been hit if they were released during the height of Backstreet mania. Take a listen to “Straight Through My Heart,” “Bigger,” and “In a World like This” if you don’t believe me ). They also made a cameo in the Seth Rogen movie This is the End.

N’Sync made a brief appearance during a Justin Timberlake performance at the VMAs. After they finished a 7 second medley, security escorted them out of the building, and they were never seen or heard from again.

EDGE: Backstreet Boys

Corniest Moment: 

Sick and tired of hearing all these people talk about
What’s the deal with this pop life and when is it gonna fade out
The thing you got to realize, what we doing is not a trend
We got the gift of melody, we gonna bring it ’til the end

“Pop” is a corny song. Don’t say it isn’t. Justin Timberlake beat boxing while Michael Jackson danced at the VMAs was also corny. The Backstreet Boys are inherently corn but “Pop” puts the corn unicorn. “Pop” puts the corn in cornerstone. “Pop” puts the corn in cornucopia. I never want to think about this song again.

It doesn’t matter,
‘Bout the car I drive or what I wear around my neck
All that matters,
Is that you recognize that its just about respect
It doesn’t matter,
About the clothes I wear and where I go and why
All that matters,
Is that you get hyped ’cause we’ll do it to you every time
(Come on now)

Stop it.

Do you ever wonder why, this music gets you high?
It takes you on a ride, feel it when your body starts to rock
(your body starts to rock)
Baby you can’t stop
(You can’t stop),
And the music’s all you got, come on now
This must be, pop

Why is this happening?

EDGE: N’Sync


Image result for worst nsync fashion


Image result for backstreet boys fashionImage result for backstreet boys fashion

Also, hmmm.

Image result for ramen noodle justin timberlake

Too much sodium is bad for you.

Bsb 2

So are too many disco balls.

EDGE: Even

Breakout Star:

Justin Timberlake is a pop legend. He’s iconic (like Ovaltine). Everyone else in N’Sync went onto moderate success. JC Chasez made an album and was a judge on a TV show. Lance Bass almost went to the moon. Joey Fatone hosted some stuff that I didn’t watch. Chris Kirkpatrick was in a show I didn’t know existed.

The Backstreet Boys did not have a breakout star. No matter how hard I thought Brian Littrell would be the hero the world needed, it never happened. Nick Carter did some solo stuff that I didn’t listen to. Kevin went to Broadway. Howie? AJ? I don’t know. Ultimately, the boys from the streets that were back worked better as a unit. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts. I think that’s what made them such a good group. When their powers combined no one else could shut down Time Square during the height of TRL like they could.

EDGE: N’Sync


This is a battle between two groups of five singers who helped 90s kid work their way through puberty. Whatever happened after they split up means nothing. My argument was always that N’Sync was holding Justin Timberlake back. That was never true about any member of the Backstreet Boys. They were better together like peanut butter and jelly, like spaghetti and meatballs, like boys with bands.

EDGE: Backstreet Boys 


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