The Backstreet Boys vs NSYNC vs Pop Culture

After a few years of silence from both bands, NSYNC returned to television in 2000 to start promotion for their second record, No Strings Attached. One would expect them to promote their music on primetime teen comedies again, but NSYNC made a neighborhood appearance on Sesame Street instead.

Introduced by Elmo and a chanting group of children, the “guys who really have it together” perform the Sesame Street classic “Believe in Yourself.” The group is then given an exclusive tour of the eponymous Street, joined by Elmo, Big Bird, and the rest of the gang. With confused, aimless expressions, they all head over to Hooper’s Store for some sandwiches. Sounds heavenly.

NSYNC’s conquest of long-running television programs didn’t stop there. In 2001, the band cemented themselves in TV history by appearing as themselves on The Simpsons. In the episode “New Kids on the Blecch,” Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Ralph are selected to be members of the nation’s next big boy band. The show’s writers directly cited NSYNC as the inspiration for the episode, and sought out the band members for a guest spot on the show.

While only foreign language clips exist on YouTube, you can still view a making-of featurette of NSYNC stumbling through their first real voice-acting gig. Word.

After this run of guest appearances, television experienced another drought of both The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. It wasn’t until 2006 that we’d even hear music from either group in a TV soundtrack.

The 2006 fall Season brought us the promising first episode of Heroes, and with it The Backstreet Boys’ hit song “I Want It That Way.” When Hiro and co-worker Ando visit a karaoke bar for a stiff drink, two Japanese teenagers are leisurely lip-syncing the classic tune. The song is a nice tonal change for the series’ opening episode, which is predominately filled with a generically dramatic score. Plus, it introduces American viewers to the pop-loving culture of Japan.

That same year, NSYNC’s music returned to television in one of the best gags ever seen on Scrubs. Once again, Donald Faison demonstrates his rabid fandom for the once-great boy band by using their song “Bye Bye Bye” for his character Turk’s cell phone ringtone. Obviously the song creates some kind of situational humor for star Zach Braff, as he can’t contact his best friend because everyone in the hospital is too busy dancing to the catchy ringtone.

The last major television appearance of either bands’ music was in 2008 on the action-comedy Chuck. In the episode “Chuck Versus the Cougars,” protagonists Chuck and Sarah must brave their high school class reunion — the Class of 1998, conveniently enough. And nothing signals the nostalgia of that particular time better than the song “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”

While The Backstreet Boys still hold the first and most recent appearances on mainstream television (great appearances at that), this category undeniably belongs to NSYNC. Justin, Chris, Joey, JC, and Lance have guest starred in far more shows than the Boys, and their music is definitely more widely appreciated by TV characters. The enthusiastic cries of Sabrina, Milhouse, and Donald Faison all agree: NSYNC is the winner on television.

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