The Backstreet Boys vs NSYNC vs Pop Culture


And so we begin our biggest pop culture category, as both bands have made many film appearances during their lengthy careers.

As with television, The Backstreet Boys were the first of the groups to jump onto the big screen. In fact, the music of the Boys was heard in movies for a good three years before NSYNC’s first film appearance.

From 1996 to 1999, lesser-known Backstreet Boys songs like “Boys Will Be Boys,” “If You Stay,” and “I Wanna Be With You” could be heard in some relatively large comedy releases, such as Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor, Shaquille O’Neil’s Kazaam, Jamie Foxx’s Booty Call, the direct-to-video Casper: A Spirited Beginning, and — reuniting the Boys with Sabrina the Teenage Witch — Melissa Joan Hart’s Drive Me Crazy. It seems that in these early years, the Boys’ pop tracks were upbeat enough to set the stage for a party scene and cost-effective enough to grab the attention of film executives.

One particularly noteworthy example came in 2001’s Saving Silverman. As he mourns the supposed death of his oppressive girlfriend, young Darren Silverman, played by Jason Biggs, builds an altar of old photographs and lit candles. This excellent moment of dark comedy is accentuated by The Backstreet Boys hit “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely.”

In the same way songs like “Everybody” were used to humorously set a scene in television shows, Saving Silverman established a long-running practice of Backstreet Boys (and NSYNC) tunes being used as comedic devices in films for the next decade.

By 1999, NSYNC was beginning to make its own contributions to film soundtracks. And while The Backstreet Boys were first to put their music in movies, NSYNC’s first appearance in film was far more significant than that of the Boys.

Since Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez were members of the Mickey Mouse Club early in their careers, NSYNC was fortunate enough to have close relationship with animation powerhouse Disney. After some successful publicity on the Disney Channel, NSYNC was brought on to contribute to the Phil Collins-composed soundtrack for Disney’s Tarzan. The band earned a spot on the soundtrack by recording a rendition of the tune “Trashin’ the Camp,” a scat song that easily serviced the band’s style.

While this version of the song is not necessarily heard in the film itself, NSYNC making such a contribution to an Academy Award-winning soundtrack during the Disney Renaissance unquestionably gives their first film appearance an edge over The Backstreet Boys’. Tarzan would thus propel NSYNC film success for the next several years.

Throughout 1999 and 2000, NSYNC contributed songs to the Oscar-nominated soundtrack for Wes Craven’s Music of the Heart, Usher’s Light it Up, Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys, and Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The band even earned their first acting credits in the straight-to-Disney Channel movie Longshot. Considering The Backstreet Boys spent their early years offering music to second-string comedies, these high-profile contributions make NSYNC’s early years in film much more commendable.

If the film battle between these two bands had ended in 2001, NSYNC would absolutely take the prize. But with over a decade of more movie appearances, we must continue to move forward.

I already mentioned the uncanny parallels within the careers of these two bands, and their involvements with film are no exception. In 2001, both The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC included songs from their most recent albums in Nickelodeon’s animated feature Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Backstreet offered the track “The Answer to Our Life” from their album Black & Blue, whereas the ‘SYNC supplied the track “Pop” from the album Celebrity. The two bands have crossed paths plenty of times since, but Jimmy Neutron, a movie celebrating millennial youth culture, seems like the most appropriate of these run-ins.

That same year, the world witnessed yet another coincidence in the lives of Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, but this one was far less prestigious. While these two groups were at the height of their popularity, they still wanted to show the world that they hadn’t lost touch with the humble lives of everyman America. In order to express that connection with average people, they partook in something that best represents the values of humility and Middle American charm: independent cinema.

In 2001, members of both bands appeared in low-budget romantic comedies. Brian Littrell and A.J. McLean from The Backstreet Boys played in a little movie called Olive Juice…

…while Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, Justin Timberlake, and Chris Kirkpatrick appeared in a modest film called On the Line.

Both films featured the inoffensive nature and cookie-cutter plots of any romantic comedy schlock, and both featured¬† the absolutely stellar acting talents of our boy band idols. It’s quite a shame that On the Line was a massive box-office flop and Olive Juice remains in relative obscurity.

Over the next ten years, film appearances by both groups became less frequent, as a natural consequence of their slowing popularity. Backstreet Boys music could be heard in films such as Anne Hathaway’s The Princess Diaries, Al Pacino’s 88 Minutes, Josh Hutcherson’s Detention, and — in a particularly goofy scene — Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite.

NSYNC saw even fewer movie appearances during this time, only showing up in Britney Spears’ Crossroads (and few films we’ll get to in a second). It was at this point in the 2000s when the cultural opinions of The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were more or less solidified, and their appearances in film did much to support society’s views.

For NSYNC, these appearances were less than favorable, as evidenced by their appearances in 2002’s Undercover Brother…

… 2003’s X2: X-Men United…

…and 2011’s Just Go With It.

In each of these appearances, the music of NSYNC is associated with dismissal, irritation, physical discomfort, and guttural expressions of pain. These reactions do not signify something fondly remembered by the cultural population.

The movie breakdown wraps up — and I declare a winner — on the next page!

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