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'NSYNC Seek To Impress With Skills, Not Sales

When they were making Celebrity, ‘NSYNC weren’t fretting about how to follow up a sales record – they were too busy staking out a new sound to carry them into a future far beyond first-week figures, says Justin Timberlake.

And besides, he said, it’s just the economy that’s to blame if the album’s opening week comes shy of the 2.4 million copies No Strings Attached sold last year in its first week on shelves.

“People probably don’t think we think about this kind of stuff, but if you really wanna get technical about it, the whole country, the economy, is down 15 percent,” Timberlake said Tuesday. “So if you put the calculations in to sell somewhere between one-sixth and one-eighth [fewer albums this time], that would be the equivalent of selling 2.4 when the economy was a little bit stronger. But all that stuff, we really don’t take it into consideration….

“We wanna stick around for longer than the first week.”

Industry insiders predict that Celebrity will sell about 2 million copies in its first week, enough to beat out the second-best sales mark held by Eminem, whose The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) sold 1.76 million copies in its first week.

As they’ve progressively done with each album, ‘NSYNC took greater control in the studio this time around and ended up writing the bulk of the disc’s material – a result, Timberlake said, of overcoming any lingering insecurities by realizing their competence as producers and songwriters.

“It’s one thing to go and write a song, but it’s a whole other thing to go in and be turning knobs that you don’t know what they mean, and now we know what they mean,” said the singer, who also assumed lead writing duties on more than half of the album’s tracks. “That’s big to us, and that just comes with experience.”

But it wasn’t easy trying to finish the album while planning PopOdyssey, one of the most elaborate concert tours in history, JC Chasez said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride…. The last record, even though we had a lot of adversity or whatever, it was one thing at a time. You record the record, you promote it, you go out on tour, you breathe for a second. This [was] everything at once.”

‘NSYNC – whose lineup also includes Lance Bass, Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone – enlisted some unlikely collaborators to bring new styles to their sound, including electronica producer BT and red-hot duo the Neptunes, whose hip-hop-heavy résumé includes hits by Mystikal and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

BT, who helmed the boards for Celebrity’s first single, “Pop,” said he was hesitant about working with ‘NSYNC when Timberlake approached him last fall.

“At first I thought, because our music is sort of polar opposites, it wouldn’t really make sense,” he said. “But Justin called me one night and said, ‘Dude, we want to do a track like “The Hip Hop Phenomenon” from the U.K. version of [your] album,’ and I was like, ‘If you wanna do something that punk-rock, I’ll do it.'”

‘NSYNC enlisted the Neptunes for “Girlfriend,” in which Timberlake, ever the heartbreaker, sings lyrics right out of a million female fans’ dreams: “Why don’t you be my girlfriend/ I’ll treat you good.”

The guys return to familiar terrain with “Tell Me, Tell Me… Baby” (courtesy of teen-pop hitmaker Max Martin) and “Just Don’t Tell Me That” but do the two-step on “The Two of Us” and “Up Against the Wall.” There are also frequent shifts into R&B, including the spare “Gone,” and collaborations with Motown legend Stevie Wonder and urban-soul crooner/producer Brian McKnight.

Timberlake said he was dead set on enlisting Wonder after coming up with the harmonica part for “Something Like You” with songwriting partner Robin Wiley.

“I said, ‘We have to get him to do it.’ I mean, that’s the other thing that he’s famous for – besides his incredible voice, he’s killer on the harp. Somehow the record company got a hold of him and it just worked out. He came in and it definitely was a surreal moment. I was sitting at the board, and he’s sitting in the booth playing the part.”

The group has not yet picked the album’s second single. “We’ll listen to the fans and see which ones they like,” Bass said.

“It’s hard to pick because everything is so different,” Chasez added.

After all its experimenting, Celebrity ends rather humbly, with the graceful “Do Your Thing.”

“They were looking for something that could conclude the record and showcase that they are really great singers and they have amazing harmony,” said Paul “PDA” Allen, who co-produced the song with his PAJAM partner J. Moss (Sisqó, Babyface).

“A lot of people think that these guys are just an assembled boy band, but they really studied their craft,” Moss said. “In the studio, they show you that they are all true, talented singers.”

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