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'NSYNC Tour Opener: Dirty Pop And Matching Chaps

‘NSYNC have found themselves in a pickle. The group’s forthcoming album, Celebrity, has been shelved until mid summer. The Backstreet Boys’ most recent record, a bellwether for Celebrity if ever there was one, wasn’t quite the huge success the Boys’ previous two were, causing some observers to even decree teen pop dead. And come to think of it, no one in ‘NSYNC is even a teen any more.

What’s a boy band to do? Well, creating the largest musical production in concert history is one solution.

The PopOdyssey Tour began Wednesday in Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium with a video montage chronicling the history of ‘NSYNC to date: here’s how they met, here’s how they started, here’s how they sued for control of their careers and here’s how they became celebrities.

After the video, the five song-and-dance superstars emerged from a translucent pod at the center of the stadium. From there they pranced down a catwalk and ascended their stage, a metallic fortress replete with video screens, conveyor belts and elevators.

They opened with “Pop,” the first single from Celebrity. It’s the latest in a long line of ‘NSYNC rave-ups, noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Fans call the song “Dirty Pop,” in reference to the much-repeated refrain. Thing is, it’s no dirtier than many of the old, vaguely suggestive ‘NSYNC songs. By keeping the word “dirty” out of the title, the song stays parent-friendly, but by keeping the word “dirty” in the lyrics, it makes the group seem edgier. A nice example of having it both ways.

“Pop” also represents Justin Timberlake’s unofficial ascension to group leader. In addition to singing all the verses, he remained the focal point for ‘NSYNC’s high-concept dance choreography throughout the song. Come to think of it, he was center-stage throughout just about every song. He’s always been a fan favorite, but it looks like his bandmates are finally giving him a larger share of the spotlight.

After “Pop” came a brisk spin through “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” and soon after that member Lance Bass addressed the crowd. “Tonight is very special for us,” he said, “because you’re going to get to hear most of our upcoming album, Celebrity, before anyone else in the world.”

And with that, they dove into… “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You,” from their 1998 debut album.

Later in the show the band actually did reveal some of Celebrity, to the shrill delight of the young female audience. The songs tend to borrow from the accessible end of electronica, co-opting the basic principles of two-step or drum and bass, then sanitizing them and making them a little more pop-friendly.

They’re certainly catchy – this is ‘NSYNC we’re talking about – and the audience loved them, a good sign for the folks back at Jive.

The show featured a number of costume changes, presumably intended to represent the different faces of celebrity. The band became everything from Prohibition-era dandies to cowboys in matching chaps.

During “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay),” the guys rode five silver mechanical bulls, which lovingly bucked them as they waved their arms above their heads. Afterward, it was hard to tell whether member Chris Kirkpatrick was kidding when he ripped off his chaps and said, “These are the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Every so often, another video would roll. Once it was a silent film parody, another time it was JC fighting with his gold-digging girlfriend. And at various points fireworks exploded, smoke poured, lasers flashed and ‘NSYNC glided across the stadium on a rip cord.

Part commentary on fame, part multimedia indulgence, the concert certainly proved ‘NSYNC’s resolve. They’re not ready to quit, and they’re determined to turn their third record into a hit. By the time the tour is over, we’ll know if they succeeded.

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