22 Years Later, The Revenge of NSYNC Is So Sweet
Trolls Band Together proves the haters were always wrong.
Even before a young Frank Sinatra made bobbysoxers swoon with his dreamy good looks and golden voice there have been grumpy souls, generally male and middle-aged, who have taken great personal offense to the existence and popularity of teen idols. There’s an ageist, elitist, and sexist element to this grouchiness rooted in the idea that if an artist’s primary audience is teens or pre-teens then they can’t have real artistic worth. In this view, “real” music appeals to grown-ups, not twelve-year-olds.
Thankfully that joyless, self-serious take on pop music and pop idols is increasingly out of vogue. We’ve learned to love teen idols, boy bands, and girl groups for what they are rather than cursing them for what they are not. The release of the new animated movie Trolls Band Together marks a seminal moment in the redemption of boy bands/teen idols.
The second sequel to the inexplicably, unexpectedly not-terrible jukebox animated musical about magical trolls that fart glitter stars Justin Timberlake, the biggest and most successful boy band alum now that his old hero Michael Jackson is no more.
Trolls Band Together, which features the first new NSYNC song in twenty-two years, pays cheeky tribute to the past in a way that acknowledges that in 2023 being the former lead singer of a popular boy band that made kids scream and sometimes faint should be a source of pride rather than shame. Boy bands have historically been popular and insanely lucrative because they’re handsome and have slick choreography but also because their music is catchy and fun.
“BroZone’s Back”, a song from the Trolls Band Together soundtrack highlights the strength of boy bands through the decades by mashing together New Edition’s “Candy Girl”, New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff”, The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, BoyzIIMen’s “Motownphily”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” and finally the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” in just 83 jam-packed seconds. If you don’t like at least some of those songs your soul is decrepit and are incapable of experiencing joy or pleasure.
Beginning your career as a superstar hit-maker when you’re just a kid, as the fifteen-year-old Timberlake did with NSYNC when they recorded their self-titled debut in 1996 gives you a massive head start in the industry or it destroys you psychologically. Sometimes, as in the case of Michael Jackson, it does both.
Some of the most respected and beloved artists of all time started out as teenybopper idols. There’s the aforementioned Frank Sinatra, of course, but also Elvis Presley and The Beatles as well as Michael Jackson during his time with The Jackson 5. The Monkees were once dismissed as a pre-fabricated attempt to reproduce the success of the Beatles with a fake band created specifically to be on television. That may have been true but it doesn’t mean that The Monkees did not make great music that has endured.
If you want to be reminded of just how massive, important, ubiquitous, and respected former teen idols are all it takes is a trip to the multiplex.
In addition to Trolls Band Together you’ll encounter what is already the top-grossing concert film in history despite still being in theaters: Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. Swift has plenty of company from her fellow teen idols on the list of all-time top grossing concert films. She’s followed by such teen dreams as Justin Bieber (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never), Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert), and One Direction (One Direction: This Is Us)
Swift began writing songs professionally when she was just fourteen years old and initially appealed overwhelmingly to an audience her age and gender.
On December 1st Beyonce (who will always be associated in the public mind with Swift due to Kanye West’s notorious VMA outburst) will release a 150-minute-long documentary based on her Renaissance album and tour. Like Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, Beyonce’s directorial debut looks to be a big deal not just in terms of length but also box-office and cultural impact.
Beyonce started out in the female equivalent of a boy band. She was the wildly charismatic frontwoman of popular girl group Destiny’s Child before going solo.
Knowles is almost universally regarded as one of our greatest and most important living artists, and like so many of her contemporaries and fellow greats, she has a teen idol past that is essential to her creative journey.
The impossibly accomplished Timberlake, who has an Oscar nomination to go along with his ten Grammys, four Emmys (meaning he’s just a Tony away from EGOT status) and hundreds of millions of dollars continues to be successful professionally. Yet he’s finally being held accountable for some of his creepy, problematic behavior towards fellow teen idol and ex-girlfriend Britney Spears (as chronicled in her recent autobiography) and Janet Jackson, whose brother Michael, you might remember, was something of a kiddie idol in his own right.
This reckoning feels long overdue. It’ll be interesting to see whether our affection for Timberlake’s music dating back to his early boy band days is greater than our sympathy and compassion for Spears. In true boy band/teen idol fashion, Spears was initially ridiculed and mocked in vicious and deeply personal ways for embodying teen pop at its purest, cheesiest, and most commercial but is now respected as someone who makes terrific music as well as a sensitive and much-maligned human being.
The Timberlake and NYSYNC revenge is at hand, and thankfully, it feels like a renaissance.
Trolls Band Together is in theaters now.
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