'NSync's Lance Bass talks about making records his way and why boy pop isn't dead; it's just resting.

By Gary Graff
CDNOW Contributing Writer

On its new hit single, "Pop," 'NSync boasts that "We got the gift of melody / And we're gonna bring it to the end." In other words, forget about the predictions of pop music's imminent demise and the tar pits waiting for boy bands and other teen heroes who have dominated TRL during the past three years or so. Co-written by the group's Justin Timberlake, "Pop" -- the lead single from 'NSync's fourth album, Celebrity -- is a bit of a battle cry that dismisses all the criticisms and ill wishes the quintet has grown used to hearing since it began scoring hits. Having co-written and co-produced 11 of Celebrity's 13 songs themselves, the five singers feel they've crafted a career album, one that moves further afield from its the slick sounds of the group's previous discs.

Contributors and guests run the gamut from techno favorite (and "Pop" collaborator) BT to Stevie Wonder (who plays harmonica) and R&B hitmaker Brian McKnight, as well as hot producers such as Rodney Jerkins and longtime 'NSync collaborators Max Martin and Kristian Lunden. Will 'NSync fans buy, buy, buy it? Indications are they will: "Pop" shot straight up radio play lists and immediately topped the TRL chart, while the group has spent the spring and early summer playing to sold-out stadiums even without the benefit of a new album.

Then again, 'NSync is well aware that it could be set up for the same "slump" as the Backstreet Boys. After all, last year's No Strings Attached set the bar at 2.4 million first-week copies, and Celebrity's early showing will be used as a measure of 'NSync's current popularity. Lance Bass tells us he's not worried about it, though. After all, what can a poor boy do but to sing in a pop 'n' roll band?

CDNOW: Has it been weird to be on tour before the new album comes out?

Lance Bass: Well, the tour is going incredible, but it was weird going on tour before the album because we were like, "Well, how are they gonna accept all the new songs?" But they love it. It's cool, because during the new songs they're more attentive and, like, really being quiet. They're yelling at the [people] next to them, "Shut up." They really want to hear the songs.

"Everyone's gonna expect us to beat the record from last year and all that type of stuff, which I'm kinda hoping we don't."

What can we expect from Celebrity?

This is like our baby. We wrote about 90 percent of this one, and it's way more energetic, I think. It's way more dance-oriented. We combined a lot of sounds, from electronica to hip-hop. Every genre of music is on this album. Of course we have the big, epic ballads we always have, the huge movie soundtrack songs and wedding songs. Most of the songs on the album are the big, fun, dance [songs] ...

The thing that we want to show with this new album is just a different sound. It's the new us; every album we try to create and develop into whatever we're trying to go to in the next level. I think we definitely did that with Celebrity. I think you're gonna hear a lot of sounds you've never heard before. We just want to bring something new to the music.

That's risky, of course. Do you have people in your ears cautioning you against taking chances like that?

Oh yeah, definitely. Even with this record, when we ... chose the final songs to go on the album, and probably four or five of the songs, everyone from the record company and everything were like, "I don't know. I don't like that song. I don't think it should go on there. It's too different." And we're like, "No, that's what we want to do. We don't want to do 10 'Bye Bye Byes' and three 'God Must Have Spents.'" We want to ... keep it interesting for everybody, so every song we chose for this album is totally different from each other, but just very, very cool.

"Pop" seems to take a defiant stand against your critics and nay sayers.

Oh, definitely. It's a great first single to release because it really describes the album. It's not radio friendly. There's no songs like it. It doesn't have a formula. It was scary to release it, actually; we just wanted to see how it would do, and like everyone says, the first time you hear it you're like, "Whoa, that's different." The more you hear it, you're like, "OK, that's cool." Then it just, like blew up.

It really describes what we're trying to do; we're trying to change the sound of music. We're trying to show you that pop is basically everything that's popular in the world ... We love the humor in it. That's why we named the album Celebrity; we're poking fun at ourselves.

Or laughing in the face of danger. There's a lot at stake with this album.

There's gonna be huge competition with No Strings Attached, definitely. It's one of those things where everyone's gonna expect us to beat the record from last year and all that type of stuff, which I'm kinda hoping we don't beat, so we'll go ahead and end it now. So the next time we release an album we don't have to beat Celebrity, 'cause eventually you're gonna have to sell less.

So do you think pop is dead, or dying, too?

No, no. It's weird; every decade has its phase of music, and yeah, pop is definitely not going to be as big in the next few years as it has been. I mean, it's been enormous. I think we're very lucky to be one of the ones that kinda stand out. It's terrible for a new pop group or pop act right now; all the new pop artists are kinda getting lost in the dust. Nobody really cares anymore 'cause "Oh, it's going rock.'' So a lot of the baby acts will be disappearing ... and the ones that really made it and stand up will last. Like in the '80s when pop was huge; it was Madonna and Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, and look at 'em now. They continue to do what they do even though they've been through phases when pop wasn't big. They already established themselves, and they had their fan base, and they were always huge. Just like U2 when the rock phase was all in; U2 can do anything they want to every year, just 'cause they did it; they got to that level.

"That's why we named the album Celebrity; we're poking fun at ourselves."

Has 'NSync made it to that level?

We always focus on what we have to do. We never look out and say, "Ooh, they're doing this. We have to do this.'' I think that's what keeps us separated from the rest of the pack; we're constantly thinking, "How can we progress?'' and I think all the rest of the groups and people out there are looking at everybody else, going, "Oh, I've got to do something similar to that, because look how great that worked.'' And by the time they do it, it's already old news, and we're already two steps ahead. As long as we keep focusing on what we have to do, we'll be good.

You've had a lot of big experiences this year -- doing the Super Bowl halftime show with Aerosmith, inducting Michael Jackson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do those help to validate 'NSync, too?

You go through a lot of crap the first four years of your career, and I think it's harder on a group like us that's definitely not respected at all at the beginning; people see five white guys dancing, and it's, "Oh, they're lip-syncing," and all that. You really have to fight the criticism and all the comparisons. So, yeah, we definitely had a long way to go, and we worked our butts off to get here.

Now it's comforting to know that you can do whatever you want to and be very creative, and you know that you're in control ... You have your fan base that are gonna get it and respect it. And even in the industry, getting respect from your peers, it's a great honor.

Please e-mail me at nsync@nsync.freeservers.com