In July 2000, teen-oriented music ruled the pop world. Britney Spears had just released her sophomore album Oops!…I did it Again. The Backstreet Boys were coming off their Millenium tour, which would be one of the biggest of the decade. And *NSYNC had their very first number one single.
Fifteen years ago this week, *NSYNC's newly-released song "It's Gonna be Me" jumped three spots and knocked Matchbox Twenty's "Bent" from the no. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 100.
The five man boy-band had taken a turn from their perfectly pop 1997 debut album to produce No Strings Attached, a heavily synthesized rock-influenced kid-safe album about love. *NSYNC sold albums by the truckload. No Strings Attached sold 1.1 million copies on its very first day. In the first week, it sold 2.4 million.
These sales numbers, in March 2000, placed *NSYNC firmly ahead of their constant rivals and fellow boy band the Backstreet Boys. On the tour for this album, *NSYNC grossed about $2.5 million a night, and that number isn't even adjusted for inflation.
The tour sold an incredible amount of tickets mostly because, like the "It's Gonna Be Me" video, it was gimmicky. There were pyrotechnics on the stage. The band flew and zipped through the air on wires. The crew under the stage wore hard hats. The entire production was physically demanding, and Joey Fatone even took a trip to the hospital during the tour.
But that was what made *NSYNC such a force of nature in 2000. They went big. If they were going to shoot a video it would be well-choreographed. If they were going on a stage, it would have every trick they could pull off.
And on top of that, they were clean-cut. None of their contained profanity. Justin Timberlake was in an adorable, marketable sex-less relationship with Britney Spears. They were safe and cute, perfect for the legion of young teen girl fans who swarmed every appearance they made. "If some twelve-year-old sees on the news that I got arrested for cocaine, that affects a lot of people," Lance Bass told Rolling Stone in 2001. "I remember when I was ten and I caught my sister drinking. It was so devastating to me."
*NSYNC's five members — Justin Timberlake, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, JC Chasez and Lance Bass — were massively famous. They played the Super Bowl. They played the Olympics. Despite only producing three albums over the course of a five-year career, they are still the eighth-best selling boy band in history.
But "It's Gonna Be Me" had a secret weapon behind the five fan-winning men who fronted it. The song was written primarily by Max Martin, the biggest pop star-creator of the 21st century thus far. Martin wrote most of Britney Spears's first two albums, penned a bunch of hits for Katy Perry, and, most recently, worked with Taylor Swift on 1989. If there's a single hit-machine in the music industry today, it's not a pop group, it's Max Martin.
"It's Gonna Be Me" starts with a jerking, descending octave, with two repeated notes at the end.
That sequence gives the track momentum, and also provides an easily-repeatable moment. Then there are the harmonics, which are what make boy bands really interesting. Because they have essentially five vocalists (rarely to members of boy bands play instruments when performing even if they do have those abilities), boy bands can create more sonically-complicated songs.
They can switch harmonies in an instant. They can change the vocal range just by moving a member to the front of the group and upping his microphone volume. When you listen to "It's Gonna Be Me" on repeat, you start to hear the pattern; the two-note hit is the signifier of change. Dun Dun goes the base note, and suddenly the group is an octave higher. Dun Dun it hits and you've got J.C. Chasez in front.
It's a smart trick by producer Max Martin because it adds another level of catchy repetition to the song. The hook — Justin Timberlake's snarling "It's Gonna Be Me" — almost exclusively comes at the end of the chorus. Throughout the course of the 3 minute 12 second song, the words "It's Gonna Be Me" are only said eight times.
For comparison, that musical pattern that ends with the double bass is used three times before the first verse. That repetitive sound is effective at moving listeners through the song and creating a melody they can't escape.
This was the last album that *NSYNC worked on extensively with Max Martin. On No Strings Attached, the band contributed about 50% of the lyrics and melody to the album. On their next, notably less popular, album Celebrity, the band would create almost 80% of the content themselves.
The fact that "It's Gonna Be Me" hit number one instead of another track is unsurprising. It's catchy, repetitive, melodic and easy to get pumped up about. Which might be why, in 2012, the song gained a second life. Tumblr users transformed Timberlake's "it's gonna be me" refrain into "It's Gonna be May," a meme to be used for the entire second half of April.
"It's Gonna Be Me" only lasted two weeks at the top of the Billboard chart before it was knocked off by Sisqo's "Incomplete." But in our hearts and souls and the last two weeks of April, "It's Gonna Be Me" is number one forever.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.