Every Friday this summer, Refinery29 explores the passionate, rollicking world of fandom. We’ll take a look at how we organize, create, debate and show our passion for the things we love — the good, the bad, and the loud.
In the '90s, there were two sides, and whichever you choose defined who you were, what you listened to, and, ultimately, who you let in your friend group. On one side was the Backstreet Boys, a five-member boy band formed in Orlando, Florida in 1993. AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, and Brian Littrell came onto the scene with their self-titled album in 1996, when Carter, the group's youngest member, was only 16 years old. The band and their hits — "I Want It That Way," "Larger than Life," and "Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)" — would go on to make it into boy band — and karaoke — cannon. Though some members tried the solo route for a few years, the band reformed and is back together until this day, 26 years later. They even just finished up a two-year residency in Las Vegas that began in March 2017.
On the other sided was *NSYNC, another five-member band — Justin Timberlake, J.C. Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, and Lance Bass — also formed in Orlando, two years after the Backstreet Boys. The flashy, dancing machines gained attention from their first two hits, "I Want You Back" (1996) and "Tearin' Up My Heart" (1997), but the band truly burst on to the scene with their second album, No Strings Attached in 2000, giving way to songs like "Bye Bye Bye," and "It's Gonna Be Me." The band went on hiatus in 2002, and officially announced their breakup in 2007. In-between the hiatus and break-up, Timberlake kicked off his successful solo career with the release of his album Justified.
The massive popularity of these two bands were fueled by many factors, like raw talent and boyish-good looks — but the real force behind these powerhouses was their dedicated, passionate fanbase, who fought tooth-and-nail to defend and uplift their favorite band. Inside each of these opposing fandoms were Sara Taylor — Team Backstreet Boys — and Cinzia DiFranco — Team *NSYNC. Taylor, 30, lives in Nashville and has been a Backstreet Boys fan since she was 9. For the past 5 years, she's been running a blog/fansite about the band, What Happens On The Backstreet. DiFranco, 37, who is from Hamilton, Canada, became an *NSYNC fan in high school in 1998, at age 16. She hosts a weekly boy band podcast with her friends called Boy Band Break. Since then, Taylor and DiFranco have each spent thousands of dollars and devoted countless hours to their respective boy bands.
The debate between fans of each camp over which band rules supreme has gone on for the better part of three decades, and it's about time that the band's biggest fans go head to head. So, Refinery29 brought together two of the biggest superfans (over the phone) to have them hash out over their obsession with their beloved boy band and address the decades-long tension between the two fandoms. And while they may disagree on some (most) things, they do agree that no other boy band rivalry comes close to the one between BSB and *NYSNC.
Refinery29: What got you each band in the first place?
Sara Taylor: "Backstreet Boys just sounded better to me, honestly. I've always been an old soul so they were more my speed — they had more of a maturity about them. [I started listening to them] around the same time my dad had passed away, and I feel like everything was changing, but they were a constant. It feels like we've grown up together.
I've discovered a lot of my passions because of them, like traveling (I learned how to fly by myself because of concerts), and writing. I used to write fan fiction when I was 13, and it grew into my blog, What Happens On The Backstreet.”
Cinzia DiFranco: "My friends introduced me to the Backstreet Boys in 1997, so I was a big Backstreet Boys fan for about two to three months. But on Jan 20, 1998, 'I Want You Back' came out, and immediately my friends and I were drawn to *NSYNC — and after seeing the music video my eyes were immediately drawn to Chris. I was like, Who is this crazy guy? He seemed like a lot of fun. And back then you had to choose what team you were on: Team *NSYNC or Team Backstreet Boys:We chose *NSYNC. That was kind of it.
Their music is more upbeat than Backstreet Boys and we also consider them to be better dancers. Four months later, on April 17, 1998, we actually did an autograph signing [and] my mom let us skip school, and my grandmother took us on the train to go see them in a really mall. I think that really made our connection to them even stronger, because we met them when they first came out. And then I was there for [*NSYNC's] very last performance together, in Miami at the Challenge for Children celebrity competition weekend in 2004. They performed the National Anthem at the basketball game."
Taylor: "Backstreet Boys is that they felt like underdogs. There was so much less exposure than what *NSYNC had. Backstreet Boys, for example, didn't have the dolls, [or] as much merch in the stores. They seemed less gimmicky."
DiFranco: "It's funny because that's something I liked about *NSYNC. They did not take themselves as seriously.They were making fun of themselves. But I do agree that *NSYNC had somewhat of an advantage because of the [media] attention they were getting."
Taylor: "But Backstreet Boys felt like they had more of a warmth about them. *NSYNC was the "commercial" band and Backstreet was about the show, the talent."
DiFranco: "The funny thing is that my friends and I didn't mind that, and even cashed in on [the commercialism] a bit. We bought these giant tubs of the *NSYNC lip glosses on eBay and would resell them. It was hilarious. We were marking them up for like $20."
Cinzia said *NSYNC were better dancers. What do you think, Sara?
Taylor: "They were better dancers...but I feel like that was to cover up their vocals. Because I feel like *NSYNC was very, lights! Cameras! Dancing! because they can't actually sing. And I feel like their CDs were very "digital." Very produced, very auto-tuned. And that's the other thing about *NSYNC, that there's only basically two members: Justin [Timberlake], JC [Chasez] and then the other three. I'm supposed to hear all five."
Which band was a true triple threat?
Taylor: "I personally think the Backstreet Boys were and still are because they have something for everybody, even for guys. And while they may not be the best dancers, they nail what they do. They don't put on a bad show."
DiFranco: "*NSYNC. They were better dancers and had more distinct personalities. They covered a lot more of the spectrum of flavors. And they put on a really good show. They have a few good actors as well, starring in movies like On The Line (Lance Bass, Joey Fatone), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Joey Fatone), and Friends With Benefits (Justin Timberlake)."
Taylor: "Ironically, a bunch of them were in Nick Carter's movie [Dead 7]. And for the record, I like Justin's acting better than his singing. I've been to two of his concerts — and that was tough because I didn't really want to be seen there — and I just thought they were super boring.”
What are the differences between the fandoms? What bothers you about the other side?
Taylor: "I feel like *NSYNC fans in general are usually more trendy, bandwagon-y. You meet an *NSYNC fan, they say they love Justin Timberlake. With Backstreet Boys fans, there's so much loyalty — and how could they not? They've been together for 26 years. It's a family at this point."
DiFranco: "I have a theory that pretty much every big fandom is the same — you have your longtime fans, your new fans, [and] the members you like more. I don't like generalizing people, but the Backstreet Boys fans tend to be snobby, bragging that their band hasn't broken up and that the guys actually care about the fans because they've been together for 26 years. [They] take for granted for their band hasn't broken up yet — yes, Kevin left [Backstreet] for a few years, but they haven't experienced the extreme loss of your band breaking up and constantly hoping they get back together."
Gun to your head: What's the opposing band's best song?
Taylor: "If I had to choose, I'd say 'I Want You Back,' because it has such a '90s vibe. It's one of those defining songs of the era where you hear it and feel transported back to that period."
Taylor: "That's my favorite."
DiFranco: "That's a pretty good one. Another one is 'I Just Want You To Know.'' I like the video and the campiness of it."
Was there ever a time your loyalty strayed from your band?
DiFranco: "To be honest, after *NSYNC had broken up, I went to a dinner boat cruise in Toronto for Howie's lupus foundation. I won an auction to lunch with Howie and I saw how awesome and chill he was."
Taylor: "Didn't you feel like you were going against your band? When I met Chris and Joey at FandomFest in Louisville two years ago, they were just super nice guys. But I kept thinking, I don't want to like you!”
What do you feel was a peak moment of tension or animosity between the two fandoms?
Taylor: "Backstreet Boys had broken the world record for the first week of sales for Millennium, and *NSYNC took it away from them right after when they released No Strings Attached. It felt like for everything that Backstreet did, *NSYNC would come up behind them and do the same. Thinking about it still makes me mad. [Backstreet] really worked for every single thing they had. They opened the door for *NSYNC, and *NSYNC was a fun, bubblegum-pop group for a younger crowd, so their road was easier. Backstreet get more respect now, but at that time the fans had to work so hard to get what they deserved."
What are the weirdest facts you know about your bands?
DiFranco: "Lance [Bass] dressed up as a fictional dog character named Poofu when he was 14 for his first job."
Taylor: "AJ fills in his goatee with mascara." (Laughs)