Before politics and religion came along, there was another kind of dispute that fueled lunch table debates, one more contentious and life-threatening than all the “who likes who” discussions and celebrity gossip combined: the 90s pop-star face-off. More specifically, Britney Spears versus Christina Aguilera and *NSYNC versus the Backstreet Boys.
Anyone who was raised during the late 1990s knows that calling the *NSYNC/Backstreet/Britney/Christina controversy a “debate” is an understatement. The decision to poster your bedroom walls with JT posters or don a Britney Spears inspired red-jumpsuit was a strategic one, a public declaration of loyalty that could determine your friends and your enemies. But why? I mean, think about it. On paper, *NSYNC and BB were exactly alike, as were Brit and Xtina. Why such hostility? In an attempt to dissect this childhood conundrum, I took to the Internet to uncover the pros and cons of each team and find out what all the fuss was about.
*NSYNC versus the Backstreet Boys
Pro: Justin Timberlake
I think we can all agree that Justin Timberlake was like the cutest white guy with an afro ever. Ignoring the SpaghettiOs-colored hair curls and that one time he wore a full-body jean outfit, this guy was pretty flawless. Not only did he happily dominate *NSYNC’s group vocals, Timberlake also showed to the world that it’s okay for white guys to bust a move every now and again.
Oh boy, do I love sass. Apparently, so does *NSYNC. With songs like It’s Gonna Be Me and Bye Bye Bye, this boy band knew how to lay down the law.
Con: The Asterix
Have you ever tried to find *NSYNC on iTunes? It’s not until you come face to face with that blinking iTunes search bar do you realize you do not actually know how to find *NSYNC because of that stupid, poorly placed asterix. Here’s how the search usually progresses: Insink. InSync. NSync. ’N Sync. N’Sync. ‘NSync. N*Sync. SYNC. I’m sorry JT but if you’re going to bedazzle your band name, I’m going to join the boys on the backstreet instead.
Pro: Album Popularity
Name the most popular *NSYNC album: No Strings Attached (2000). Good. Now, name the most popular Backstreet Boys album: Backstreet Boys (1996), Millennium (1999), Black and Blue (2000). Better. (And notice the timestamps. *NSYNC wasn’t even in the game until Backstreet’s third album. I’d call that a win.)
Pro: Singing Ability
Backstreet Boys without Brian Littrell is like a bowl of Fruity Pebbles without one of the pebbles. Still good. *NSYNC without JT, though, is like chocolate milk without the chocolate: really white and kind of boring.
Con: They keep on going…
Brian Littrell, lead BB vocalist, is 37 now. In 3 years, he’ll be 40 and having a mid-life crisis that will probably result in him doing some crazy stunt involving Madonna at the MTV awards. (Wait, I think I mixed that up…) Maybe it’s just me but watching a bunch of dads attempt to coordinate their dance moves on stage feels wrong.
Now for the girls…
Britney Spears versus Christina Aguilera
Pro: Defined Pop Princess
Britney Spears, in the simplest sense, was perfect. She had the X-Factor, the hip celebrity boyfriend, and girl-next-door song collection that made young girls want to launch impromptu dance routines in the school hallway during every passing period.
Pro: Dance Moves
Okay so maybe Britney’s voice is a little high and yeah, maybe she lip-syncs sometimes but I never claimed she was the best vocalist. Britney, more than her innocent image (lawlz, just kidding guys), was known for her dancing. Seriously, have you seen her Stronger video? Anyone that can make dancing with a chair look that good has a good rep in my book.
Con: That crazy thing…
Cmon, you guys, everyone gets a bad haircut every once and awhile. Britney just wanted to do hers herself, that’s all. Cut the woman some slack. After all, she did warn you beforehand. Don’t you remember? (You Drive Me) Crazy? Sigh. #badsongtitlejokes
Pro: Powerhouse Vocals
Here’s where personal taste steps in. We’ve already established that Brit is a better performer. However, does overall stage presence trump vocal ability? While Ms. Spears may have defined the pop-princess image, Aguilera popularized “The Growl.” What have you done lately?
Pro: Empowering Image
When I think of a strong, confident woman, I think of Christina Aguilera. With her uplifting songs and “I can handle myself” attitude, Tina takes the cake with this category.
I’m totally and completely judging on appearances here which I understand is superficial and probably totally inaccurate but Christina Aguilera’s go-to expression during the late ’90s said “I could kill you with my eyes at any moment.” I still live in constant fear of that potential reality.
So there you have it. Perhaps you weren’t a ’90s/’00s kid (in which case, I apologize). Perhaps you didn’t listen to Backstreet Boys belt their hearts out or watch JT strut his stuff across the dance floor but in the end, everyone learns the same lesson about their pop-star of choice: everyone grows up. So whether or not *NSYNC had more swag than the Backstreet Boys or Christina had the better fashion sense does not matter. What matters is what they meant to us and the memories that came with them. Because in the end, when we’re 40 years old and work is piling up and the kids need to be picked up from soccer practice and fed dinner and homework needs to be done and then Oops, I Did It Again comes on the radio we can pause…ever so briefly…to remember a time when arguing over Justin Timberlake’s afro or Britney’s red jumpsuit were our only cares in the world.