FLASHBACK FRIDAY: *NSync: Fullfilling Dreams (European magazine, 1999)
A soft, sing-song voice croons through the ward of the German children’s hospital. Nurses stand around, not saying a word, their lips pressed together with smiles. At the center of the attention is a young, curly-haired Adonis, surrounded by children, some of whom will never get better. He is cross-legged on the floor, at their eye level, singing simple poems. And although the children do not speak English, the point of this meeting reaches them.
“Lean to the left, lean to the right…” he sings, and the children break out in laughter as they follow his movements.
When the meeting is over, the children gather around him, clutching pads of paper for him to sign. Nurses thank him for stopping by. He smiles lightly and leaves without a trace. On the ride down in the elevator, none of the doctors take notice of his watery red eyes and quivering chin.
Outside of the hospital, he hops into a waiting limo and returns to his life as Justin Timberlake, the youngest member of the American quintet, ‘N Sync. His four bandmates are involved in a project today. Justin, sick with a nagging case of laringitus, chose his activity for the day. At this point in time, he seems more saint than sex symbol. He is just 17, but this sudden meeting makes his face seem older.
“We haven’t been there in a while,” he says, shivering and bundling up into a quilted jacket. “It’s very sad, because there were kids here last year who you knew wouldn’t be there the next time. Actually going back makes it more realistic.”
Justin arrives back at his hotel, where a steady stream of adoring fans stands outside. Taking notice of the arriving limo, they instantly break out into a screaming frenzy. Justin is tired, worn out from the constant travel and, although he denies it, a bit crinkled from the shedding of a few tears. Yet out into the mob he wanders, surrounded by heavy security and a faceless sea of adolescense.
“Justin!” one screams. “I love you!”
He patiently shakes hands and signs more papers. A ball wizzes by his head, just barely hitting him, and that’s when security rushes him inside. Justin is in the lobby, a bit shaken, and hidden behind the teenage mask of cockiness is a sign that he is, in fact, terrifed of the mass hysteria.
Sauntering through the lobby at that paticular moment is Justin’s bandmate, Chris Kirkpatrick. Chris, considered ancient at the age of 27, is a severe, dangerous looking fellow who sports his hair in an array of tiny braids. One sentence from him changes that initial impression.
“Yo!” he screams across the lobby, causing a few people to turn in annoyance. “They’ve got free cheese in the dining room!”
Chris is childlike in demeanor while Justin, ten years his junior, is quiet and guarded. On the ride up in the elevator, Chris can hardly contain himself from telling a joke he just got off the internet. Stopping off at a middle floor, we get out…but Chris cannot contain himself from pushing every button in the elevator, which will make it stop at every floor in the building. This is all it takes to send Justin into a laughing hysteria.
I meet with the boys in a suite of rooms. JC Chasez, 22, is something like the typical boy-next-door, almost naive, but very driven. Joey Fatone, 21, a teddy bear-like fellow with facial hair, is feeling cheeky today, and hugs every female in sight. Ending out the mix is Lance Bass, 19, very blonde with a kind face, who talks gently with a smile.
“See this?” says Joey, turning his face to reveal a red scratch, not too big, but deep enough to be hurtful.
“Where did you get that?” I ask, and my question causes the other four boys to exchange knowing glances.
“Fingernail,” he says. “See the shape? It’s shaped like a nail.”
It turns out that Joey received his prize just moments ago, working his way through the mob of fans. A girl tried reaching up to touch his hair, and somehow she ended up scratching her idol when the crowd surged forward. Joey is quick not to blame, however.
“Security made us come inside,” he says. “I’m sure she would have apologized, if she had been given the chance.”
Nobody is going to take a chance with the wound, as it is quickly rinsed with alcohol.
“Joey always gets hurt,” says Chris, light-heartedly but at the same time concerned. “He used up a lot of make-up on our first European tour. All those black eyes to cover up.”
“What can I say?” says Joey, smiling. “I’m just lucky.”
Nobody asks anybody else about anything else regarding that day. Instead they gather in one room for lunch. They seem rather unspoiled and simple popping open soda cans and piling Swiss cheese and assorted meat onto slices of bread.
“Where’s the caviar?” I ask jokingly.
“Haha!” Justin cries with his mouth full, clearly feeling better after his fuel charge. “We ate some of that once, and all of us spent the day taking turns in the bathroom on the bus. We were sick. Except Joey.”
Joey stands across the room, hears the comment, and pats his stomach with a smile.
After the meal, it is time to head down to a local radio station for an on-air interview. The fans still wait outside, but security isn’t taking any more chances. They are escorted out a back way, where it is quiet. The limo drives around to the front, where the girls see it and once again begin their charade. One girl manages to climb up on the back of the limo. The driver, infuriated, blows his horn and slams the brakes.
“We always check behind us when we drive off,” Chris explains, “to make sure nobody is lying dead in the street.”
The traffic is heavy on this late day, and the ride is long. But it gives ‘N Sync enough time to contemplate the immediate givings of life.
“Yeah, we cry sometimes,” says JC, speaking of the downside of fame. “You feel lonely. Isolated. I think that’s normal. But we accept that. We’re doing something we want to do. We’re going to enjoy this opportunity while it’s here.”
“You cry?” asks Chris teasingly. “Not I!”
“Chris cries when he reads fan mail,” barks Lance. “He’s happy because people like him.”
“Chris cried every night the first week of our first tour,” laughs Justin.
“So did you,” says Chris, blushing. “OK, I take that first comment back.”
‘N Sync may be well loved in Europe, but they only recently broke out this year in their homeland, where they now spend most of their time. This trip back to Europe is to basically let their fans know that they are not forgotten.
“It has always been this crazy here,” says Joey, waving his arms around. “We’d go back home to Florida, live anonymously, go to movies, clubs, whatever.”
“Yeah, it was like a game,” says Chris. “To go from insanity to being nobody, really. Well, there were some fans. But for the most part, it was like telling somebody you were in a band big overseas, and they laughed at you. Like it was some huge pick-up line or something.”
Reaching the radio station, I am ready to leave the group when I choose to venture inside. I sit through the interview, listening as they guys churn out pre-planned answers to fans through an interpreter. After an hour, I follow them to a back room, where a worker’s daughter is waiting patiently. She is 10-years-old, is dying from a rare form of cancer which has stunted her growth, yet she once told her father she refused to leave this world until she met her idols. She is brutally honest.
“I have something to tell you,” she manages to whisper, and Chris bends down to listen, and nobody else can hear.
The guys pile back into the limo, and Chris joins them a few minutes later, waving to fans. Once he hops inside, his eyes are red and teary, his face showing the same hollowed expression that Justin displayed hours earlier.
“She told Chris she feels safe enough to let go now,” explains a female manager, smiling.
Chris, biting a fingernail and trying to remain composed, looks out the window and ends on one thought.
“That little girl,” he says, “is what makes everything worthwhile.”