Remembering The Rivalry Between Backstreet Boys and NSYNC

Before BTS Versus Blackpink, before anyone heard of Drake Or Meek Mill, there was a legendary rivalry between America’s two biggest boy bands, NSync And The Backstreet Boys…

The Backstreet Boys were older, both as a band and as people (I’ll always love you, Kevin! But why did you look ten years older than the other guys?). BSB were formed in 1993. The titular boys were recruited by Lou Pearlman, a shady, middle-aged music producer who liked to recruit kids for musical acts, then steal all their money. Yep, Nick, Brian, Kevin, Howie and AJ all responded to an ad in The Orlando Sentinel. It’s not a great origin story for the bestselling boy band in history. It is therefore unsurprising Pearlman decided his cash cows needed rivals. You know, to make them more interesting. Enter, NSYNC…

NSYNC was formed in 1995, also by Pearlman. If The Backstreet Boys were sexy, like Danny Zuko dancing in a leather jacket in Grease, NSYNC was more reminiscent of Danny in the lederman jacket he earned running track. Justin, JC, Chris, Lance and Joey were boys so nice, two of them used to be members of The Mickey Mouse Club (Justin and JC)! Obviously, NSYNC was immediately pitted against The Backstreet Boys for publicity purposes (I mean, they did have the same creator, who won no matter which assortment of young men emerged victorious).

So, has this bubblegum pop rivalry held up in the intervening decades? Let’s assess.


Arguments In Favor:

Boy Band Allegiances Were The Elder Millennial Sorting Hat

Yes, JK Rowling is a transphobic piece of trash. However, The Sorting Hat, and the Hogwarts houses it assigns, gave us four distinct personality types on which to base our identities. But before every fourth grader read about the adventures of Hermione and the less interesting boys she hung out with, we categorized ourselves based on boy bands.

Whether you preferred NSync or The Backstreet Boys said everything about you when I was in middle school. When alone in your bedroom, did you rock out to Backstreet’s Back or Bye Bye Bye? Did you admire the musicianship of Justin Timberlake or the roguish charms of Nick Carter? The Backstreet Boys projected an almost cartoonish image of rugged, working-class guys with hearts of gold. Whereas, NSYNC were cleaner cut than a pair of Gap Khakis. Loving NSYNC meant you were attracted to nice boys you could take home to mom. And having the hots for BSB meant you wanted to be a little naughty…


It Was Adorably Tame

How many rivalries never get nasty? The fight for Boy Band supremacy was so sweet, the meanest it got was talking smack in Teen People. There were no fist fights or shouting matches; there weren’t even any dis tracks. It was the epitome of friendly competition. And while The Boys ultimately emerged as the bestselling boy band ever, NSYNC had a respectable number of hits. No need to cry them a river (Sorry, I had to).  In February of 2020, BSB even invited their former rivals to tour with them! Squee!


Arguments Against


Dancing With Chairs

Why did boy bands do this? Apparently production values really suffer when Lou Pearlman’s embezzling all your money!


Lou Pearlman Was The One Who Profited

Dude ran one of the biggest Ponzi Schemes in American history! Every time a girl bought an NSYNC t-shirt to prove her loyalty, Pearlman made money. Quit playing games with my heart, Lou (Again, I had to). The fact a predator engineered a pop music rivalry to get rich makes it difficult to enjoy.


The Verdict:

I mean, what was this rivalry besides a mirage created by a wicked man? In reality, both bands produced a ton of bops. I’m equally happy to hear a wedding DJ play “I Want It That Way” and “It’s Gonna Be Me.” It’s 2020, and you no longer have to choose between these two collections of nice young men. This rivalry doesn’t hold up, but the bands do!

Sarah Sahagian

Sarah Sahagian

Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as Elle Canada, Flare, Bitch Media, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-host of You Do You: A Dating Podcast. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about politics and live-tweets The Bachelor