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The Decade In Music: 'N Sync's 'Bye Bye Bye' (2000)

[Every weekday from Nov. 9 to Nov. 20, Song of the Day will survey the past decade, one year (and one song) at a time, with an emphasis on America's most popular music. These picks don't exactly qualify as musical discoveries, but they do have something to say about the 10 years we're about to leave behind. Song of the Day will return to new music on Monday, Nov. 23. --ed.]

The decades never break as cleanly as the calendar might suggest. The time period people regard as "the '60s" often stretches well into the early '70s, culturally speaking, while the music, fashion and politics of the '80s run from roughly 1982 until the election of Bill Clinton 10 years later. Revisiting 'N Sync's ubiquitous 2000 hit "Bye Bye Bye," it's hard to imagine the song coming from this decade at all: It exists in a shadowy pre-Sept. 11 world in which telegenic boys perform elaborate G-rated dance moves in unison while selling honkloads of CDs to fans who also collect — and perhaps even play with — the action figures inspired by those boys' videos. (Of course, anyone who visited a clearance rack in the early '00s knows that you could snag those "Bye Bye Bye" puppet action figures for about 98 cents a pop a few months later.)

For as much as "Bye Bye Bye" feels like the end of an era in hindsight — boy bands would soon fade, the group broke up in 2002 after one more album, and No Strings Attached's record-setting sales of 2.4 million copies in its first week seems downright surreal today — 'N Sync's primary players haven't gone anywhere. Justin Timberlake would go on to release the frequently fantastic solo albums Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds, both of which sold millions, while Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick have all experienced varying degrees of TV ubiquity.

As for the song itself, "Bye Bye Bye" demonstrates that, while trends come and go, a propulsive and almost demonically infectious pop tune can still sear itself into a listener's memory with only the slightest provocation. Just referencing that chorus — "It ain't no lie / Baby, bye bye bye" — is enough to drill the song into all nearby skulls for hours, if not days. (Sorry about that, by the way.)

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Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)