No Strings Attached is *NSYNC's third studio album that was released on March 21, 2000 by Jive Records.
- Bye Bye Bye 3:19
- It's Gonna Be Me 3:11
- Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay) (featuring Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes) 4:21
- Just Got Paid 4:08
- It Makes Me Ill 3:26
- This I Promise You 4:43
- No Strings Attached 3:50
- Digital Get Down 4:23
- Bringin' Da Noise 3:30
- That's When I'll Stop Loving You 4:50
- I'll Be Good For You 3:56
- I Thought She Knew 3:20
The album title alludes to puppets and the idea of independence that NSYNC earned following a legal battle between its then-management.
NSYNC was signed by Trans Continental Management to Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) in Germany, due to a pre-existing deal, and its distribution rights in the United States were automatically bought by RCA.
In 1999, NSYNC sued Trans Continental and financier, Louis J. Pearlman, due to illicit corporate practices. They cited Pearlman's defrauding the group, which (according to MTV) was more than 50% of their earnings, rather than his promise of only receiving one-sixth of the profits.
The band (whose self-titled debut album and its quick follow up had commercial success) insisted "they have not seen enough of the profits" that they had generated by selling eight million albums in the United States alone.
On October 12, 1999, Trans Continental, along with RCA's parent, BMG Entertainment, filed a $195 million suit in a federal court to bar NSYNC's transference to Jive and from performing or recording under their current name, and also to force NSYNC to return masters recorded in 1999 in preparation of their second album.
With an undisclosed settlement in 2001, NSYNC finally severed its contract with Trans Continental and switched labels from RCA Records to Jive Records, which releases its contemporaries such as the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.
The titling of the album is similar to the Backstreet Boys' who also had legal wrangling with Pearlman which concluded to a settlement in October 1998 that was not disclosed. The Backstreet Boys "took a shot" at Pearlman by titling their 2000 album "Black & Blue."
Meanwhile, the title "No Strings Attached" was announced in September 1999, during when the legal battle was still ongoing.
NSYNC's member, Chris Kirkpatrick, revealed that the title and the album's cover art have a personal meaning to them. According to him, the album was designed to show that they felt they were puppets stranded in strings, which alludes to their destiny being controlled.
In an interview, he further explained the relationship of the strings to the album: "We enjoyed working on this album with the producers, and the only reasons that the strings are still attached on the album is so people can get the whole feel of the vibe of, you know, No Strings Attached. That's what we mean by the strings, so they'll understand that we're not puppets."
Recording & ProductionEdit
While the legal suit was underway, NSYNC continued to record songs for the album.
Despite the band switching label, it still retained its manager and mentor from Trans Continental, Johnny Wright.
With Jive, the band was introduced to American record producer Teddy Riley, who would remake Johnny Kemp's 1988 song "Just Got Paid" with them, and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, who produced "It Makes Me Ill" for the album.
One of the recording sessions for the album took place in a tiny studio in Burbank. The ballad "That's When I'll Stop Loving You" written by Diane Warren was recorded there under the production of French-born producer Guy Roche.
Accordingly, NSYNC insisted that they choose producers and songwriters for the album. On "No Strings Attached", they commissioned Swedish and German songwriters and producers, who had produced songs for the Backstreet Boys.
Aside from getting the album number one on the chart, they wanted to distinguish their music that had been attuned to the styles of the Backstreet Boys, having shared the same producers.
For that direction, they told the Swedish team of Cheiron Studios to change the band's tune. Wright recalls: "We basically told them, 'We like your concepts for songs and we love the way you produce. But you're gonna have to do it in a different way so that it conforms to how we want our sound to be."
This direction resulted to harder-edge songs such as "Bye Bye Bye", which production was handled by the Swedish team.
Max Martin (who also came from Cheiron and was known for producing songs for NSYNC's label mates) also contributed to the album by co-writing and producing the single "It's Gonna Be Me"
Despite the new direction the band had wanted to take, the early recording process found some of the producers and writers submitting tracks which were "in the vein of NSYNC's earlier, softer sound".
The band thought that if the collaborators could not produce what they were looking for, they would find it themselves. This resulted in some of the band members contributing to a number of tracks on the album.
On specific songs, songwriter and producer Veit Renn collaborated with band member JC Chasez (who co-authored the album's title track and three other songs).
Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake helped pen and produce the album's track "I'll Be Good for You".
Lastly, another song that made the record was "Digital Get Down", a song about videophone sex that TV Guide described as "R-rated."
Justin Timberlake said that the album is a diverse body of work that explores dimensions of R&B within pop music. He added that the album "goes totally mainstream and it goes into some dance- and club-style songs".
There are few mid-tempo songs and ballads on No Strings Attached, a result of the band's desire to have a "fun" album.
However, the album did retain the pop style of its predecessor. According to Entertainment Weekly, the album's musical style is that of Top 40, with a funky beat.
In his article for The New York Times, Jon Pareles wrote in 2000:
"Flush with artistic freedom, 'N Sync heads straight for the past: specifically the 1980s rhythm-and-blues that sought to balance pretty melody atop hip-hop's street-level beat. Like the Rolling Stones discovering 1950s Chicago blues, 'N Sync has latched onto the highly synthesized, jigsaw rhythms of 1980s phenomena from Michael Jackson to New Edition to Zapp. In a direct tribute to the new jack swing of the 1980s, 'N Sync remakes Johnny Kemp's 1988 hit "Just Got Paid" with its original producer, Teddy Riley."
On the album, critics noted the song about video cybersex, "Digital Get Down". Accordingly, it is a clear indicator of post-pubescent consciousness of the group.
In the article "Parents' Guide" published in Entertainment Weekly, Lois Alter Mark analyzes the contents of new albums at the time, including No Strings Attached. Accordingly, the album's recurring theme is about puppy love, and has sexual content that is categorized as mildly suggestive and a language that is preteen friendly.
"No Strings Attached" topped the Billboard 200 chart, selling over 2.4 million copies in its first week.
It set the record for the first album to have sold more than two million copies in a single week, since the chart adopted Nielsen SoundScan data was introduced in May 1991.
The album was certified 9x platinum by the RIAA on April 19, 2000, becoming the highest-certified single disc album in the initial RIAA audit in that year; it broke the record that was previously set by Whitney Houston's "The Bodyguard" soundtrack.
"No Strings Attached" shipped 10 million copies domestically in 2000 alone (of which 9,936,104 were sold, according to Nielsen Soundscan), making it the best-selling album in 2000 in the United States.
At the end of the decade, the album led as the second top-selling album with 11,112,000 copies sold.
According to Billboard, "No Strings Attached" was the top album of the decade. Worldwide, it sold 13.2 million copies in 2000 and was the fourth best-selling album worldwide.
On mainstream reception, "No Strings Attached" received mixed to positive reviews.
Entertainment Weekly's David Browne who gave the album a B rating, saying: "No Strings Attached is overstuffed with tracks clearly concocted with the concert stage in mind."
He further criticized the songs as "synthetic-funk spectacles." However, he added that the group's best performances on the album "arrive only when they drop the pretenses".
Browne's rating the album "B" received a reaction from NSYNC fans. One fan, in its mail to Entertainment Weekly, felt that Browne's review of the album was "totally uncool".
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the senior editor of AllMusic, wrote: "To cynical critics, they very well might sound the same as ever, yet this really blows away their previous record." He (who gave a rating of four stars) said that the album "pulls away from the standard dance-pop formula".
Robert Christgau gave the album a one-star honorable mention and defined the beats as "their statement, the ballads their way of life."
Although they received criticism, author Geoff Mayfield states, "1.59 million units the Boys' Black & Blue sold in its first week because it falls shy of the astounding 2.4 million copies that other boy band, 'N Sync, rallied earlier this year with the opener of its No Strings Attached."
Originally, "No Strings Attached" was due for release in the fall 1999. But because of the ongoing legal battle between the band and its management, it was delayed several times. Towards the end of 1999, it was reported that a settlement had been reached, putting aside the lawsuit that their management had filed.
The settlement allowed the band to freely release the album under its current band name, with a March 7 initial schedule. "Bye Bye Bye" was solicited to radio stations on January 17, the same night the group would debut the song at the American Music Awards.
Jive went on to various means in building the anticipation for the album.
To promote the album, the group appeared on numerous national television shows. Three weeks before the album's release on March 21, 2000, NSYNC did more media, including appearances on MTV, Good Morning America, Saturday Night Live, and the Oscars.
The music video to "Bye Bye Bye" was heavily rotated, which the Rolling Stone magazine called a "seemingly every other half-hour" on MTV.
MTV Networks' then chairman and CEO Tom Freston said: "NSYNC's clear accessibility means that they've been featured not just in heavy video rotation and mini-biographies but backstage, at the Super Bowl, and in looser studio settings like Total Request Live. Anything we can do to allow them to connect with their fans in a non-video environment."
Leading to the release, the tracks from the album were illegally leaked onto the internet. Despite the leaking, it was seen by Johnny Wright as an aid in helping the band reached the sales record that the album held.
Wright thought the early and unofficial release was the opportunity for the listeners to hear more than what the radio was playing. He surmised that the Internet "helped a lot" for the album.