Chris Kirkpatrick was in the recording studio two weeks ago when a phone call came in from Justin Timberlake. "I thought to myself, 'This is weird,'" Kirkpatrick says. "We usually talk about once every other week, and we'd just spoken five days earlier. I called him back and we caught up. At the end he said, 'Oh, there's another reason I called. I'm getting this award, and I'm wondering if you think the other guys might be interested in coming and performing?' I was like, 'For you, of course.'"
'NSync's reunion would have been the biggest story of 2013 MTV Video Music Awards had Miley Cyrus not introduced America to twerking, but it was still a major moment. We spoke to Kirkpatrick about the reunion, his thoughts on Miley, his close friendship with the four others members of 'NSync and their uncertain future as a group.
Did the call from Justin shock you?
Not really, but it was just two weeks away. I was like, "Oh, looks like I have to get back into workout shape. I gotta get my dancing shoes on." Joey [Fatone] and Lance [Bass] have done Dancing With the Stars. I know they've kept up. The most dancing I've done recently is in a club.
And you hadn't even sung with 'NSync since a Bee Gees tribute at the Grammys 10 years ago, right?
Yeah, and even during that we just stood up there and sang. It wasn't crazy choreography like the old days.
Did Justin explain his vision for the reunion on the phone?
Yeah. What he basically said was, "We're going to get together. I'm doing a big medley and I want to have a part where you guys come out and sing with me." So I was like, "Sounds great." We went down to his show in Miami. After our first rehearsal, I got back to my hotel and I was just covered in sweat. I look at my fiancée and I was like, "I thought we were just singing. Looks like we're doing a little more." She was just like, "Yeah, looks like it."
Describe that first rehearsal.
It was really cool. Probably a year and a half ago, the guys all came down and surprised me for my 40th birthday. We stayed up all night and basically just talked. That's the only time we'd all been together in the five or six years since our vocal coach passed away. We all see each other separately, but getting us all together again like that . . . It was funny, because everybody falls back into their roles and the jokes start coming and we make fun of each other again. It was just like old times.
Where did you actually rehearse?
We were at the Fillmore in Miami. Justin played an after show there, and that's where he was doing rehearsals for his whole performance. They had a really nice room there, and that's where we did it.
Did your dance moves come back quickly?
Mine definitely didn't come back quickly. I was the one that was cursing a lot and fumbling around. It was funny, because I did one thing and Justin looks over and is like, "Are you OK?" I had tweaked me knee a bit. Back in the day, we would sit there and go, "Are you OK? Do you have this?" Now he was like, "Are you OK? Did you break anything?
Who was the best dancer and who was the worst during rehearsals?
Lance and I were definitely the worst. That's always been the case. We got it eventually, but it always takes us a lot longer to catch up. J.C. [Chasez] and Justin are definitely the best. Joey fluctuates. He can be the worst and he can be pretty good, too.
Did the performance change much as you rehearsed it?
We had a run-through of what it was. We wanted to get the right hits, especially the choreography we did. So we didn't have the final mix of it, but it stayed consistent with the songs and what piece of each song we were doing.
How hard was it to keep this a secret?
That was the hardest part. We were all just so excited. It's fun to be performing again. My friends were asking and I was like, "I'm going to Justin's show. We're probably just going to stay down here for a little vacation." My fiancée and I went down. Then, suddenly, we were flying up to New York, and it just so happened the VMAs were going on. It got leaked a bit, so that's when people started going, "I've been hearing rumors. What's going on?"
We had to keep it hush-hush. I was like, "No, we're just here." I think it got a little troubling when some of the guys were going out of their way to lie about it. I was like, "Listen, don't lie about anything. Just don't say anything."
It's pretty tough to keep a big secret in the age of Twitter.
Yeah. And once you see the three of us together at Justin's show . . . J.C. was just randomly flying to Miami a few days after his show, and anybody could have seen him anywhere. A couple of times our cars were followed going to rehearsals. When we got to New York after it got leaked a little, a couple of us would go out together and have drinks. People were putting it up all over the place. Back in the day, we never really had any social media. We had a website. That was pretty much all the social media we had, so now it's almost like a whole new world for us.
But with this whole reunion, my Twitter blew up. I think my followers doubled just in the week we were in Miami and New York.
Now with cellphone cameras, every single person is paparazzi.
Tell me about the Brooklyn rehearsals.
We just had one of those, and it wasn't even in Brooklyn. It was in New York at SIR, just to keep it polished up. We literally had one rehearsal at the day of the event on the stage, and that was pretty much it.
It must have been surreal to be at SIR singing "Bye Bye Bye" with the four other guys after all these years.
It was really cool. It was so nostalgic. We are like brothers. There's things about all of us that we hate about each other, and there's things about all of us that we love about each other. But just to be together again and see everyone just glowing . . . Even Justin was like, "It's cool to have you guys here and be up here like this."
Being a solo artist must be tough, because you really don't have other people to share it with as much and really understand things. And we brought back all the old jokes, all the old stories. There were memories that some of us had forgot. It would be like, "Hey, do you remember that time . . . ?" It was funny that it was practice, but so much of it was catching up and being together.
There were rumors online that you guys were unhappy the reunion performance was so brief. Any truth to that?
Are you kidding? No. Not at all. Honestly, we were just so happy that Justin asked us. We were all like, "Anything we ever need, we just do for each other." If Joey needs something from me, I'm there in a heartbeat. If Lance needs something from J.C., he's there. Just the fact that we got that moment together again – it was magical. We enjoyed every second of it. Now, granted, we were going there with claws on the ground, kicking and screaming, trying to hold it as long as we could, but no, we were completely happy with how long and what we did.
Did they keep you hidden backstage?
Yeah, we were kept in this little tiny corner. I was getting stir crazy in the room, but we got to go out and say hello and talk to a lot of our old crew and people that used to work with us.
What was it like when you were about to rise onto the stage during the broadcast?
I was nervous when we were in Miami learning everything, because I didn't want to mess anything up at Justin's big moment. This is a big deal for him. In the back of my head I was thinking, "Don't do something stupid that's going to stick out or take over his moment." I didn't want people saying, "Do you remember when Chris went the wrong way or fell down?" It's such an honor that he was getting. We grew up in the MTV generation. The Video Vanguard award is what they give Michael Jackson, Madonna, the huge icons.
It's weird to think that you guys are now elder statesmen.
Yeah, tell me about it. Last night I was at the One Direction party for the launch of their movie. I'm seeing all these kids and I'm hearing those screams and I'm getting flashbacks of trying to duck and cover. To see these kids talking to me like I'm a grandfather, it's really cool. It's respectable, because I'm a fan of these bands. The guys in Big Time Rush are good friends of mine. I got to meet One Direction and they're really nice kids, and they make good music, too. It's fun to sit back and make the excuse of being older so I don't have to do this crazy stuff anymore.
The guys in One Direction can't hide anymore. With Twitter, their fans know where they are every second of the day.
Right. Exactly. We couldn't even imagine that. In our day, somebody would have to run and find a cellphone. Two-ways were big. Now, they have live video chats of them sitting down to eat.
When Justin told you he was leaving the group, did you guys think about carrying on as a four-piece? Did that even come up for a minute?
We've never kicked that idea around. The band is who the band is. For nostalgic purposes, it's nice to think about – but we would never. We're not 'NSync without all five of us. As much as we enjoyed that moment, we wouldn't go chasing that again without every piece of the puzzle.
Do you think something might happen in the future? Another tour, maybe?
It's funny, because when we were all together, everything jumped back. I felt 10 years younger. There wasn't any real bickering and nobody had any animosity, which we have had before when there were little problems amongst us. But it's all water under the bridge. We just enjoyed being around each other. I can't count anything in, but I can't count anything out either.
I saw the Monkees a few weeks ago and those guys are pushing seventy. This isn't something that you really age out of.
Right. I've had Micky Dolenz in the studio and he's told me some of the most outrageous stories on the planet. And there's a difference between being nostalgic and . . . I think our biggest thing is that we're all still working and a couple of us are still doing music. We all enjoy music. It's not just Justin putting out new songs. J.C. had a new record, and hopefully he's going to go back and make another one. We're not really into the whole, "OK, that was fun. Now let's live on nostalgia and do something just because that was big."
Eventually, it'll be there. In 20 years, when we're not all into new things, we'll be in Las Vegas or something performing. The nostalgia's there and it's important, because we have some amazing fans. We want to give them the best moment. I've gotten tweets from kids saying, "Wow, thank you so much." And I want to tweet each and every one of them back and say, "No, thank you." This is what makes us happy, and we made other people happy doing it. It was a great experience for us to enjoy it again.
I can see you guys reuniting when you're in your 50s or 60s.
Yeah, though probably without as much flipping and maybe a little less choreography.
I think lots of people assume the four of you aren't that tight with Justin anymore, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
That's just because we started out as a group and suddenly Justin is out on his own and we're not doing anything. I mean, J.C.'s had a record and I'm producing. I've got my little tiny corner going on. People look at it as Justin's blowing up and now he left the group. It really wasn't like that. Everybody wanted to work on their own things, and it just happened that Justin's thing was his music. And once that ball got rolling, it would be really hard for him to come back to the group thing when he's got these other things going on.
We all went to see his show, and it was amazing. We all had huge smiles on our faces just watching him be Justin Timberlake now. It's like going back from that kid we all started the group with, and looking at it now . . . It's such a pat on the back to us. Mostly we're saying, "This is great. We're so proud of him."
What happened after the VMAs?
We went to a couple of after parties. Then my fiancée and I went back to Justin's apartment, or condo, and sat there and just talked. And he was like, "This made me so happy. This was so great, all of us being up there again." It was so much fun then – of course it's going to be fun again. As I said, there are things about each other that we hate, but there's tons of things about us we love. And all of us being up there and clowning around, it was a blast.
I'm sure it was hard to always enjoy the group the peak of the madness, but now looking back it's probably easier to realize how great everything was.
Completely. Completely. That was so much work, and Justin is still doing it. There was no real break for him. He kept going and going. We all had a chance to stop for a bit and reflect and be like, "Wow, what the heck just happened? This was like the best roller coaster ride we've ever been on." But it's cool, because we all communicate now.
Randomly, within the last six months, because I'm getting married soon, I started this group chat with the other four guys, because usually we just text one-on-one. It'll be like, "Hey, I'm in Los Angeles, what are you doing?" Now with this group chat, it kept building and building, and it picked up to almost every day – for the past six months someone has chimed into the group chat and said, "Hey, I just ran into this person and did this . . . " It's really cool. Now we're all back completely in touch with each other and supporting each other and all our little endeavors. They're all coming to my wedding, so we'll get to see each other again. Everything goes back. It's like old times.
What are your thoughts on the Miley Cyrus performance?
Um . . . Well, it was different. I think she did it for attention, and I think she got attention. If I had a five-year-old I wouldn't want her watching something like that, but she was Miley. It was different, and I think that's what she was going for. I also heard she killed Twitter – it was the most talked-about thing ever. She got attention. In the music business, that's what musicians do. It's about the music, but it's also about doing something crazy sometimes. Think of Madonna back in the day. People would be like, "That's horrible! What was she thinking?" Then the next thing you know, it becomes this nostalgic performance. "Do you remember when she did this?" I don't know. I hear that Miley is a really sweet girl, and it was definitely different.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a company called Working Class Industry. It's production-management-Internet. We do anything related to music. We produce anything. We have a studio that Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews used. We also do local bands, medium bands, TV production. Every day we're down there writing music and putting music out somehow.
My writing team is called the Doppelgangers. We put music on the Internet. Tomorrow it might be like, "Oh, we have a Ford commercial we have to write a jingle for." The next day it'll be like, "Oh, we have an artist we're producing. " The next day it'll be, "We have a song that we just wrote. Let's record it." It's kind of the whole rainbow gamut of music.
Are you open to the idea of doing more reality shows in the future?
I don't know. The reality thing wasn't really my thing. I found out quickly that I'm not a very good reality person, because I'm not that exciting and I'm too honest. People like drama, and I'm not really a lot of drama. I'm not competitive. I enjoy seeing people succeed. There's not a lot of angst and I'm not overexcited about going up against people or things like that. I just enjoy people. Like I said before, I've got this wedding to think about. I'm 41 years old and I've never been married. Now I'm dealing with wedding things. I thought it would be a snap, easy. But it's taking a lot of my time.