At Philadelphia's spectrum last July, 'N Sync's No Strings Attached tour felt like the end of teen-pop utopia: cameras confiscated, hand-painted signs seized at the door ("The boys will see them backstage") and no pretense that music mattered in a show that was all skits and costume changes. But two subsequent televised stadium cameos – the group's soul-perfect World Series "Star-Spangled Banner" and sure-footed Super Bowl "Walk This Way" – aroused one's hopes. And at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, a crucial problem with the earlier indoor show in Philly was clear even before the boys had danced down the 200-foot runway from the midfield staging area to the stage proper: Nowhere with a roof can hold what 'N Sync have become.
The PopOdyssey Tour's many nonmusical accoutrements improve drastically on last year's hurray for the toy show, the art-directed plays on the word pop, the black-and-white flick with a not-yet-discernibly-cynical Justin doing a respectable Chaplin and, especially, the regular returns to the staging area, giving fans in the stands something closer to the access they craved. But access is a chimera in all megavenues, and said fans – among whom, parents and kiddies aside, teenage girls outnumbered teenage boys by at least fifty-to-one – already had something no one gets in an arena: sky's-the-limit grandeur and the relaxed, if illusory, freedom of the open air.
Of course, there was music, too, and even the unfamiliar songs from the upcoming Celebrity album sounded fine, although one wishes "Celebrity" itself wasn't a dig at gold-digging. Fact is, combining a half-black band that knows its funk with guys who can negotiate our national anthem, the entire 'Sync oeuvre is beginning to sound as classic as Coca-Cola – even "No Strings Attached," even, Lord, "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You." Bland, sure – let's not get silly. But also inevitable, historic, somehow wonderful.
This story is from the July 19th, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.