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'N Sync: True Tales of the Pop Life

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The guys are now unbelievably rich and famous and, except for twenty-year-old Justin, they are adults with all the world's opportunities and pleasures on a menu before them – guys with cool stuff, eccentric taste and famous friends. They wear pedestrian gear such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Kangol and Nike, as well as fashion-forward stuff like Dolce & Gabbana sneakers, Paul Smith shirts and designer-shredded hand-beaded jeans. Justin admits to "an addiction to cars and shoes" – he's got 450 pairs of boots and sneakers (not counting the ones he's given away), including every model of Air Jordans ever made. In addition to his Prowler, he has a Dodge Viper, an Audi TT, a Porsche 911, a BMW M Roadster, a Mercedes and a Cadillac Escalade with a DVD player, PlayStation 2 and TVs in the headrests. "I've macked that out," he says.

Joey has bought cars for his parents and both his siblings – Mom got a white Cadillac for Christmas. "He's not stingy," his sister Janine says. "We all have nice cars; we all live in houses. We're taken care of. He's good like that." But when Joey gives, he puts a little theater into it. One night the whole Fatone family went to Benihana for dinner, and as the meal ended the chef flipped a set of keys onto Janine's plate. "I'm like, 'All right, whose keys are these?'" she says. "Nobody answered me, and my heart started pounding." She ran to the parking lot and found a red PT Cruiser waiting for her.

Joey has a Star Wars-theme movie theater in his Orlando home. "Before you walk in, you put your hand on a plate, and the door hydraulically slides open," he says. "You walk in, the door closes behind you." Lance has three homes, one in Orlando, one in Mississippi – featuring a Dr. Seuss room – and one on the border of Florida and Alabama in a place called Floribama. "There's actually a bar there where half of it's in Florida, half in 'Bama," he says. "In Alabama, the bar closes an hour earlier, so everyone has to scoot to the Florida end of the bar." He's thinking of buying in Toronto and Los Angeles.

That's not to say they buy whatever they like. JC says, "I haven't done anything crazy with my money." Chris, who grew up in poverty and once spent a winter in a trailer with a hole in the side of it (he slept in his laundry to keep warm), continues to find his wealth strange. "It's absurd to have gone from totally poor to totally rich," he says. "It's beyond absurd. I wake up in my house in the middle of the night and go, 'Whose house is this?' I just wish I could go back and talk to that kid who was poor and wearing dirty clothes and say, 'Dude, I know you don't have a phone right now, you don't have a car, you've had to work since you were twelve just to make rent, but don't worry about it. Some day you're gonna spend as much on rims as you do on rent.'"

Chris bought his mom a home for Christmas last year, but he's not buying much more. "I have a financial adviser who won't let me do anything," he says. "He's so tight that if I go through the drive-through, he makes me call him if I wanna supersize."

There are new interests that have little or nothing to do with money. JC has become a fan of red wine. "I prefer merlots and cabernets," he says. "There's a difference between fruity-tasting wine and oak-tasting wine, and I don't like a lot of the sweet stuff. I like it more bitter." He's also into fine art, an admirer of photographers Peter Beard and Helmut Newton – he just bought Newton's 480-page, 66-pound, $2,500 book Sumo – as well as Picasso and Monet. "Monets remind me of my grandma," he says. "It reminds me of the stuff my grandma has in her house, so it kinda makes me feel comfortable."

He's begun painting. "I'm painting abstract stuff because I'm not skilled enough to do anything else," he says. "Sometimes I'll draw it out on paper first or sometimes I'll just play around and see what I like. You feel like you're five years old again." His paintings take an hour to three days to complete. "It helps me understand stuff sometimes."

Justin satiates his need to understand through his spirituality, reading Conversations With God and The Four Agreements and meditating regularly. "I sit on my bed, close my eyes, breathe deeply and get into a zone," he says. "You get oxygen, and you start to feel, like, dizzy, and you start to kinda drift away. You get that moment where you block everything out, and you just feel, and it takes you to a whole 'nother place. It's kinda like my conversation with God."

Many say Celebrity recalls the music of Michael Jackson's Dangerous. That's Justin's influence. He's taken the soul food he grew up eating to his musical heart. He learned to sing, he says, by listening to Brian McKnight, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green and his idol, Michael Jackson. "The tonality of Justin's vocals and his rhythmic instincts for really percussive singing are very Michael Jackson," says BT. The bodyguards call him Youngblood because, says bodyguard Todd Dukes, "he's got a little soul to him." (It doesn't hurt that he's a good basketball player, loves greens, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, chicken and dressing, and corned beef and cabbage, and believes hot sauce makes everything taste better.) "Justin could've been raised in the black church," says Williams of the Neptunes. "To say that he's got soul is something you expect me to say, but it's true. He doesn't display it that much in this music 'cause this music doesn't call for it, but when it's time for his solo, shit, he might just do it."

Sometimes being in 'N Sync makes it hard to take advantage of the opportunities that being in 'N Sync brings. Joey would like to do a role on The Sopranos, but it could confuse his younger fans. "It's hard to do something like that," he says. "You don't wanna be goin', 'Effin' this and eff that,' and grabbin' your nuts, even though that would be the character. Adults might say, 'Oh I can't let him or her listen to 'N Sync anymore.' And that shouldn't be the case, but it is what it is."

Chris and Justin Planned to bring their motorcycles with them on tour, but management insisted they bring security along when they rode. And Chris says that cuts down the freedom of motorcycles and defeats the entire purpose. "But this whole thing defeats a lot of purposes," Chris says. "The whole business, the whole being known."

Still, their dreams are more accessible than ever. Chris has his clothing company, FuMan Skeeto. Justin is working on a mystery novel. Joey is compiling a home video of footage he shot in Germany years ago during the group's inception. And Lance has a film-production company called A Happy Place, which is in discussions with Meryl Streep for a Holocaust picture. This fall will see the release of On the Line, a Miramax romantic comedy Lance co-produced and stars in with Joey.

One day in Orlando in the recording studio, The Matrix was playing on the television set.

"Jada Pinkett's gonna be bad in Matrix 2," JC said.

"Aren't they filming 3 at the same time?" Lance said.

"Yeah. Man, I'd love to be in that!" JC said, just dreaming.

"How bad do you wanna be in that?" Lance said, seriously.

"No, I wanna be in Star Wars 3. The Jedi War! I'll wear prosthetics and everything!"

"I can make a call," Lance said. The bodyguards' nickname for him is Hollywood. "I know someone."

All the guys complain of not having much time for girls, but there are a few 'N Sync girlfriends right now. JC has Bobbie, his girlfriend of two years, and Joey has his girlfriend of eight years, Kelly Baldwin, whom, he says, he hopes to marry someday. In May they had a beautiful daughter named Brianna. Chris and Lance both have recently been through breakups. "It's weird when you break up with someone," Chris says. "I almost had a nervous breakdown today."

"I don't think anyone would like to be my girlfriend because of the attention level that you can't give," JC says. "We're married to our work, and it sucks for a girl to hear that she's second. It's a tough thing to say, but there's no way around it. I love my four best friends, and there's no way I'm gonna let them down."

There may not be much time for girls, but there's always time to think about them, especially for Joey. He's the one who wears T-shirts that say I DO NOT MASTURBATE on the front and LIAR on the back. The one who grabs his make up artist's ass, play-humps his publicist and winks at models in the front row as he dances. The one the bodyguards call Triple-X. "I think he was the ladies' man in high school," Lance says. "Always dating everybody. All the girls wanted a piece of him because they could get it. He wasn't very picky, I would say, back in high school. He isn't now."

Joey acknowledges his reputation – "I'm the more flirtatious one of the group," he says, but adds that he's faithful to his woman. "Any girl that I've ever encountered to hang out, it's nothing intimate, it's just to hang out and have a good time. From doing that, you get to learn about a lot of different people and different ways of life."

In the beginning, 'N Sync were completely under the control of their manager and their record label. "Our first album was pretty political," Chris says. "It was about satisfying a lot of different people 'cause we were puppets. We were doing what the record company thought sounded good or looked good, or sounded safe." They have since parted ways with both the manager and the label. For the last three years, 'N Sync have been determined to take control of 'N Sync. Now they're very involved in determining the minutiae of their sound and image. "No decision is made without our approval," JC says as he considers the look of tank tops to be sold on tour and whether certain images in the booklet that accompanies the album should be in color or black-and-white. "Everything has to come across our table."

They're a bit skittish about assigning leadership roles within the group, but it seems Justin and JC are heavily involved in shaping the music, Joey and Chris are best at coming up with ideas for the stage show, and Lance handles business and management. All this involvement in their music and their product makes them bristle at being called a boy band. "It's really almost like a bad slang to us," Chris says with a touch of bitterness. "When you say 'boy band,' you're grouping us into a bunch of groups that everybody thinks are very similar, and they're nothing like us. They may be five guys or four guys or other similarities here and there, but it's just one of those things. We've spent six years trying to get out of the shadow of being this boy-band thing."

Perhaps Celebrity, with all its experimentation and attempts to grow up their music, will finally rip them from that dreaded shadow. "I wanna be an artist," Justin says hopefully. "To me, this is our artistry. People have labeled us as not bein' artistic, but after this album I don't think we'll hear 'boy band' too much more. We're trying to grow musically. We're trying to take that step where no boy band has gone before."

This story is from the August 16th, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.

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