For label president Barry Weiss and a handful of other Jive Records bigwigs, the celebration began the night before the SoundScan chart officially revealed that ‘N Sync’s No Strings Attached had sold 2.4 million copies in its first week – the best first-week-sales showing in history. “We went to the Palm for dinner, had some lobsters and shook our heads in disbelief,” Weiss says. “We thought, ‘Look at us five schmucks around the table – we just made history.’ “
In a way, it was déjà vu all over again. Jive also made history last May, when the Backstreet Boys trumped Garth Brooks‘ first-week-sales record by moving 1.1 million copies of Millennium. But the ‘N Sync figure – more than double Bsb’s – makes that landmark seem as quaint as last year’s fastest Pentium chip. No Strings Attached continued its blockbuster sales in its second week, selling 811,000 copies. “We expected it to be huge,” says Jive’s vice president of artist marketing, Janet Kleinbaum, “but what you think ‘huge’ is and what it actually turns into . . . It takes your breath away.”
The question many in the record industry are asking now is whether ‘N Sync’s success was a fortunate fluke or the teen-pop explosion moving to a whole new level. “There’s now the potential that if you have the right album at the right time, you can do this,” says Geoff Mayfield, charts editor at Billboard. “You now know it’s possible to reach that many people in a week, and that’s kind of exciting.”
Perhaps it’s most exciting for Jive Records, which will release a new Britney Spears album in May and has another Backstreet Boys album slated for October. Dick Odette, senior vice president of music merchandising for Musicland and Sam Goody, says he doesn’t foresee the Spears album matching ‘N Sync’s, but he thinks the Backstreet Boys have “a pretty good chance.”
Though No Strings Attached was expected to be a blockbuster, even the Jive camp was stunned when the numbers came in. Its success, they say, is the happy result of a number of converging factors. Kleinbaum cites a media blitz in the weeks before the album’s release, during which the group appeared on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Saturday Night Live and the cover of Rolling Stone. An exhaustive MTV campaign reached an estimated 15 million fans and culminated in a March 21st release-date appearance on TRL. The label also points to pent-up demand for a new ‘N Sync album (it’s been two years since the group released its diamond-certified debut) and the highly publicized story of the band’s battle to emancipate itself from its previous record contract. “There was a lot of fan empathy for what the group went through as far as its legal woes,” says Weiss.
Another crucial factor was that the Number One single “Bye Bye Bye” was released to radio – but not stores – ten weeks ahead of the album. That’s not an unusual tactic, but it paid off in spades. By all accounts, No Strings Attached sold more than a million copies its first day. And it wasn’t just teen girls who were snatching them up: Buyers included everyone from older women to Latino men, says Virgin assistant manager of music Edward Spalding. “It crossed all boundaries,” says Spalding, crediting the airplay of not only “Bye Bye Bye” but also an earlier duet with Gloria Estefan.
And where were the five young men of ‘N Sync when the March 26th SoundScan figures marked them the new undisputed kings of the pop world? In Japan, a country not yet under their spell. “I called them at three in the morning,” says their manager, Johnny Wright, “and they were jumping around, asking for sake. What we really wanted to do was score a Number One album, which we’ve never had. Selling what we sold on the first day and the first week was just icing on the cake.”
This story is from the May 11th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.