Boy bands have always known their way around a good double entendre (see Backstreet Boys’ “Get Down” or O-Town’s “Liquid Dreams”) but when ‘NSync released their sophomore album, No Strings Attached, in March of 2000, one song stood out for seemingly bucking the subtlety trend.
Tucked away in the middle of the album, just after milquetoast Richard Marx ballad “This I Promise You” and the defiant — if slightly generic — title track, the slick and skittering “Digital Get Down” was like an eruption of hormones and harmonies all at once, with three and a half minutes of big beats and grown-up innuendo.
Co-written by the group’s JC Chasez, the futuristic, synth-driven track was a marked departure for the boy band, while its suggestive lyrics whipped critics and fans into a frenzy. Were the guys in ‘NSync really singing about the joys of cybersex?
“I lose my mind just when you’re speaking, I see you on the screen, I get to freaking,” Chasez crooned over a pulsating beat and a liberal dose of pre–T-Pain autotune. If listeners still weren’t clear about what the song was about, the chorus left little to the imagination.
Digital, digital get down, just you and me
(You may be) Twenty thousand miles away, but I can see ya
And baby, baby, you can see me
Digital, digital get down, just what we need
We can get together naturally
Or we can get together on the digital screen
Critics immediately singled out the song for its “risqué lyrics,” with a TV Guide reviewer writing, “Do they think the braces brigade in ‘NSync’s audience will recognize the R-rated oomph?”
A New York Times review, meanwhile, described No Strings Attached as “the first boy-band album with a song about video cybersex — a clear indicator of post-pubescent consciousness.”
In 2000, when “direct messages” still meant talking to someone in a chat room or leaving a voicemail on their phone, “Digital Get Down” helped to usher in a new way of using technology. Could our computers — and a strategically-placed webcam — help ease the pain of long distance?
The guys never elaborated on “Digital Get Down” in interviews promoting the album (Justin Timberlake was asked about it once and admitted that “[the lyrics] could be construed that way,” before changing the subject), but it was clear that this was no regular love song. At one point on the track, Timberlake teases a cellular come-on:
Can we get connected?
I need some love and affection baby
I’ll call you on the phone
I hope that I get through
If you’re in the mood and I’m not home
Here’s what you do: leave a message
You know the kind I like
Long before people were writing how-to books about sexting, Justin Timberlake was giving us a crash course in wireless foreplay.
“What’s funny is we joke that ‘NSync invented Skype and FaceTime, but that’s really true in a way,” says John Andosca, one of the hosts of “Digital Get Down,” a ‘NSync fan podcast inspired by the song. “Back in 2000, video calls weren’t even a thing — heck, most people didn’t really have cell phones yet, so the idea about being able to ‘get down’ with someone through a video screen as if they were right there, was like something out of a movie.”
It would be another three years before Skype was launched to market, and more than a decade before Google Hangouts became a thing. But for all the ‘NSync trends best left in the 2000s — frosted tips, overly distressed denim, bad puns — finding new ways to connect with those you love is something we can thank the guys for. Long before we were asked to “socially distance” ourselves from one another, five teen heartthrobs were showing everyone how it’s done.
“It’s 20 years later,” Andosca says, “and the same technology they talked about [for] ‘hooking up’ with someone far away is now keeping people connected.”