The seemingly odd-couple pairing of Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake is one of the most anticipated performances of tonight's 49th CMA Awards. But it's not Timberlake's first appearance on the star-studded awards show. That came courtesy of country music's most successful group, Alabama.
From 1980 to 1987, the country-pop supergroup enjoyed an unbroken streak of 20 Number One singles, from "Tennessee River" to "You Got the Touch." They would return to the summit again 12 more times, including 2011's tribute single with Brad Paisley, "Old Alabama." In 1999, Alabama's Twentieth Century LP featured another collaboration, one that caught the band's more traditional-leaning fans off-guard: a song with 'NSync, the world's hottest boy band at the time.
"God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You" was a sweet ballad, originally recorded by 'NSync for their debut LP, released in May 1997. Of the six releases from their first album, the tune became the quintet's first Top Ten hit on Billboard's Hot 100, peaking at Number Eight.
Although their frothy dance-pop ditties were far removed from anything related to country music, the group did have a Tennessee native (Timberlake, from Memphis) and a Mississippi-born member (Lance Bass) among its ranks. Still, the idea of a boy band pairing with a band that would soon be enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame was greeted with some skepticism and more than a few grumbles from fans who wanted their country kept pure. (Never mind that Alabama scored huge Eighties hits with the pop-flavored "Feels So Right" and "Love in the First Degree," among others.)
The Alabama-'NSync single reached Number Three on the country chart (and topped the Canadian charts), giving 'NSync's members their only country hit. For their collaborative effort, the two acts appeared together on the 1999 CMA Awards telecast, with host Vince Gill calling the alliance "some really great music for everybody."
What Timberlake and Stapleton have in store for viewers of Wednesday night's awards show remains under wraps, but don't expect an 'NSync reunion. The band hasn't recorded anything new since 2002. Alabama, on the other hand, embarked on a farewell tour after releasing 2001's When It All Goes South. But they returned, triumphantly, with the LP Southern Drawl, earlier this year. So maybe there's hope for 'NSync fans after all.