Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Tear the Sky Off the Mother

book cover

At Philadelphia's Spectrum last July, 'N Sync's No Strings Attached Tour felt like the end of teenpop 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 by the group--soul-perfect World Series "Star-Spangled Banner," sure-footed Super Bowl "Walk This Way"--aroused one's hopes. And at Giants Stadium in New Jersey June 3, a crucial problem with the earlier indoor show was clear even before the boys had danced down the 200-foot runway from midfield staging area to stage proper: nowhere with a roof can hold what 'N Sync has become.

The Pop Odyssey Tour's many nonmusical accoutrements improve drastically on last year's--hooray for the toy show, the art-directed plays on the word "pop," the b&w 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, teenaged girls outnumbered teenaged boys by at least 50-1--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 'N Sync oeuvre is beginning to sound classic like Coke--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.

Rolling Stone, 2001