Let me take you back to the late 1990s when we were at the beginning of a boy band craze that would sweep the nation for the next couple years. Middle school girls, like my sister, would dream about groups like 98 Degrees, LFO, and O-Town, while littering their binders and lockers with pictures of the frosted tipped members. I was in high school during this time period, so I couldn’t imagine anything worse than this.
There were countless boy bands during this time with some being legitimate superstars, and some being nothing more than forgettable one-hit wonders. Standing at the top of this boy band mountain was the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. Without question, they were the two most popular groups at that time, and it’s still debated to this day which band was actually better. Both groups had a massive following of passionate young female fans, who would fight to the death to prove that one was better than the other.
We could argue forever about the positives and negatives of both groups, but let’s look at the facts:
Who Was First?
One of the most common arguments among Backstreet Boys fans and NSYNC fans was debating which group came first. Fans on each side would claim that their group was the original, and the other one was nothing more than a copy.
According to Wikipedia, the Backstreet Boys released their first single (“We’ve Got It Goin’ On”) in 1995, and their first album (Backstreet Boys) in 1996. For NSYNC, Wikipedia says that they released their first single in 1996 (“I Want You Back”), and their first album in 1997 (NSYNC).
Interestingly enough, while the Backstreet Boys had huge success outside around the world with their first album, their debut studio album in the US actually came out after NSYNC’s. A repackaged version of their self titled album was released in the US in August 1997, while NSYNC’s debut album was in May.
It’s close, but we’ll give this one to the Backstreet Boys since they had the first single, and an earlier debut album outside of the US.
Winner – Team BSB
Both groups churned out big hits for a couple of years, but let’s take a look at their Billboard Hot 100 performances to really get an idea of who was bigger. The Backstreet Boys have had sixteen singles make the Billboard Hot 100, while NSYNC has had only seven. For the Backstreet Boys, twelve of their singles reached the top 40 and six broke into the top 10. For NSYNC, all seven reached the top 40 and two broke into the top 10. If we look at single sales, the Backstreet Boys have had three singles reach platinum status, while NSYNC has had none.
Looking at albums, the Backstreet Boys have had eight albums in the Billboard 200, while NSYNC has had five. All of those Backstreet Boys albums reached the top 10, while only three of NSYNC’s achieved that feat. For album sales, the Backstreet Boys have had five albums reach at least platinum status, while NSYNC has had four.
*As a note, NSYNC impressively broke the first week album sales record for No Strings Attached, but both Millennium and Backstreet Boys have higher overall sales totals.
Let’s give this a visual breakdown:
|Billboard Hot 100 Singles||16||7|
|Billboard Hot 100 Top 40||12||7|
|Billboard Hot 100 Top 10||6||2|
|Billboard 200 Albums||8||5|
|Billboard 200 Top 10||8||3|
Winner – Team BSB
Longevity and Legacy
While both groups ruled the pop music world for a couple of years, their popularity was short-lived. The boy band craze was officially over by the mid-2000s, and groups like the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC became nothing more than comedic afterthoughts. In recent years though, as their teenage fans from the ’90s began getting married and starting families of their own, nostalgia has brought back the boy band love.
From a group longevity standpoint, the Backstreet Boys win by a lot. NSYNC’s last studio album came out in 2001, while the Backstreet Boys have continued making new music and touring through the 2000s. Other than a lame excuse for a reunion in 2013, NSYNC hasn’t performed together since the early 2000s. Even though the Backstreet Boys might not be the multi platinum selling artists they once were, they had albums reach the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2013.
Just staying together for a long time doesn’t necessarily make you instantly better though. I mean, the Beatles never played together after 1969, yet their legacy and popularity endures all these years later. So, how do we determine which of these groups has left a bigger legacy? It’s tough to say exactly, and I’m sure that fans of both groups have their legitimate arguments. So, what’s a simple method of determining the relevancy of a group two decades after the peak of their popularity? How about YouTube video views?
“I Want It That Way” has the highest amount of views for the Backstreet Boys, and it’s currently amassed over 325 million. NSYNC’s highest is “Bye Bye Bye”, with over 130 million views. That’s also the only NSYNC video with over 100 million views, while the Backstreet Boys have three. The Backstreet Boys have seven videos with over 50 million views as well, compared to three for NSYNC.
Winner – Team BSB
Another big debate among boy band fans was which group had the better members. Whether it was looks, personality, or voice, teenage girls constantly argued over which one was the best. Taking a look at the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, both groups had five members, each with their own unique personalities and looks. The Backstreet Boys were more of a well-rounded group, with lead vocal contributions from each member. NSYNC was basically the Justin and JC show, while the other three guys were just kind of there in the background.
Vocally, the Backstreet Boys were the much better group, focusing strongly on their vocal harmonies. Where NSYNC crushed them was when it came to performing. The live shows for both groups were a massive production, but the only boy band that could ever top NSYNC’s dance moves and choreography was New Kids on the Block.
Oh, NSYNC also had some guy named JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE! That clearly trumps any other argument about which group had the better members. Easy win for NSYNC there.
Winner – Team NSYNC
Despite the fact that NSYNC had Justin Timberlake, which I thought about counting as like five wins, the Backstreet Boys pretty handily win the ultimate ’90s boy band debate. They have better chart performances, more album sales, more of an enduring legacy, and they were around first.
Sorry NSYNC fans, but I guess that Backstreet’s back…alright!