Ahead of the ceremony, Variety caught up with JC Chasez to talk about how the band came together, their “crazy” fashion tour moments and having found a permanent place in Hollywood alongside group members Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick.
What was the musical vision for the group initially?
We knew we wanted to be a harmony group from the very beginning and it started with that idea. So, it was actually very organic. We were all focused on making a great sound, so it’s like if your voice fits in this range, that’s where you’re going to live in the band. It felt natural that way. I didn’t have to worry about singing crazy high parts because that’s what Chris did well, and I didn’t sing crazy low parts because that’s what Lance did well. Then Justin and I lived pretty much in the middle, and Joey sang the parts just under the melody area. Because we had these kind of defined vocal ranges, it clicked.
Did you know “I Want You Back” and “Tearin’ Up My Heart” were going to be lightning in a bottle for a first album?
You don’t necessarily know something is going to be a hit. You just know if you like it. How people are going to react to it, that’s the biggest unknown variable for any artist. I think any artist, every time they release a record, all they can do is hope that it works, but you never know. But sonically, we thought it was fresher. It was newer than anything we had been working on.
What signaled that first taste of U.S. success after having conquered Europe? Was it the Disney concert special that aired in 1998?
We released the album and it was kind of slow traction. So, we were thinking to ourselves, “Okay, this is going to be a long, slow grind. It’s time to put our heads together and go to work.” Then when the special came out, we thought it was going to maybe air once or twice because concert specials were kind of a new thing that Disney was doing. They started to get the ratings, so they would play it again. And they’d get ratings, and they’d play it again. Next thing you know, that’s when we got a feel for it. We were, like, “Oh, wait. They played it four times this week? Now the sales are going up? That’s cool.” At that point, I would say maybe a week after the special came out, you could feel something.
When did “Total Request Live” first contact you guys?
It was pretty early on, not too long after the Disney special. That was a whole new format too. “TRL” was a brand new show and it ended up clicking for MTV. It was right in the middle of Times Square which created excitement on television to see something that was live in the heart of the busiest city in America. You got a real slice of America every day. We came [on] for the first time, kind of danced around, and nobody knew who we were. Cut to three, four years later and they literally have to shut down Times Square — blocking off the street because the crowds are, I guess, a bit troublesome [laughs] for commuters. But to get to that point — it was fun.
What were the craziest moments on tour?
It [was] so ridiculous. One of the sillier thoughts for us was [entering] the show. One of our shows we would enter in disguise basically, [and] then essentially leave in disguise. That’s just how silly it got for us to get in and out of the concert. It was pretty crazy and ridiculous, but a fun memory for sure.
You could say the same of some of the outfits you guys wore…
We never wanted what we wore on stage to feel ordinary. It was important for us to heighten the reality because when you’re on stage — in order for the people in the back to really get something out of it — you have to give them a bit more. You have to project. So, that’s kind of where all the craziness started with the style.
One of the songs that best showcases your voice is “This I Promise You,” which Richard Marx wrote. What was it like to work with him?
That song was a full circle moment for me because the first song I ever sang in public was Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting.” I ended up singing that at my audition for the Mickey Mouse Club. So, that song, I give credit to essentially getting me a job at Disney. So when I got to work with him with *NSYNC, I shared the story with him. We had a good laugh about it, and it’s made us friends ever since. We still keep in touch.