As rumored, Arianna Grande brought out most of the members of ‘N Sync during her Coachella-closing performance Sunday night… and the reaction to the collaboration between the reigning pop superstar and the nearly reunited boy-band kings was mixed, ranging from an exultant “OMG!” to something more like “Oh, meh, god.”
Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and JC Chasez first came out as Grande sang “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” which samples the group’s vintage “Makes Me Ill,” and then they stuck around for a joint version of the oldie “Tearin’ Up My Heart.”
The absence of Justin Timberlake was an insurmountable obstacle for some watching at home via the live stream or in the California crowd. Others thought that recreating some of their signature late ‘90s/early 2000s dance moves with Grande gamely joining in was justification enough to spotlight these four in the desert, even without participation from the man in the woods.
At least a small amount of ire was directed at Timberlake for (presumably) saying no and spoiling the potential fun. “JT is no longer touring and couldn’t join N’sync and Ariana for 3 mins at Coachella?” tweeted Erica Beth (@RibaDiva). Wrote Amber (@Yachtzee27), “”I read that JT wouldn’t be at Coachella because he’s on tour, but he just finished the tour. So why not just say it’s because he thinks he’s better than ‘N Sync these days?”
Others thought the whole appearance failed to give the group its due. “The 40-something members of ‘N Sync saying ‘Thank you, Coachella, this has been a dream of ours’ after playing one song during someone else’s set is going to lightly haunt me for the rest of my days,” wrote Rachel Handler (@rachel_handler).
Some viewers complained about how the very muted lighting scheme for Grande’s set made it difficult to get a clear and proper look at the guest act in the present day. “Coachella, turn the damn lights on! N’SYNC has reunited!” wrote Eric Donovan (@goodyerin).
“I mean at this point,” tweeted Ti Butler (@tibutler) along similar lines, “who’s to say it’s not N*SYNC? One of them is dancing in total darkness, so it could be a body double.”
Still, others loved seeing the boys back together, in part if not in full, and compared their appearance to some of the other collaborations of the night — like Nicki Minaj’s somewhat puzzling, possibly sound snafu-plagued appearance. Wrote “Smilekleener” on Twitter: “Just finished livestream of Ariana closing out Coachella, an unfortunate set married with a late start, poor lighting, technical issues with mic, ear monitors (Diddy, Tase & another Minaj fail) but shining moment was w/ N’Sync (JT who?).”
After many years of resistance, Timberlake did rejoin ‘N Sync for a quick one-and-done deal at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. But it’s easy to imagine his reasoning for putting off more such requests: If he says yes to Grande, the next thing you know, he’ll be having to say yes to Halsey, then he’ll be afraid of hurting Lil Nas X’s feelings by turning him down for a cameo reunion. It was also easy to figure the other guys’ reason for saying yes, as it must feel frustrating to see the Backstreet Boys getting rich — again — in their afterlife in Las Vegas while they’re constrained by a holdout. They can’t do a four-fifths reunion on just any occasion without taking flack for it, but Grande’s ask provided sweet justification.
With or without everyone on board, it was still sheer joy for many aficionados of boy-bandom. “That mf N*Sync reunion with Ari at Coachella had me sooooooo lit & emotional at the same time. I’m crine,” tweeted a smitten Dekoda (@Kkodamariee3). And as far as some joint fans of both acts were concerned, one member being MIA left a nice opening. Proposed Jennifer Lai (@jennxlai): “N*SYNC REUNION TOUR but with Ari replacing JT, WHERE IS MY PETITION ARIANATORS.”
The partial ‘N Sync reunion was also good for reviving an entirely different debate: the proper spelling of ‘N Sync/NSYNC/N*SYNC, at least some of which were technically correct at some point in the band’s history.