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Pixelated Space Girl
A frame-by-frame analysis of NSYNC's 1997 "I Want You Back" music video
Welcome to Deep Dives, a bi-monthly subsection of TMI! Here, I dive deeper into my thoughts about a topic that doesn’t fit in the weekly newsletter.
*NOTE*: Today’s Deep Dive is far, far too long for email, so be sure to click “View entire message” to see the whole thing.
The year is 1997.
I am 12 years old. I am in 7th grade, and desperately want to be perceived as cool. I have a large Beanie Baby collection that is growing by the day. I have listened to a Spice Girls CD once when I borrowed it from a friend during a weekend soccer tournament. I am obsessed with Friends, and spend my free time in computer class reading transcribed episodes online. I am trying to keep my Tamagotchi alive.
Chris Kirkpatrick, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Justin Timberlake, and Lance Bass are in Germany, touring and celebrating the successful European launch of their first album, as well as their first-ever music video.
In a short time, I will become aware of their existence. In fact, every girl in my grade will become aware of their existence, and will be pressured into selecting which member of NSYNC is “theirs”. (There was, of course, also the option of choosing someone from Backstreet Boys, or 98 Degrees, if you’re nasty.) But right now, they are Schrödinger’s boy band — NSYNC both exists, and does not exist.
“I Want You Back” was released in the US on December 29, 1997, eventually topping out on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998 at number 13. It was NSYNC’s first single off their self-titled album, which would go on to become certified Diamond in the US, selling over 11 million copies.
But before all that, the band shot their first music video for that single in Stockholm, Sweden. They’d eventually go on to shoot a second video, labeling them as “global” and “US” versions. The US version is basically a record label-sponsored boys day out playing pool, basketball, and cruising around in a Cadillac to the beach to ride jetskis.
Fun? Sure. But it cannot compare to the cinematic masterpiece that is the original “I Want You Back.”
Wikipedia describes the video as such:
It depicts the NSYNC members in a space station, with many high-tech effects playing out around them. The video was filmed using a green screen, as each member walked on treadmills. The band attempt to contact a girl through a computer, in order to bring her onto the ship, while they are dancing throughout the video.
High-tech effects. Treadmills (the original OK Go?). Contacting a girl to bring her onto the ship, while dancing throughout. All accurate descriptions of the video, yes — but unfortunately, cannot fully describe what you are about to see:
We open in some type of 3D liminal space. The boys are in skintight tees and baggy black jeans, superimposed over the “high-tech” (it is 1997, after all) computer-generated shapes. With earlier context, we know that they’re in a space station. But without it? I’m getting “this is what train stations will look like in the year 2000” vibes.
Justin, heavily enunciating, walks forward to lean against — glass? Is it a window?
Indeed, it is. Here are our dramatic young men, watching as Justin, melancholy, presses against a thin pane of glass — the only thing standing between them and the outside world.
Speaking of “outside world,” just where exactly is this futuristic, “high-tech” place? Well, wonder no more, because a dramatic zoom out makes it clear to us: these boys are in space.
And they’re in a space station no less! A singular metal dome with giant, windowed, tunneled spokes.
What planet is this? A deep maroonsurface with a moon or a sun there above? And it’s covered in stalagmites. Stalactites? I can’t remember which one of those is which. *Goes to Google* Oh it’s the mites, I was right the first time. Honestly, this place looks pretty cool. Very futuristic.
It’s important to remember that it is 1997. Not only is this video massively ahead of the game in dreaming up space stations on other planets, they’re even considering planets we’ve never heard of.
Plus, in this new future, we’d be imprisoning hot little boy bands up on them and making them dance for us in tiny shirts. A future for the dreamers. Elon Musk could never.
THE BEAT DROPS.
And thus begins one of our predominant themes: Joey Fatone having a fucking great time in space.
Let the dancing commence!
The guys are running through a couple simple steps here in a weird, cavernous room. My guess here is that we’re inside the dome. But — is this the space station in its entirety? Where…is everything? There’s like…no buttons? No food generators? Hm.
And now, a new space object has appeared. A ship? It’s giving Mystery Science Theater 3000.
We know the guys aren’t on this ship, because they’re on the station. Is someone coming to visit? Radio in!
Either way, it’s time to dance about it! As voyeurs, we watch from up in some industrial looking rafters as they express themselves in this vacant metal room.
Back to the main dome for a moment, And then a quick flip to a shot of the boys standing over us.
Wait a second. Are they outside? Either the dome has a fantastic skylight, or these guys have stepped out onto the surface of the planet.
A planet that, I guess, we’re learning now, has breathable air. Which leads me to ask: What is the purpose of the dome, then? Why not just build your society out in the open?
Justin reminds us that “It’s hard to say I’m sorry,” which I agree, is true — and makes me wonder what it is he needs to apologize for. It’s “hard to make the things that he did undone”? Interesting. What did he do?
At any rate, it looks like the moon/sun is going down and it’s getting cold in the station now, so the boys have put on their jackets.
As they continue to sing, I’m starting to wonder more and more just what they did to get exiled up here. Are they astronauts? Researchers? Why are they up here alone, forced to dance?
In the meantime, we’re also getting our second glimpse of Joey living his best life here in space.
And again! This planet was made for Joey Fatone!
Now we move into a hallway tube! Someone is in a hurry. Which one of them is this?? The jacket looks a little red, so I think we’re gonna go with Chris.
Plus, considering his later involvement in a potential rescue (details to come) this has gotta be him. He just needed a quick jog. Stretching his legs.
Hot damn. It’s time for some giddy up body rolls.
Our first treadmill shot has arrived!!
Space tunnels, y’all. Just making their way through the space tunnels.
Wait. What’s this?
*GASP* A WOMAN HAS APPEARED.
Is that…Sarah Michelle Gellar?
And she’s gone.
All this time, it seemed like they were singing to Earth — that they’d wronged someone and wanted to be allowed back on the planet. But now I wonder — do they want her back? What are the things they’ve done that they want undone?
She’s shaking all over the place! Her signal is bad! She’s trying to get through. Her wifi has interference from her neighbor’s modem/router combo. There are too many bluetooth devices in her immediate vicinity. She’s got a scheduled therapy session with Lance Bass, and it started 5 minutes ago!
Justin says he’s “trying to figure out just what to do.”
I’ve got an idea. Anything? Maybe…stop dancing? Encourage your buds to stop skip-slapping their thighs and donkey kicking the fucking air, and do something? She can’t get through!
Especially if you’re “going crazy without [her]”?
No. He’s too busy dancing now; they all are.
So, I guess Lance is the only one that even remotely gives a shit about the contact they’re receiving from this girl. Maybe Chris.
Wait, wait! She’s back!
Where the hell is she now? Is this some part of the dome? Down one of the long hallways? And…something is very, very wrong with her. She’s exploded into a bunch of tiny pieces. Except she’s back together again, but then…not. Again. It’s giving Alex Mack.
Guys, I think your transporter is malfunctioning. Where is everyone?
You know what? Don’t worry about it. Pop back on the space tread. Get a little dance going. Have some fun.
Maybe even go back outside again! Breathe in some of that…er, air?
Oh my god. She’s back again! I can’t believe she hasn’t already given up on these guys. She’s reaching out for help now. CAN’T YOU SEE SHE’S IN PAIN?
WON’T ANYONE HELP THE PIXELATED SPACE GIRL?
Using context clues here: “It’s hard to make the things [he] did undone” — I imagine it is, if you’ve caused this agonizing disintegration. She absolutely deserves an apology, at minimum.
It’s clear she needs help, and lots of it. Where the hell is everyone??
Oh, I see.
Busy doing air-nooses on ourselves and winding up for a little supported buddy flip. Important.
For the first time, now, we see a locked panel that apparently one member of the crew is able to unlock with their handprints. Or perhaps all of them? Is this a door that just requires any hands to be on it? Or just…JC’s? Is that JC?
Either way, he unlocks a door to a new tunnel. Are they locked in, or locked out? Is he running off to help our atomized femme fatale?
He is not.
It’s time for Ring Around The JCas he steps up for his verse.
I truly cannot with these little boosted flips. Incredible.
Anyway, I guess the guys have finally gotten the message, because they’re all taking off down this tunnel.
Okay never mind, it’s just three of them. One of them’s Chris; no guesses on the other two.
As we near the halfway point of the video, we’re moving into a little section I like to call “Where’s Lance?” I’m not sure what he did to annoy the director — maybe it’s that he actually cared about the woman that’s been trying to contact them — but have some fun trying to find him in the upcoming group scenes.
And — just to check in: Joey, are you still having fun?
Okay, good. Looks like Justin is, too.
Just as Lance’s face fully makes its way onscreen, the director’s gotta make a quick cut, because, well, Lance.
The guys go off and do some more dancing. Chris jams on the treadmill.
And through all this, despite their best efforts to completely ignore her, Yassified Buffy is back on a screen somewhere, begging for help.
Oh, you “said that everything would be all right,” did you JC? Well, have you told her that? Because I’m gonna be honest, it doesn’t look like everything’s gonna be all right here.
She’s dialing in, pleading for help, and what do the guys do? Go back to dancing, of course. Why not.
Hey, wait a second.
I see Joey having fun back there. Justin, JC, and Chris. Where’s…Lance?
There’s that yellow shirt. I see ya, Lance!
Next up, we get a little individual direct face time for Chris and JC, and happy Joey.
Back to another group shot, and — Lance…?
Oh, there he is. That little tiny disembodied head.
We’ve seen a lot of close ups of every boy at this point except Lance.
At least he gets a half second in front, here.
Welp, a single person is dramatically running down the unlocked hallway again. Where are they headed?
You know what? Who cares, really? More of this.
Have fun, fellas. Sing it, JC!
Oh thank god! Lance and Chris appear to have made it to…the transporter room, I guess. Just in time for the bridge (not spaceship bridge, song bridge)!
Our girl is here!! Along with Lance’s computer from earlier. She just needs someone’s help so she can get on the ship. Maybe these two can help her reintegrate.
But first, a little more dancing.
A little twirl, a front kick. Some face time for Justin.
Okay now I’m sure everyone has had special camera time except Mister Bass. JUSTICE FOR LANCE!! He’s barely featured in the video at all, other than the fact that he may very well be the only one that gives a shit about trying to assist this poor woman.
Who, by the way, is back now, and fully in space.
At least, I suppose, she appears to be intact. Perhaps she has given up and succumbed to her fate, lost among the stars.
Plus, just to note: after her appearance, Justin immediately kicks off into “You’re the one I want,” indicating even further that the song is about her. If they truly do “want her back,” you’d think they would put forth some effort into her rescue. But, I digress.
Pull them pants up, JT. Getcha a lil more squattin room in there.
“Girl, what can I do?”
AGAIN. ANYTHING. LITERALLY ANYTHING WOULD BE GREAT RIGHT NOW. ALSO MAYBE NOT POUNDING THE THIN GLASS WINDOWS INSIDE YOUR LITTLE SPACE DOME.
You know what? Y’all take your time down that little treadmill tunnel. No rush. Not like someone is stuck inside the time space continuum right now, slowly exploding and then reassembling over and over again. No big.
Maybe take some time out for an octopus arm jump.
No worries. A little more face time for our delighted Joey, and…
FINALLY. We’re back to the transporter room and — goddammit. Are y’all even trying? What is this shrug, Chris?
Justin asks, “Tell me what can I do?”
All I can say is, dancing is NOT THE ANSWER!
But we’ll get a closeup of Chris anyway, even after his mistake, and then a quick group jacket number — hey, where’s Lance??
Well, we’re about to get a tiny Lance feature, as he looks on, excited that Chris has located and is pushing up: A LEVER!
Is it doing anything?
Well, I guess not. She’s gone, and the weird spaceship from earlier is taking off now, flung out into the far reaches of space. Perhaps she eventually got tired of waiting to be recovered and decided to move on to another planet covered in…stalag…you know what, I’m not scrolling up.
Did Chris and Lance just launch her?
The world may never know. Our Pixelated Space Girl is off — hopefully whole, and hopefully happy.
So there you have it. NSYNC’s first-ever music video. Sure, there are “high-tech effects,”“dancing,” “treadmills,” and “a girl”. But there are skintight shirts. Handprint scanner locks. Purple pointy planets. And so much more.
Someone should’ve asked Joey if he even wanted to come back.
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If you’re wondering who I chose — I was, at 12, already well into my “I can fix him” era, and was obsessed with a drug-addled, 28 year-old Matthew Perry. No boy band posters for this girl. Too young for me.
Oh my god, have they been *marooned*? Is that what this is? Clever. I’ll allow it.
Why don’t we just say “stalagmatites” and end this madness? One word to rule them all.
My memories of NSYNC are that they were amazing dancers. Super skilled. I am now…wondering if, in reality, that is the case.
Is this really considered dancing? Like, let me just say — if I can do your dance moves, they are not, in fact, dance moves. I know this, because I can’t dance for shit. But I actually think I could do this. I’m going to try right now.
*returns with a pulled hammy*
You know what? All things considered, that went pretty well.