*NSYNC – It’s Gonna Be Me

Released: 4th September 2000

Writers: Max Martin / Rami / Andreas Carlsson

Peak position: #9

Chart run: 9-18-28-41-54-62-64-69
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 82-70-51-39-26-19-15-9-7-7-5-4-1-1-3-4-6-10-13-15-18-23-28-38-48

It’s Gonna Be Me – the second (or third) single from *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached album – is one of those fascinating cases where the story of its success is incredibly polarised between America and the UK. In the former, this was it: a jewel in the crown of the group’s career. In the latter, it was little more than a modest blink-and-you’ll-miss-it release.

The No Strings Attached campaign will never, ever make sense from a UK perspective. Serving I’ll Never Stop as the second single – while most welcome – served no purpose when It’s Gonna Be Me existed. In theory, it was an attempt to cater to European audiences by serving a song reminiscent of the singles from *NSYNC’s debut album, which were more successful here than in America. That might have worked had the two tracks been handled as equally important to their respective markets, but as soon as you see I’ll Never Stop and It’s Gonna Be Me side-by-side, it’s clear where all the effort went. It’s one thing to know you’re an after-thought – no one outside of America believed otherwise by this point – but it’s another to be treated as such. Particularly when there wasn’t any benefit to be gleaned, since *NSYNC’s touring commitments meant zero promotion occurred. So, after I’ll Never Stop peaked at #13 (completely understandable, but still a minor pop crime, nonetheless), Jive Records seemed to realise their mistake and hurried out It’s Gonna Be Me. Almost as if that’s what they should’ve just done in the first place(!)

The logistics remained the same; *NSYNC would be touring for the majority of 2000, so any promotion for this single tended to be second-hand via American award shows (although a Top Of The Pops performance was recorded). But it didn’t matter so much because that’s – in part – what It’s Gonna Be Me was constructed for. This single siphoned the essence of the No Strings Attached album – both musically and aesthetically – down into a three-and-a-half-minute pop package that would satiate *NSYNC’s fanbase for months to come (it topped the TRL chart no less than 18 times between May and September). By the time it reached the UK, the package had lost some of its potency. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to experience It’s Gonna Be Me and not be acutely aware that you are in the presence of a blockbuster pop single.

By mid-2000, Cheiron had a confident swagger about them, and the tone of their lyrics was becoming ever more assured. That’s particularly palpable in this song, where*NSYNC’s position is far less a reassuring promise of faithfulness and more an impatient demand for attention: “You’ve got no choice, babe, but to move on, and you know there ain’t no time to waste; you’re just too blind to see, but in the end, you know it’s gonna be me”. However, Cheiron’s influence cuts much deeper than that. It’s Gonna Be Me is arguably the pinnacle of exposing their genius at work. It offers a chance to really dissect what made the material tick and how the studio’s identity was stamped across every aspect.

The track opens as a juddering, thumping Cheiron beast, with a distorted growl of: “It’s gonna be me” during the intro. And sure enough, many of the studio’s distinctive hallmarks are present. Crashing chords pepper the song, while the melancholic middle-eight: “There comes a day, when I’ll be the one, you’ll see…” is cut from a now-familiar cloth. Yet, It’s Gonna Be Me is also far more aligned to the overall sound of No Strings Attached, which was not a Cheiron-heavy affair, despite what the run of singles suggested. Instead, the album boasted an eclectic mix of R&B writers and producers (Teddy Riley, Aaron Hall, Kandi, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes). There are elements of that running through It’s Gonna Be Me in the staccato strings during the verses and the squelchy beatbox-y breakdowns. Things even go a bit barbershop quartet with the: “It’s gonna…gonna…gonna…gonna…” harmonised transition into the final chorus.

When recording the song, *NSYNC were encouraged to experiment with the pronunciation of different words and phrases. In places, it’s very evident (“I remember you told…MAY”), but throughout the track, there are subtle alterations: “You” becomes “Yew”; “Them” becomes “Thim”; “It’s” becomes “Eh-ts”. From Cheiron’s perspective, there was no ulterior motive. They wanted their lyrics to have absolute clarity (even if that meant they were expressed unconventionally) and stand out. Over-pronunciation already existed in pop music, but the studio pushed it to the extreme – like so many other aspects of their material – and made an art out of it. This quickly became the de-facto way for pop acts to sing, but It’s Gonna Be Me is a perfect example of why the formula was so hard to replicate. This was never something that Cheiron did for the sake of it; every utterance was intentional and existed because it had been meticulously rehearsed as the best way to deliver that word or phrase.

Further cementing It’s Gonna Be Me – and No Strings Attached – as a moment in pop culture was the music video, which acted as a spiritual sequel to Bye Bye Bye and drew on many of the visual references from the album campaign thus far. It takes place in a toy store and portrays *NSYNC as marionette dolls (which were available to purchase, of course) who break out of their packaging and attempt to catch a woman’s attention. She’s portrayed by Kim Smith, who reprises her role from Bye Bye Bye. After chasing her through the shop – while fighting soldier action figures and being distracted by definitely-not-Barbie dolls – she eventually notices them. As each member of the group is scanned through the till, they turn into actual life-sized people. The action is intercut with some terrific puppet-themed choreography shots, and the whole thing is a snapshot of a pop group at the height of their powers. Even if there are strong riffs on the Al’s Toy Barn sequence from Toy Story 2, first and foremost, the video feels like a product of *NSYNC’s visual identity at the time.

Stylistically, It’s Gonna Be Me is the product of a perfect juncture where digital effects were being readily utilised in music videos, but CGI still came with significant time and cost attached. *NSYNC were on a tight schedule, and that wasn’t an option, so instead, the group wore prosthetic make-up – which looks absolutely incredible (if slightly creepy) – and were filmed at a low frame rate to create the jerky movements you’d expect of toys come to life. Similarly, the majority of the sequences were painstakingly created using actual sets. The shelves where *NSYNC’s dolls are stocked? Real. The dance auditorium housing the choreography shots? Real. The toppling dominoes arranged to create the group’s logo? Real. It’s all real. This is a staggering investment and one that paid off. For while there’s little doubt that *NSYNC would’ve commanded the best CGI possible – and there are some digital zoom effects employed to transition between shots – the technology was evolving so rapidly that it would have quickly started to show its age. Instead, by grounding so much of itself in high-quality filming techniques, the video remains an impressive visual feat and a perfect summation of the No Strings Attached era.

It’s Gonna Be Me very much followed the established trend with this single and experienced wildly different levels of success on either side of the Atlantic. That wasn’t entirely unusual for *NSYNC, but it was more pronounced this time because, in America, It’s Gonna Be Me was the big one: their first and only chart-topping single. It was one of the rare occasions that Jive Records released a track commercially, which helped nudge it over the line. While the label was usually aggressively focused on galvanising album sales by making that the only way fans could own a song, now was the perfect time to complete the narrative. After all, with No Strings Attached having spent eight weeks at #1 – selling 2.4 million copies in its first week alone, in case you need reminding – it would always have seemed a bit weird for *NSYNC not to have a #1 single to their name (arguably an oversight that cost the Backstreet Boys a similar accolade). Thus, It’s Gonna Be Me spent a fortnight atop the Billboard Hot 100, firmly consolidating the group’s immense popularity. There will probably always be a question as to whether this is the song that truly deserves the honour; it’s one of those scenarios where if you asked a casual observer to name the group’s only #1 single, they’d be more likely to pick Bye Bye Bye or maybe even Girlfriend (which peaked at #4 and #5 respectively). However, fundamentally it’s a moot point because Jive Records had so perfected the art of running an album campaign that nothing was left to chance. If It’s Gonna Be Me was the track they’d elected to top the chart, then by hook or by crook, that’s precisely what was going to happen.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, things were going in a completely different direction. Despite the hype radiating from America, No Strings Attached reached #14 here. And I’ll Never Stop threw a real spanner in the works because there’s no way that the follow-up to Bye Bye Bye should’ve missed the top ten, given how impactful a comeback it had been. It’s Gonna Be Me was a step in the right direction, but only just. Considering what this single represents – both in terms of *NSYNC’s status and as a summation of Cheiron at their zenith – a peak of #9 felt jarringly muted. It did see No Strings Attached back into the chart, so there was a measurable impact on the group’s profile. However, arguably what should have been a moment that pushed *NSYNC to the next level became more about undoing the damage from the last single (as much as we love it).

Whichever angle you examine it from, the success of It’s Gonna Be Me felt a little distorted. Should it have been *NSYNC’s only #1 single? Probably not. But it certainly deserved far better than to skim the top ten. In the end, though, the track’s legacy evolved rather uniquely, which puts a new perspective on things. In 2012, a meme was created featuring Justin Timberlake’s face and the line: “It’s gonna be may”. There are now hundreds of variations that circulate each year on April 30th in reference to the forthcoming month. The track has also recorded a significant annual uptick in streams (195% year on year as of 2018) on this specific date, to the point where *NSYNC’s official media channels are now actively endorsing it. In 2021, It’s Gonna Be Me was temporarily renamed It’s Gonna Be May on streaming services, a title that remains attached to the video on YouTube.

So, there is certainly an argument to be made now that the single has very firmly earned its dues as a celebration of Cheiron at their biggest and boldest. Even if it is in a way that no one could have predicted.   

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