You may think of them as saps and perennial second-tier,also-rans bringing up the rear in the boy band pantheon, but to author, journalist, broadcaster and overall friend of the blog, Lori Majewski, 98 Degrees were gods made flesh. Let her explain...
Backstreet versus ‘NSYNC. Justin Timberlake or Nick Carter? Which is better: No Strings Attached or Millennium? As the 20th Century turned into the 21st, boy band fans partook in these battles. While neither of Lou Pearlman’s chart-topping fab fives edged out the other in my eyes (while Backstreet had the better songs, ‘NSYNC bested them as overall entertainers), it was another vocal combo altogether that had my heart from the very start: 98 Degrees.
They’d yet to sign their first record deal when I first met them at the All-Star Cafe in Times Square. “You look like you should be a singing group,” I told the four of them, who were similarly outfitted in sports jerseys (though none of them matched).
The very next day, the quartet — Jeff Timmons, Justin Jeffre, Nick Lachey and Drew Lachey (the “Baby Spice,” he wore a backwards baseball cap) — crashed my office at teen-magazine YM. On bended knees, they presented me a dozen red roses and serenaded me with a few acapella songs. They explained that they were going to be the next Boyz to Men, not the next New Kids on the Block. Indeed, although Drew’s future-wife had been a Rockette, and he’d go on to win Dancing With the Stars, they were pretty useless when it came to choreography. But, boy, could they harmonize! Not long after, I asked them to be the featured attraction at the launch party for my new venture: Teen People. The opening act? A group no one had ever heard of…yet: ‘NSYNC!
Soon after, 98 Degrees became the first white group to sign with Motown, and their first single, “The Invisible Man,” remains one of my favorite songs from the pop 90s. They went on to sell more 10 million records, but they never forgot one of their earliest champions — they even allowed this Star Wars fanatic to tag along when they got invited to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch!
Last summer I got to see 98 Degrees in concert on their sold out My2K tour. It’s been more than two decades since I first heard them sing, and they were as unjaded as ever. They aren’t even bitter that about not being included in the Backstreet-versus-‘NSYNC face-off. In fact, 98 Degrees delighted the 6,000-plus crowd — the biggest bachelorette party I’d ever been to — with their own take on those groups’ biggest hits, “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want It That Way.” But my favorite moment of the night? When they covered the Purple One’s turn-of-the-millennial jam, giving it a totally different meaning. Oh, how I loved partying like it was 1999 again with 98!
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