This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):
The good news: ’N Sync have finally figured out who they want to be when they grow up. The bad news: It’s Michael Jackson.
On their ambitious third album Celebrity, teen-pop’s reigning princes act like they have something to prove. And maybe they do; after years of growth, the teen-pop bubble finally seems to be bursting. There are fewer new acts on the horizon, the old ones aren’t selling like they used to — and let’s not even discuss A.J. Plus at least half of these guys are so old that the things they sing about doing to their little-girl fans have got to be illegal in many states. You don’t have to be Kreskin to see that Backstreet Boys are doomed to be the New Kids on the Block of the new millennium.
Even ’N Sync must have seen the writing on the wall. And they’ve apparently decided if they want to survive, they’d better wise up — and fast. Hence Celebrity, a deliberate, calculated (cynics might say desperate) bid to up their musical credibility and silence their naysayers. People dissed them for not writing and playing their own songs, so this time, Justin and JC had a hand in 10 of the 13 tracks. Folks laughed at their teenage-romance lyrics, so now they’re writing about their own fame. Critics scorned them for relying on Scandinavian shlockmeister Max Martin, so here they team with the ultra-cool house deejay BT on the stylishly funky track Pop.
Admittedly, most of these changes are for the better. While their last disc No Strings Attached was a two-dimensional collection that alternated between glam-slam hip-pop and cloying ballads, Celebrity aims higher, with sharper urban grooves and tougher sentiments. The albums’s first four tracks in particular — the restlessly hyperkinetic Pop, the sharp-tongued fame-bitch Celebrity, the Pacman-sampling The Game is Over, and the slinky R&B groover Girlfriend — may be the most well-crafted and listenable songs they’ve recorded.
Too bad Celebrity lasts a lot longer than four songs. After that impressive opening salvo, the boys quickly revert to their old ways. Gone, Selfish and Something Like You are wimpy romantic drivel; See Right Through You is a jamming, slamming cliche that could be a leftover from their last CD; Tell Me, Tell Me … Baby and Just Don’t Tell Me That show the boys haven’t found enough new ways to voice the same old claptrap. (Just how many different ways can you tell someone you want them to be your girlfriend, anyway?) And frankly, if there’s anything more annoying than hearing rich teen-pop stars whine about the hardships of fame (Celebrity), it’s hearing them get all defensive about being rich teen-pop stars (Pop).
But all of this would be excusable if it weren’t for Celebrity’s biggest failing: It’s a blatant Michael Jackson ripoff. The sleek R&B-fuelled grooves, the wanna-be tough-guy posturing, the falsetto whooping — they’re all straight from Jacko’s playbook. The Motown influence surfaces repeatedly throughout the album — Brian McKnight produces one cut and Stevie Wonder, for reasons known only to his accountant, plays harmonica on another. But ultimately, it’s MJ the boys are taking after on ain’t-we-bad fare like Up Against the Wall. It’s so obvious, you half-expect to see Justin wearing one sequined glove on the cover.
Frankly, you’d think five guys who want some grownup respect could find a better role model than an overgrown man-child with a pet monkey.