The last time all five members of NSync shared a stage together was exactly a decade ago, at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, during a blink-and-you-missed-it medley of “Girlfriend” and “Bye Bye Bye” celebrating breakout member Justin Timberlake’s Video Vanguard Award. The much-hyped “surprise” moment had Taylor Swift fangirling in the audience, but it was so brief — only two minutes of Timberlake’s overall 15-minute musical number — that fans were understandably disappointed. (One disgruntled viewer tweeted at the time that NSync’s cameo was “short enough to fit the entire thing in an Instagram video.”)
NSync’s Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone and Kirkpatrick reunited again for another “surprise” appearance during Ariana Grande’s headlining set at 2019’s Coachella festival, but Timberlake sat that one out. Later that year, when asked about the possibility of a full group reunion, Bass readily told Yahoo Entertainment, “Look, you don't have to ask me — I'm in! I would love to do more NSync music. … If there's any time, it would be right now!”
And so, that brings us to Tuesday’s 2023 VMAs at Newark’s Prudential Center. Amid sightings of all five boy band members in the New York City area the day before the awards and reports that the group had recorded their first new music since 2001 for the forthcoming Trolls Band Together soundtrack, fans grew hopeful that NSync would reunite again on the VMAs stage — hopefully this time for more than two minutes.
Perhaps it would even be announced that Timberlake — whose image has taken a downturn due to the weak sales for most recent studio album Man of the Woods, a critically panned halftime performance at Super Bowl LII, backlash over his past treatment of Janet Jackson and Britney Spears (for which he finally issued a poorly received public apology in 2021), and a cringey 2022 dance video that went viral for all the wrong reasons — had also decided that the timing was right for a career-boosting NSync reunion tour or album.
But as it turned out, NSync did not perform at Tuesday’s VMAs. They only presented. And their appearance came shockingly early in the night, when they announced first on-air category of the telecast, Best Pop Video. The award went to "Anti-Hero" by the night’s leading nominee, the woman Timberlake called “the unstoppable Taylor Swift.”
The “millennial-triggered” Swift looked even more excited than she did back in 2013, as she ran to the stage and exchanged hugs and friendship bracelets with her childhood idols. “I am not doing well pivoting from this to this,” she breathlessly confessed, glancing from the quintet, who she described as “pop personified,” to the Moonperson trophy in her hands. “I had the [NSync] dolls!”
But then Swift asked NSync the question on everyone’s minds: “Are you doing something? What’s going to happen now?” She quickly insisted, “Oh, they’re gonna do something — and I need to know what it is!” But the guys revealed nothing. There was no big announcement.
So, while this anticipated podium moment wasn’t as awkward as, say, that time when the original members of Van Halen attempted to reunite at the 1996 VMAs, and Swift's genuinely shook reaction was an adorable highlight of the VMAs telecast, ultimately, NSync's reunion was anticlimactic — and it no doubt tore up quite a few disappointed fans’ hearts.