*NSYNC set Tuesday night’s 2023 MTV Video Music Awards on fire when they reunited during the broadcast and presented Taylor Swift with the best pop Moon Person for her Midnights hit “Anti-Hero.” The group — consisting of Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Lance Bass — spent their time onstage reminiscing about their MTV salad days, basking in the glow of the adoring audience, and getting some serious love from a gobsmacked Swift.
But after Swift admitted she was “not doing well” pivoting from hugging her childhood pop crushes to accepting the award, she also said the thing that was probably on everyone else’s mind: “Are you doing something? What’s going to happen now?”
And then… nothing else happened.
The timing of the reunion was fitting, since less than 48 hours later, *NSYNC announced their first new song since 2002, “Better Place,” their boppy contribution to the upcoming Trolls Band Together threequel starring Timberlake; the song is due Sept. 29. In the lead-up to the awards show, longtime fans were freaking out over posters around New York that appeared to tease the iconic *NSYNC logo that led to this site. That led to rampant speculation that, as Swift suggested, “something” would happen during the prime VMA spot at the top of the nearly four-hour program.
The band did not, however, mention the movie, nor the song, during their appearance, which came in the midst of the the ongoing Hollywood writers and actors strike that began in May when members of the Writers Guild of America walked out, followed by SAG-AFTRA members joining them in July, effectively shutting down Hollywood.
*NSYNC did end up promoting the song in an Instagram post first shared on JT’s feed Thursday (Sept. 14), in which the quintet shared their emotional studio reunion (though there were no tags relating to the film, soundtrack or studio on the post). “So many stars aligned, that’s why I hit y’all,” Timberlake tells his bandmates in the video. “If we do this song, it’s a love letter to our fans. I would be honored to have the group on this song. Who’s ready for a reunion?” The clip then shifts to Timberlake behind the boards giving the rest of the group direction on their vocal tracks while recording his own vocals.
The post begged the question: Did *NYSNC break the rules regarding the promotion of movies and/or soundtracks during the strike?
Earlier this summer, SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland broke down the strike rules about promotion of new or previously completed projects, noting that artists are expected to avoid promoting music created for TV, film or streaming under the old contract during the strike.
“Musicians who are members of SAG-AFTRA are equally subject to the rules around the strike — we cover vocalists in the music industry, as well as vocalists in the film/TV/streaming side and some broadcast journalists — and when any member is working on a project as an actor, then the rules mean that they are not in a position to promote that project, even if they are more generally known as a singer or recording artist,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland previously told Billboard.
At the time, however, Crabtree-Ireland also said that members cannot enter into any new music licensing agreements or approve any new tracks for film or TV projects and must cease promoting songs already licensed for the duration of the strike.
However, when reached following the VMAs — without specifically mentioning the band or the song — a spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA told Billboard in a statement that: “While some songs are made for a movie under our Theatrical CBA, others are made under our Sound Recording Contract and acquired via a license deal. Songs that are not made under our Theatrical CBA are not subject to the strike order and promotional rules.”
At press time, spokespeople for Timberlake and Trolls studio DreamWorks Animation could not be reached for comment on the promotion of the song, though a source confirmed to Billboard that the track was covered under the Sound Recording Contract.
The 2023 VMAs were noticeably light on the usual parade of A-list and up-and-coming Hollywood actors taking the stage to introduce acts or musicians plugging their latest acting gigs as promotion has ground to a dead halt while the dual strike by actors and writers enters the fall with no end in sight.
The *NSYNC exception is different from the one governing Swift’s recent announcement and promotion of her Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour concert film. After that project was announced, a source close to the film confirmed to Billboard that the Eras doc obtained clearance under an interim agreement struck by SAG-AFTRA covering individual non-AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) productions that meet the same standards the unions are seeking in their negotiations with the studios; the source added that the clearance was nailed down before the Eras doc was shot in Inglewood, California, during the first three nights of the singer’s six-night run at SoFi Stadium.
Billboard also confirmed that the Swift film is included under an assumed name on the list of approved interim agreement projects.
For now, it’s unclear how much, if any, further promotion *NSYNC will do for the song that appears in Trolls Band Together, in which Timberlake’s Branch reunites with his brothers to get their childhood boy band, BroZone, back together. Though *NSYNC got back together to record the song — and fans are predictably freaking out — in the film, Timberlake’s bandmate brothers are voiced by Troye Sivan, Eric André, Daveed Diggs and Kid Cudi.