This is a story about the best decision I ever made in my entire life. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
The plan was to impress all of the girls, because impressing the girls was a thing that we were very bad at, and to have any hope of pulling it off we’d need a plan. Since we were making a plan, we decided to go big. Huge even. We were going to impress all the girls so much that they were going to scream out our names with excitement when we were done. We were five of the best friends a Middle School had ever seen, and for one night we were going to be a Boy Band.
The venue was the Iowa Show Choir Festival. It was some competition between all of the High Schools in the area for some trophy I didn’t fully understand. All of the schools performed in the day, and four were selected to go again for a championship round. Between the two rounds there were exhibition acts to keep the crowd excited, and that’s what I signed us up for. It was the perfect venue, because all of the girls from school were going to be there. Half of them were in the choir, and the other half wanted to be supportive of their friends. It was also the perfect venue because every guy that would make fun of us for being in a Boy Band was going to miss it, because they weren’t going to show up to a Show Choir Festival. This was the pinnacle of directed advertising.
We’d never been a Boy Band before, so it was going to take some effort. I was in it, of course, and I had most of the ideas to get the ball rolling. We had Braum, a six-foot giant of a lanky kid who was shy but was willing to try anything once (especially after I peer pressured him into it). I sold him the concept by telling him that he’d be the tall, dark, and mysterious member of the band. There was Shannon, a really good singer who loved to ham it up and be the center of attention. He was going to be the hype man, the guy just behind the lead singer that was going to get everyone to their feet (Justin Timberlake). There was Randel, another soft-spoken guy who was far more attractive than anyone in Middle School had the right to be. He was going to be the loveable cute one. Finally, there was Drew, the popular guy who could sing, dance, and make the ladies swoon. He was going to be the highlight, the main guy. I’m not sure what I brought to all of this. Maybe I was the manager.
The plan was simple. We were going to do an *NSYNC song because they were way more popular than anyone else. Also, their music videos provided all of the choreography we’d ever need. We were going to record MTV all day with one of those 8 hour VHS tapes and hit the two times that they showed music videos. When we got back from school, we were going to fast forward to the song of choice and learn that choreography. Drew’s uncle had a karaoke side business, and with a quick drive over we had the background music to whatever we needed on cassette tape. After much deliberation, we decided on the perfect song: Dirty Pop.
Dirty Pop was ideal for a few reasons. The video had the most choreography, it was the shortest of their songs, and for an event like this it was the second best *NSYNC song, only behind Tearin’ Up My Heart. It was fast, it was catchy, it had plenty of room to let us goof around, and it was perfect. Tearin’ Up My Heart didn’t have all those things. It was slightly longer, it didn’t show much choreography at all, and even though it was the better song to show off to, we didn’t have the tools between the five of us to choreograph anything or make up another gimmick. It was beyond our grasp, so we went with Dirty Pop and set to it.
We had three weeks to get ready, and maybe with more effort we could have had a better looking product going into the concert. Braum was about a beat late with every motion and would forget unless he was directly watching Shannon that we placed directly in front of him. Shannon was a great dancer, but he liked to improvise between beats sometimes, which was gawkily echoed by Braum a half second later. Shannon also forgot to put the pretend microphone (a naked Barbie doll) in front of his face about half of the time. I thought I was doing amazingly well, but had a habit of frowning, furrowing my brow, and concentrating way too hard on the motions. It gave the impression that I was constipated and being tortured to dance. Randel was perfect. He and Braum had agreed to participate as long as they didn’t have to really sing. This left Shannon and I to be backup singers, or Drew and I while Shannon was doing his part. Drew was great, but would often stop dancing in order to sing, breaking our symmetry and causing some infighting within the group. Drew ultimately won out because he couldn’t breathe enough while doing the dance moves to his full ability.
On a good run through, three of us would do the choreography passably well and only one singer would forget that it’s their turn to shine. So we kept practicing. What did it matter if we were perfect? The fact that we did it would be the talk of the town, and it would be so surprising that we’d do ‘well’ no matter the level or our performance. We were going to hit them with Shock and Awe, and the rest really didn’t matter as long as we kept up the act for 3 minutes.
Three weeks we worked. We’d gotten *NSYNC looking outfits (Good Will versions of what they wore in the Dirty Pop video). We had the song down as good as it was going to get, which might as well have been perfect as far as we cared. We’d adopted the motto “Sloppy is our style!”
The day of the concert arrived. We’d watched all of the schools go, including ours. We hadn’t told anyone about what we were going to do. We didn’t want to build it up at all, because shock was going to carry us a long way, or at least that was the plan. During lunch, the runners of this festival got us up on stage while the auditorium was cleared out. We did a full run-through. We learned that monitors are speakers on the ground that let you hear yourself (we decided that full singing volume was the right choice), and that headset microphones were a thing (we’ll take three for our five man band, please). Naked Barbie was on the sideline cheering us on. We felt really really really good about it.
The afternoon went by and it was time for the exhibition songs. We all went up to stage left where the master of ceremonies was. He gave us a few words of encouragement before we went on. The air was electric, my hands were shaking with nerves. We all couldn’t believe what was about to happen. Out in the crowd were at least 10 different schools worth of choirs and choir fans. Our school was front stage left, and we were going to pander to those girls like crazy. Our spirits couldn’t have been higher.
And then we all heard an electric synthesizer on some kind of weird organ setting. We looked on stage and there was a High School senior, smiling at the crowd and playing an introduction to a song we knew all too well. It was the introduction to Tearing Up My Heart, the *NSYNC song that we had agreed would be perfect if it wasn’t impossible. Another High School senior hopped on stage behind a xylophone, and another hopped into a drum kit. They played an instrumental round of the introduction as the last two members of their band moseyed and then in perfect 5-man harmony the High School senior group launched into the lyrics, still playing their instruments. When they got to the end of the introduction with a resounding, “With or without you”, the group all muted their instruments and vocals. Each snagged the nearest carry microphone from the closest stand and they all swaggered into the famous ‘*NSYNC 5’ formation. Despite their being no sound coming from the stage, the auditorium was thunderous. Every last middle and high school girl in the county was on their feet and shrieking at the top of their lungs. The five seniors just looked at each other smiling. One looked at his watch, a funny gag about how long the screaming went. It didn’t die down, it just kept going. I couldn’t believe it. That was OUR screaming!
They didn’t bother to wait for the cacophony to die. One hit a button on a nearby tech device and the karaoke version of the song launched over the house speakers at full intensity. The five of them launched into the choreography of the video without a hitch, five mirrored figures in perfect unison. The screaming raised in pitch and intensity. One of them stepped forward and launched into the first solo. The rest all pandered to the crowd valiantly, and then the five were back in unison while in five note harmony. One mind in five bodies. They pointed at the girls. They winked. They did their choreography. The two main singers did a great job hyping up everyone as they played the entire room, bounding over the stage like they owned the entire room. The other three started to do a series of flips during the instrumental bridges, the most intense being a guy jumping off his friend’s knee, doing a backflip, and landing before sinking into the splits. Out in the auditorium, the mob was melting into Chernobyl.
I looked at my squad. We were deflated and defeated. They were so much better. They looked better. They sounded better. They did flips. Most importantly, their performance caught the audience with complete shock and awe. It was the perfect setup, and we had to follow it. It was going to be a disaster.
I felt bereaved. Braum was visually pale. Drew looked conquered and upset. Shannon took turns saying to each of us “That’s just not fair”, repeating it to our squad members a second time each. Randel didn’t say anything. He was so nervous coming up here that I’m not sure that it was registering to him that another group had just beaten us to the punch.
The music cut out before the song was done, right before the last chorus refrain. Exclamations of “What?!” and other shouted disappointment bellowed from the auditorium. The five seniors looked at each other confused, and then they all smiled and pointed at each other as if some unspoken idea had occurred to them all simultaneously. This was my cue, my chance to save everything. I huddled up my group and told them the one thing we could do to fix everything.
On stage, the five seniors had all taken spots behind various instruments (electric piano/organ, xylophone, drums, bass guitar, and tambourine), and they played the song live on their instruments while singing. Ear piercing shrill echoed through the building to the point it was hard to hear the band. They finished, they bowed, and the auditorium was a cannonade of excitement.
Before the screaming could die down, the master of ceremonies went and congratulated the seniors. Then announced our group.
“Okay everybody, let’s hear it for N*Posters!” Clapping erupted, but no one walked on stage. “I said, ‘up next we have N*Posters!’” The master of ceremonies looked confused, and pointedly looked to stage left. He found us all sitting in the bleachers, blending in with crowd. He made eye contact with me. I simply folded my hands in mock prayer and shook my head back in forth, a look of pure fear on my face.
“I guess that was them, well done N*Posters, let’s give them another hand!”
It is the best decision I ever made in my entire life.