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This NSYNC Member and Backstreet Boy "Couldn't Be in the Same Room"

These two singers went from despising each other to collaborating as friends.

Back in the late '90s and early '00s, one of the biggest stories in music was the boy band rivalry between the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. And you might think now that it was generated by the media and young fans who chose their favorite band and stuck with it, members of the groups felt the competition too. In a new interview with Variety, Backstreet Boys singer AJ McLean and NSYNC singer Chris Kirkpatrick talked about the not-so-positive feelings they had about each other all those years ago and how far they've come. While they used to not be able to be "in the same room," McLean and Kirkpatrick are now performing together. Read on to find out more about the old rivalry and how they eventually became friends.

Singers from three different '90s boy bands just performed at a benefit together.

AJ McLean, DJ Lux, Jeff Timmons, and Chris Kirkpatrick performing at An Evening to Save Lives: Music For Life in June 2021
Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

McLean, Kirkpatrick, and 98 Degrees singer Jeff Timmons all recently performed in Las Vegas at a fundraiser for the Victoria's Voice Foundation, which helps youth amid the opioid crisis. According to Variety, McLean and Kirkpatrick "humorously debated which of their bands is superior" by doing back and forth performances of some of their hits. Timmons also performed a remix of 98 Degrees' "The Hardest Thing".

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Kirkpatrick admitted to feeling competitive in NSYNC's heyday. 

Chris Kirkpatrick at the People's Choice Awards in 2002
Featureflash Photo Agency /

During the interview with Variety, Kirkpatrick said, "There was a time when I couldn't be in the same room with this guy," in reference to McLean. "But there's always been a mutual respect," he continued, "and now that we're all parents, we've grown up. Reflecting on things, it's cool to see what each of the bands did and how it all worked together."

Kirkpatrick also said there was a rivalry with 98 Degrees.

98 Degrees at the Teen Choice Awards in 1999
Featureflash Photo Agency /

Timmons told Variety that, in 98 Degrees, he felt that there was more competitiveness within the group than between themselves and other bands. "We always had a mutual respect for these guys and didn't see it as a competitive situation, but as you get older you appreciate the opportunities you have to do this kind of stuff [together]," he said.

Kirkpatrick disagreed.

"That's a lie!" he said. "Back in the day, there was competitiveness. There were underlying things that we all had. I was afraid of you!"

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The competition between the groups was even more complicated behind-the-scenes.

Backstreet Boys at the Billboard Music Awards in 1997
Featureflash Photo Agency /

The members of the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC didn't just feel a rivalry because they were similar groups and divided fans. The groups also had the same manager, Lou Pearlman, who purposely stoked their animosity towards each other. (Pearlman would later be convicted of a number of crimes and sentenced to prison. He died in 2016, still serving a sentence.)

NSYNC member Lance Bass produced a movie about Pearlman, The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story, in 2019. In an interview with Yahoo! Bass said, "The animosity was real because Lou made it real. He would always tell us certain guys in the Backstreet Boys would say this—and then he would tell them that certain guys in NSYNC would say this. He did a really good job at pitting us [against each other]. So when we would ever see each other—at awards shows and that type of stuff—we would completely steer clear of the Backstreet Boys because we didn't know if they hated us or not."

Bass said that the band members began to realize what was happening around 1997 when they participated in a charity basketball game together and actually got to compare their experiences with Pearlman.

There are no hard feelings among the former teen idols now.

AJ McLean at the "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" premiere in 2019
DFree /

With the rivalry ancient history at this point, Kirkpatrick and McLean can even perform together. They premiered their song "Air" at the fundraiser, which they released as the group ATCK (All the Cool Kids). McLean founded ATCK, which features a revolving roster of singers. Timmons and Kirkpatrick had previously worked together in the group Sureshot, which was created on the VH1 show Mission: Man Band in 2007. The other members were LFO's Rich Cronin (who died in 2010) and Color Me Badd's Bryan Abrams.

"We're gonna announce the 98 Degrees/Backstreet/NSYNC World Stadium Tour, come 2022," Timmons joked in the interview. He added, "We've always admired them and certainly would love to do something with all three together." McLean said of being friends with both men now, "It's pretty much like the Three Stooges."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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