Staring lustfully at those shiny bodies, I asked myself a deep and meaningful question: "Which will be crowned the king of solo debut efforts?"
It's clear that in order to make it as solo artists, both will need to be propelled by the right promotional machine, just as they were in their boy-band days.
With their debut solo albums now on store shelves, I can see how the print media are going to promote these guys: together in adjacent windows, and on magazine covers.
The treatment has been evenhanded so far, as magazines have been equally gaga over Justin and Nick. And why shouldn't they be? Nick, with that baby-face innocence and blonde messy hair, is still, even at 22, a dream come true. And then there's Justin, who, when not wearing his hair in an Afro, is worthy of being named the Godiva of eye candy.
Television is on the same path, giving both young artists ample airtime. The music channels are rotating their guest spots between Nick and Justin on all primetime shows. A "news update" of Nick is followed by a "news update" of Justin. With TV, the promotion of the entire body hasn't been lost to both our protagonists, who have altered their images accordingly.
The "Nicky" days have been retired for Carter as he grows into a man of much desire. The sports jerseys, a staple of his younger image, have been replaced with a James Dean leather jacket complemented by dirty jeans and fresh-from-the-floor T-shirts.
Nick is the boy-next-door turned badass, with the Blackfoot Indian chain tattooed on his right arm, providing us some new and wild bedroom fantasies (personally, I'd love to be his Lone Ranger).
He speaks softly and shyly and refuses to indulge interviewers about his personal life (is he gay, bi, confused?), giving him a wholesome quality that we love.
Justin has changed his image less drastically. He still has that trendy pop/hip-hop look and has added the Michael Jackson glove effect, in the form of X-game half gloves. He tries to add street cred to his image by wearing some "bling-bling" and sporting cornrows from time to time.
You can see his P-Diddy influences. There's the slick talking style, the street lingo, the endless self-promotion.
In the end, the TV battle clearly goes to Nick.
His single "Help Me" is currently dominating TRL, because his image change is real and refreshing -- unlike Justin's imitations of others' past successes.
Radio airplay is a different story. Station managers continue to think familiarity is all listeners care about. No one in charge of radio has any balls. (Does one have to check the "I'm a pussy" box on their application to get hired in radio these days?)
Justin's single is getting three times more air than Nick's. Why? Because Justin's song is the same sound as N'Sync's, minus the other four. He hasn't changed his musical style. Radio stations love the status quo.
Nick has changed his sound -- it's rock n roll reminiscent of early '80s power ballads with drum solos and screaming guitar riffs. Since radio stations are the last to love a different sound by an established act, the radio battle clearly goes to Justin.
Looking at these three media outlets, it would seem like a tie. But radio airplay determines, in part, the Billboards, and chart longevity is the biggest factor in an artist's staying power. So, sadly, Justin will probably make it bigger as a solo artist.
Nick really deserves to be on top. He has reinvented himself without Justin's cheesy imitation of other stars. But to be honest, um: we wouldn't mind him on the, uh, bottom either.
--Earnie M. Gardner