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'N Sync Sinking?; Hubris in Hamptons Car Crash?

 'N Sync | Lizzie Grubman | Steven Soderbergh

'N Sync Depends on Members, Dancers for New Songs

The end of the insipid boy band era may be upon us. So declared Entertainment Weekly in a recent think piece, and now the signs are in place. 'N Sync may be out to implode.

The five-man singing group is about to release its follow-up to the multiplatinum No Strings Attached on July 24. NSA included one big hit single, "Bye Bye Bye," which catapulted 'N Sync beyond the Backstreet Boys and made listening to pop radio a task at best.

The new album, Celebrity, isn't in stores yet but a single, called "Pop," is already a Dud with a capital D. No matter what you hear about "Pop" being the most requested song on MTV, (this is an ignominious distinction since the phone lines are jammed by fan clubs), the song is a stiff on the charts and a stiff on radio. After seven weeks on the Billboard Top 100, "Pop" is pooped at an inglorious number 35. The highest it got? Number 19.

Radio & Records, meantime, charts "Pop" at number 7 on its pop chart. But on the easy listening chart, 'N Sync is also number 7 — with a song from No Strings Attached, of all things, and not the new record.

What makes the imminent release of Celebrity even more daunting, though, is what will comprise the chosen songs. In the past, 'N Sync relied heavily on bland commercial tunesmiths to hand them material from their inventories. Diane Warren was their speed. Or the Swedish hit factory presided over by Karl Martin Sandberg aka Max Martin.

Not this time. Four of the Celebrity songs are written by N Sync's very own Justin Timberlake. He's the one who used to look like a dandelion and purportedly dates Britney Spears. Justin — who's never really had songs of his own on an album before — co-writes with a Spears dancer named Wade J. Robson, also a novice songwriter. One of their songs just shamelessly rips off the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" with this couplet: "If I couldn't buy you diamond rings/And all those other expensive things." Of course, no one ever accused 'N Sync of originality in the past.

Interestingly, the four Timberlake/Robson songs are published by Robson's company, Wajero Music. Usually band members like to stick their names on songs to get part of the publishing royalty — even if they had nothing to do with the song. It's curious that Timberlake seems to have thrown in his lot with Robson, whose only prior credits, according to his Web site, are dancing up a storm behind various bubblegum pop groups.

Timberlake, by the way, has one other credit on Celebrity, a song he co-wrote with a few others called "Up Against the Wall." Last December, Timberlake was sued by a 15-year-old St. Louis girl who claimed that Timberlake invited her to his room, pushed her up against a wall, and then berated her for liking another 'N Sync singer better. "Up Against the Wall" doesn't seem to reference this incident. Instead, the lyrics — posted unofficially on the Web — are about a girl named Shorty who has the singer up against a wall. "She took my hand and never said a word at all/Starting grinding Shorty had me up against the wall."

There's only one song by Max Martin on Celebrity, and it's called — in his inimitable articulation — "Tell Me, Tell Me ... Baby." This may very well be an end to the five-year reign of terror Martin has perpetrated on the teen audience, peaking with his masterpiece, "I Want It That Way." (That song also depended on a "Tell me" chorus, if you recall.)

So is that the last nail in the coffin for 'N Sync? Could be, but we won't count them out just yet. There are still a whole generation of bored 11-year-old girls ready to plunk down their parent's hard-earned money when Celebrity comes out. The question is, beyond the first week, who will pick up the slack. And in a more practical sense, if Celebrity is a bust, where will that leave 'N Sync's greedy record label, Zomba/Jive, and its owner Clive Calder? Calder has used the 'N Sync popularity as leverage with the rest of the record industry. Without Justin, Joey, et all, things may be a lot different for him.

 Hubris Turns to Harm in the Hamptons: Bonfire of the Inanities  

Yesterday, jet-setty 30-year-old PR girl Lizzie Grubman was arraigned in the town of Southampton and released on $25,000 bail. On Friday night, Lizzie plowed her Mercedes SUV into a crowd of club kids outside the Conscience Point nightclub around 2 a.m. EST. Somewhere between 12-16 people were injured, with some victims being helicoptered off to various hospitals. Grubman, whose father Allen is the entertainment lawyer for Sony Music, Sony's Tommy Mottola and nearly three-quarters of the music world, reportedly fled the scene rather than stick around.

She was charged with nine felony counts including six counts of assault in the first degree, a class "B" felony; one count of reckless endangerment in the first degree, a class "D" felony; one count of assault in the second degree, a class "C" felony; and one count of leaving the scene of an accident involving serious physical injury, a class "E" felony.

According to Southampton police, Grubman "had a verbal confrontation with two of the security people from the club" before she hit — with her car — one of those two, plus at least 15 others.

These nine counts now put her on the same list as pals Puff Daddy and Jay-Z, who have their own previous rap sheets. Now when they get together at Mr. Chow's, this gang can compare costs of defense attorneys and publicists (Grubman has already hired powerhouse Howard Rubenstein, who suggested to the Sunday papers that the cause of the accident was Lizzie being distraught over her mom's upcoming cancer operation).

Tom Wolfe himself couldn't have written a better scenario for this end-of-the-'90s disaster. With Grubman's clipboard and headset temporarily shelved, members of another equally disposed PR team were heard roaming about on Saturday proclaiming: "We're the new kings of the world!" I wouldn't be having any coronations just yet, my friends. Summer is not even half over and there's a lot of karma still coming back around.

Soderbergh Havana Great Time in Cuba 

Traffic director Steven Soderbergh is right this very minute in Cuba showing his movie to whomever he can.

Accompanying him on the trip are his Oscar-winning star Benicio Del Toro and producer Laura Bickford.

The Traffic trio are guests of the World Policy Institute — the same people who took Kevin Costner and Thirteen Days to visit Cuba last winter.

"We'll be showing Traffic to film schools and maybe even to Fidel Castro," says Steven Schlessinger of the institute. "We'll also be meeting with specialists in the arts." These trips to Cuba for cultural exchange are now happening on a "fairly regular basis," observed Schlessinger.

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