Nostalgia Trip: NOW! 5 Revisited

As college students, we’d like to think we have refined tastes and interests. We eat breakfasts of Natty and cold Nice Slice, listen to the esoteric electronica of Nico Jaar (or not) and don’t read pre-Nietzsche philosophy because it’s ignorant. Now it’s hard to believe, but somebody so sophisticated probably watched Rugrats at some point. Nostalgia Trip is here to re-experience the diversions of your youth so you don’t have to.

Before it was a sad advert during a midnight Jersey Shore rerun, Now! That’s What I Call Music was the forerunner in compilation albums, filling the commercial breaks between morning Saved by the Bell episodes with an onslaught of pop music video snippets that screamed: “Buy me, I’m awesome!” The idea behind the NOW! series is quite sensible–people only like pop singles, so make an “album” out of them. NOW! 5 is a particularly salient example of this method, rounding up Janet Jackson, Bon Jovi and ‘N Sync like its Grammy night circa 2000. Since its release, the album has been certified 4x platinum by the RIAA, making it the best selling non-Christmas CD in the NOW! series. We ate it up at the time (most likely downloading all the songs on Napster and burning it to a CD), but how does the beloved compilation of our childhood hold up NOW!adays? Find out after the jump.

1. It’s Gonna Be Me – ‘N Sync

The ominous first riff hits and takes you back to glory days of TRL–Carson Daly was fat, the top 10 mattered and hordes of fans cared enough to congregate in Times Square for a chance to see Justin Timberlake through a 2nd story window. This quintessential ‘N Sync track still has it all: perfectly crafted vocal harmonies, a energy-building modulation and no verses by Lance Bass. It’s so boy band but you still gotta love it. Longevity Rating: 8/10

2. Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche) – 98 Degrees

Everyone knew 98 Degrees was secondary to ‘N Sync and The Backstreet Boys in 2000, and they still are. In a departure from the typical boy band format, 98 Degrees goes for a Latin feel with this one, including a semi-sexy Spanish soliloquy, and miserably fails. This marked the beginning of the end for 98 Degrees, and with good reason–had us yearning from 1999’s “I Do (Cherish You).” Longevity Rating: 2/10

3. Jumpin’ Jumpin’ – Destiny’s Child

In an age of Ke$ha and schizo female rappers, sometimes you need some wholesome club tracks from a Texas-based female foursome. With Beyoncé’s vocal riffing and bouncy hip hop beat, it’s not surprising that Sony decided to include this classic on their compilation. Much like Beyoncé’s later version ‘Single Ladies,’ there’s no doubt this classic will still have people flocking to the dance floor. Longevity Rating: 10/10

4. Don’t Think I’m Not – Kandi

Before she was Real Housewife of Atlanta, Kandi was writing Grammy-winning hip hop songs to empower masses of women whose ignorant men didn’t know they were “out in the club,” too. The sentiments may carry through, the overall light feel of the production fails to strike a chord with a generation now embracing huge kick drums and synthesizers. Longevity Rating: 6/10

5. I Think I’m In Love With You – Jessica Simpson

Throwing a poppy-gloss over a classic John Mellencamp sample, this song reminds us the pre-Newlywed’s era of Jessica Simpson and highlights her vocal chords rather than the fact that she can’t distinguish between tuna and chicken. Awkward, though, that her songwriter’s probably had 98 Degrees’ Nick Lachey in mind while writing this one. Nonetheless, her voice makes up for the dated production and song style, and we surprisingly feel a little happy after listening to this super-bubbly number. Longevity Rating: 7/10

6. Faded – SoulDecision

Quite possibly the most underrated song of the the golden age of the pop music. This. Song. Is. So. Good. Great for any situation, from driving in a car to getting ready in the morning to making out to dancing, this song is nearly perfect, except for the well-intended but poorly-executed rap segment towards the end of the song. If only NOW wasn’t bound to edited versions of songs, the “I’m gonna take off all your clothes” lyric never ceases to surprise. Longevity Rating: 10/10

7. Shake It Fast – Mystikal

Mystikal was jail for almost half a decade on sexual abuse charges, and this song appears to be the beginning of his irreverent behavior. He’s not the most skilled rapper, but dude knew how to write a hook. Unfortunately, NOW’s no-cursing policy required Mystikal to replace “ya ass” with “it fast”–bummer. Longevity rating (clean): 6/10–Longevity Rating (dirty): 9/10

8. Case Of The Ex – Mya

Mya, the under-appreciated female pop star. We remember her fondly for her featured vocals in “Lady Marmalade” and “Ghetto Superstar,” but Mya actually had some songs of her own. Her voice is a lot like her small stature, not particularly strong when compared to powerhouses like Beyonce and Pink. Her legion of soulful studio backup singers seem to carry the song, which follows the woman hip-hop formula that Destiny’s Child perfected around this time. Longevity Rating: 3/10

9. Aaron’s Party (Come Get It) – Aaron Carter

The prepubescent rapper, a phenomenon of the Golden Age of Pop. Lil’ Bow Wow and Lil’ Romeo had Snoop Dogg and Master p(roducers) behind them, and Nick Carter’s little brother rapped about spilling juice and getting grounded. From the less than imaginative chorus (“people all around you got to (come get it)”) to his ‘old school’ rap beat, this one reminds us why the Carters  struggled in showbusiness as the 21st century progressed. Longevity Rating: 2/10

10. Lucky – Britney Spears

Maybe we should have payed attention to what Britney was trying to tell us in this song–“If there’s nothing missing in this life, then why do these tears come at night?” It seems like her songwriters did a near perfect job at predicting the Britney of the K-Fed, shaved head, and laptop baby driving that we witnessed just a few years later. Nonetheless, this song gets us somewhere in the heart. Longevity Rating: 7/10

11. Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely – Backstreet Boys

The inevitable Backstreet Boys ballad. Were they better than ‘N Sync? That discussion probably deserves its own post. But there’s something more mushy that musters images of waterfalls and dim lighting about this number, with its snapping and somewhat strained higher notes. But nonetheless, it’s pretty classic Backstreet Boys, and considering their upcoming reunion tour (along with New Kids on the Block) it’s a good one to relive. However, can’t really say that it holds up to the ballads of 2011. Longevity Rating: 6/10

12. Incomplete – Sisqo

You probably didn’t know this, but Sisqo actually recorded more than one song…and it sucks. In the vein of other R&B practically engineered to get clothes off (he headed Boyz II Men ripoff Dru Hill in the nineties), “Incomplete” involves dramatic orchestral instrumentation with a bump and grind beat. For the duration of the song, Sisqo whines about the ubiquitous “girl” that seemed to be driving every pop vocalist crazy in the late nineties. Unfortunately, Sisqo’s attempt at R. Kelly falls pretty short, but does prompt the interesting question as to whether he was really a g-string loving Don Juan, as “The Thong Song” would suggest. Longevity Rating: 3/10

13. I Wanna Be With You – Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore is pure pop, and this song is texbook Mandy Moore. Moore actually has a decent voice, and the song has a general bubbly and light feel. But its lightness and breathiness get a little unsatisfying, and her whisper of “I wanna be with you” at the end feels like it should stay in 2000. Longevity Rating 6/10

14. Doesn’t Really Matter – Janet Jackson

Something about this song is similar to “Don’t Think I’m Not” and “Case Of the Ex,” although Jackson’s is less female-empowerment-over-men-based. The song was on both the soundtrack of The Nutty Professor II and her album “All For You,” and though we’re particularly fonder of the album’s title track, this song is reasonably good. Longevity Rating: 6.5/10

15. Back Here – BBMak

Ah, the Brits. With their guitar opening and cute British accents (although you can’t really hear them in the song), this was a good one. It’s quick, it’s upbeat, their singing is not awful, and it’s pretty straightforward. But if you want to relive the BBMak glory days, congratulations, you just did. This number was their only one to really catch on. Longevity Rating: 7/10

16. Absolutely (Story Of A Girl) – Nine Days

Way punchier than any of the previous songs on the album, this song starts out strong and finishes the same way. The music isn’t synthesized, which sets it apart from many of the other songs on this album. Don’t get this original version confused with the later cover by a group called Four Year Strong that is reminiscent of Blink 182 gone somewhat wrong. We loved this song when it came out, and 11 years later, we still do. Longevity Rating: 10/10

17. Kryptonite – 3 Doors Down

Remember the music video for this one? It involved an elderly actor in underwear watching himself on an old superhero show, putting his tattered outfit on and tackling some guy at a 3 Doors Down show. It was weird when it came out, and it still is. Despite cringe-inducing visions of naked old superheroes, song’s still pretty good and probably the most “alt” track on the album. Having said that, the song did reach #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Alt Cred -10. Longevity Rating: 7/10

18. Wonderful – Everclear

Something about this song says “summercamp” or “looking longingly out the window while on a long drive in a car” what with it’s “na na na na na na na’s” and all. Along with both the previous song and the following, this song holds up the rock end of this album, and it does it quite well, albeit in true 2000 rock fashion. Longevity Rating: 8/10

19. It’s My Life – Bon Jovi

Surprisingly, the least dated-sounding song on the album came from the oldest band. “It’s My Life” sounds just like any other piece of radio-ready rock music from current acts like Daughtry. Bon Jovi had a renaissance of sorts in 2000 with the album Crush, and this single was at the front of the charge. With lyrical gems such as “my heart is like an open highway,” the band truly could have done no wrong. Longevity Rating: 8/10

There you have it, we actually listened to every song on NOW! 5. The consensus: it may be another decade before America starts considering these songs “classics.” Or, these pop songs may be so representative of a particular time period that they’ll really only serve a purpose as some gimmick from the past (see disco). Next time on Nostalgia Trip, we spend an hour with a Furby.

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  1. B '08

    Great post! Can you guys please take over IvyGate?

  2. Now 5 is the sh*t!!

    I am so excited to see this. Now 5 was one of my favorite cds of my childhood.If you like this kind of early 200s pop, I strongly recommend Totally Hits 2002. Great album.

  3. nostalgia-tripper

    Faded was my jam back in the day. Thanks for the dredging-up of pleasant memories.

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