The man behind 'N Sync's iconic 'Bye Bye Bye' dance reflects 20 years later

Choreographer Darrin Henson tells TODAY how those infectious moves came to fruition and turned the track into Y2K’s ultimate dance tune.
Nsync Take me to 2000
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/ Source: TODAY

First, there’s just an old-timey stage. The frame is cast in sepia tones, vintage like an old photo. Then, marionette puppets descend, still but lifelike. It’s them: Joey and Chris on the left. JC in the center. Justin and Lance at the right. The string crescendo begins. “Hey, hey,” a whiney falsetto croons. You succumb to the hysteria. This is not just a group of heartthrob singers propelling from strings. This is a cultural phenomenon. No — a cultural behemoth.

This is the “Bye Bye Bye” music video.

At the turn of the millennium, ’N Sync — made up of Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Lance Bass and Joey Fatone — created an undeniable magic with “Bye Bye Bye,” the 2000 single that ultimately catapulted the boy band into a different realm of legendary. But it was the music video, released concurrently with the song on Jan. 11, 2000, that etched it into history as one of the top dance tracks of all time.

Choreographer Darrin Henson— the same Darrin from the “Darrin’s Dance Grooves” videos that dominated commercials in the 2000s — is the guy behind the moves seen in the video’s famous puppeteering sequences, which would eventually be revisited as a theme in the group’s subsequent “It’s Gonna Be Me” video and “No Strings Attached” album.

The guys of 'N Sync with choreographer Darrin Henson.Darrin Henson

Henson told TODAY that it all started in 1999 when ’N Sync, having just parted ways with Lou Pearlman, the late music mogul-turned-con artist who founded the band, was starting a new chapter and looking to kick it off with something big. At the time, Henson, who hails from the Bronx in New York City, had lost out on an MTV Video Music Award for choreographing Jordan Knight’s “Give It to You” and was just about to throw in the towel with dancing. Then he got a call from ’N Sync’s manager at the time, Johnny Wright.

“Johnny sent me the music, and I was like, this is hot, this is so hot,” Henson told TODAY. He then headed to Las Vegas, where ’N Sync was performing at the Billboard Music Awards, to get cracking on the steps he wanted to incorporate into the video.

“I just stood with the choreography, lingering, working on it, putting body to song,” he said.

Henson said he turned to a street-dancing technique, popping and locking, when coming up with the footing. “There is a part of popping called ‘puppet’ that was very well known to me,” he said. “With ‘No Strings Attached,’ the puppeteering aspect of it just worked.”

Of course, when reaching into the vault of top dance tracks, each one has a single infectious move that’s learned and repeated by everybody. (Admit it, you’ve tried to zombie walk like Michael Jackson in “Thriller” or hand wave like Beyoncé in “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” or strike a pose like Madonna in “Vogue.”) For “Bye Bye Bye,” that’s the “puppet hand” along with the fist-bumping step.

“That came from the Black power fist. So the ‘ain’t no lie’ (lyric) is the power fist,” Henson told TODAY. “The ‘bye bye bye’ is the talking puppet hand — so that actually was another thing in New York that we used to do. The ‘bye bye bye’ meant you can stop talking, it’s done, we’re done, it’s absolute, everything’s over.

Henson rehearsing “Bye Bye Bye” with 'N Sync.Darrin Henson

“So that’s the actual lineage of how ‘Bye Bye Bye’ was created in terms of that chorus aspect. The dance, the body of the dance, so that was all hot, hitting, hardcore, syncopated movement.”

Filming of the music video was on the horizon, and Henson headed back to Los Angeles to rehearse with the guys at Alley Kat Studio. Seeing ’N Sync execute the synchronized moves for the first time, Henson said, was “the ultimate work of art.”

“It was breathtaking,” he added. “Not only was it something that we learned to love in terms of hearing, but we actually got to see it visually. It became this wonderful cacophony of music and moves that I think transcended throughout the rest of the world.”

That might sound crazy, but it ain’t no lie. At the time, “Bye Bye Bye” drummed up so much ’N Sync mania in the run-up to the “No Strings Attached” release that the album went platinum its first day in stores and sold 2.4 million copies in seven days — a first-week sales record the band held for 15 years until Adele surpassed them in 2015. Today, the “Bye Bye Bye” music video has amassed more than 237 million views on YouTube. Billboard magazine ranked it 21st on its list of the 100 Greatest Music Videos of the 21st Century. The track itself is ranked second on Rolling Stone’s list of the 75 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time. And as for Henson, he ended up nabbing that VMA for choreographing this very song.

“I called it being tuned in, tapped in and turned on to the world,” Henson said. “The connectivity of it hasn’t stopped. ... It’s really cool to know that it’s a part of people’s lives.

“To look at being a part of the fabric of the millennium — 2000, really the turn of the century — and (for) everybody to look at that as a moment in time, for me and the guys to be etched in stone is — I don’t really have any words.”