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The annals of pop-music history are littered with awkward moonlighting endeavors -- hairy Jon Bon Jovi as indie actor, bulimic Paula Abdul as fitness instructor, Barbara Mandrell's infamous Visa fabric (it never wrinkles!), etc. -- so nobody should be surprised that today's pop princes and princesses so easily leap off of their overplayed records and into their requisite capitalist, creative or veiled philanthropic ambitions. After all, it's an entirely different world that the primped and heavily rotated occupy. Somebody walks in and offers you a million dollars to chew on a beef jerky (while your agent gathers forehead sweat and twiddles thumbs in the corner) and you're bound to take it, right? Right.

Still, in a year that saw the Backstreet Boys beaten Black & Blue into an embarrassing series of Burger King action figures and Christina Aguilera pressed into CD-shaped bubble gum for convenience-store munchie-impulse buys, favorite sons 'N Sync have done a fair job of saving face, donning a "No Strings Attached" liberation bit (on the heels of their exit from Lou Pearlman's Trans Continental stranglehold) and taking time out, every now and then, to dedicate some charitable room decorated with their smiley mugs, like their recent publicity stunt at the Ronald McDonald House. Surely, they must be up to something.

Alas, diversification and shifting spheres of influence await as the quirk-free quintet approach the new year with a bevy of new ventures, both as a group and individually, certain to distract them long enough from their own funk-lite tedium (they are set to reconvene to work on the band's third release in January), and ensure that they, too, will have something to do (or, maybe not) when the whole pop train slams into its own credibility wall.

First off, for those interested in streamlining their 'N Sync information access systems, so as to avoid any of that pesky real news or nasty broadness of thought, the group has launched its own online service with MSN called NSYNC MSN Internet Access, which promises exclusive info, photos, and newsletters for the frothy-mouthed she-masses of the new age.

"We use the Internet not only as a tool to communicate with our families while on the road, but to allow us to reach out to our fans in yet another way," explains cuddly Lance Bass in an official statement. "We are very excited about this venture with MSN."

Of course they are. Eternal chameleon David Bowie made a similar move two years ago at about the same time that he made his whole identity a stock commodity via a Wall Street IPO and raked in millions. There is where the Bowie comparisons end -- unless 'N Sync decide to follow their treatment of Christopher Cross' "Sailing" with an inspired reading of "Diamond Dogs." The service costs the market average of $21.95 a month, so 'N Sync will remain rich. No news here.

Some news, though, on the movie front is still just rumored. In case you haven't heard, the group has been in negotiations for more than a year with various movie executives to plot their cinematic introduction. In a recent chat, Lance revealed that the film would indeed not be a parody of themselves in the tradition of The Monkees (damn!), but would be a serious, respectable piece that will allow their beloved fans to see even more sides to their locker-taped heroes.

The most spoken of option is definitely the most ridiculous, too: Grease 3 is said to be in scripting mode, and the band may actually find themselves smooching in funhouses or making out in bomb shelters in the next year. Joey seems a shoe-in for John Travolta's role, really -- we should have seen that one coming. The less memorable Maxwell Caulfield character of "Grease 2" could easily curl Justin Timberlake's blondish locks into a "Cool Rider" refrain. Who's gonna be the girl, though? My money's on Lance.

But what about their own, individual longings -- those beyond the quiet walks and video games revealed in dog-eared, teen-mag exclusives? How is the band going to stay busy while the world awaits their next sugary onslaught? Each member has their own answer, some more qualifiable than others.

Justin Timberlake already does. 'N Sync's hottest hood ornament, and most screamed name, has licensed that name to his own charitable foundation: y'know, The Justin Timberlake Foundation. It all happened after the band lent its signature syrup last year to the Gloria Estefan vehicle "Music of the Heart." The film -- aided by, no doubt, 'N Sync's title track -- tear-jerkingly recounted a true story of how a school lost its music-department funding. It touched Timberlake, who never had the chance to croon a tenor harmony to the national anthem while in school.

"I guess what prompted me to do it," he guesses on his foundation's website, "was the fact that I thought about, if I wasn't in the group, I wouldn't have the opportunity to fulfill the dreams I had as such a young kid, because I was in a public school and they had a crappy arts program. It was really stupid."

Details are sketchy as to exactly what role Timberlake will assume in the actuality of his foundation -- it's all still up in the air, although kiwibox is raffling off his sneakers to raise funds for the possibilities. Still, the Giving Back Fund, with whom Timberlake has partnered, has already called him a "pioneer in philanthropy," presumably because he did attend a philanthropy convention in Washington, D.C., hosted by Hillary Clinton. Still, it's not all charity for Timberlake, who is, after all, an 18-year-old pop star.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he tells online music site Wall of Sound. "I'll probably just write some music and maybe get into some on-screen stuff. This could all change. I'm weird like that."

Perhaps a little more stupid and weird is Chris Kirkpatrick's foray into clothing design and distribution, FuMan Skeeto Productions. On their recent "'N-timate Holiday Special," Kirkpatrick debuted the designs, currently only for girls (although men's clothes, too, are reportedly in the works: "I even got the other guys to wear it," he told Wall of Sound). Sort of a mall-trash meets rave-girl, baby-doll aesthetic predictably prevails, but Kirkpatrick probably isn't responsible for that. In the holiday special, Chris played a foil -- some messy-haired comic relief lacking any noticeable numbers knowledge -- to a savvy businesswoman during a retail presentation. Regardless, the fall from Nordstrom exclusivity (where the line was launched the day after Thanksgiving) to a Ross "compare at" pricing should be a quick one.

But Kirkpatrick's FuMan Skeeto isn't all linens and things. The "cutting edge creative arts and media company" also delivers products that "deliver a positive, uplifting message," like pop/rock soloist Ron Irizarry. Irizarry, whose top-40 turns have been likened to Sting, Lenny Kravitz and Robbie Williams, is the first artist signed by C.K.'s fledgling outfit. So far, Irizarry's scored opening slots on two 'N Sync tours and nailed down an EP, but that's about it.

Lance Bass is a little bit country. As such, the quiet one has launched his own record label and music management company, Free Lance Entertainment, whose first signee Meredith Edwards had the privilege of opening up for 'N Sync earlier in the year. Future signings are said to be coming from a series of Planet Holly-wood talent searches, meaning that they probably won't be all that good. You know, like the food. You'll recall that 'N Sync have already dipped their feet into the country swamp, teaming up with aging commoners Alabama for an inspired reworking of "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You" and even cracking the pop charts with it. Is there a god?

Maybe, but there's definitely a J.C. -- Chasez, that is. Known as the most musically talented of the quintet, Chasez has been buzzing about the pop publishing pool, crafting more new-jack hissy-fits than you can shake a broken nail at for such acts as Blaque and Wild Orchid. The funny part is hearing J.C. sing from the perspective of a girl and oddly believing it. Still, the Destiny's Child market seems to be endless, and J.C. apparently has a knack for layering the obvious. He can always swap genders, right?

Not so for Joey Fatone, the manliest of the men. (For a Spice Girls spoof photo, Joey didn't even shave his signature goatee! Gasp!) Fatone has caught the acting bug, too, and even got a bit part in an upcoming feature, playing a member of a groom's party in what looks like a direct-to-video smash. Surely it's all a warmup for some "Sandy" reprise in the "Grease"-y future. A boy can dream.

Whether or not any of these ventures will succeed is superfluous. The very fact that they exist is a longer-winded success story than most of us care to hear. But you have to wonder what it all means when members of crafted pop bands begin crafting their own careers. Is it a sort of rebellion? Is this when they get creative? Or has "Bye Bye Bye" merely made its natural transition to "Buy Buy Buy?"

Stay tuned. You know you will

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