What Makes Me Happy: Social Media Manager Liz Harter on *NSYNC (and Others)

Liz Harter
Liz Harter

Episode Notes

We typically host scholars, makers, and professionals for informal conversations about their work—formerly over brunch, currently over Zoom.

But for these bonus mini-episodes, we change things up a bit, asking Notre Dame researchers and staff to talk about something that both makes them happy and has no direct connection to what they do at the university.

In other words, if you thought a podcast with a waffle for a logo couldn’t get even more casual, you’d be wrong.

Here, Liz Harter, Notre Dame’s social media manager, shares the genesis of her enduring love for *NSYNC and other early 2000s pop music, and how, in a quirky twist of fate, that proved to be an asset professionally.

And as a bonus on top of a bonus, Liz has curated a Spotify playlist of eight of her must-have pop hits just for us. It includes four *NSYNC tracks for reasons you’ll understand shortly.

Episode Transcript

*Note: We do our best to make these transcripts as accurate as we can. That said, if you want to quote from one of our episodes, particularly the words of our guests, please listen to the audio whenever possible. Thanks.

Ted Fox  0:00  
(voiceover) A With a Side of Knowledge mini. (end voiceover) 

Well, With a Side of Knowledge listeners, we are back with a mini-episode, a "What Makes Me Happy" mini-episode. We haven't done one of these in a long time. But I'm excited today--I'm always excited for these mini episodes, but this one in particular because my guest today is someone whose name has come up in the course of a couple episodes over the years. She's never actually been on the show, but a longtime friend of the pod here: Liz Harter, welcome.

Liz Harter  0:32  
Thank you, thank you. Yeah, you know, longtime listener, first-time caller here.

Ted Fox  0:35  
(laughs) So Liz is the University's social media manager, and she does all kinds of incredible work across a whole bunch of different platforms. But that's not what we're here to talk about today. Today, we're here to talk about the music of the early 2000s generally, and the music of *NSYNC specifically. And, Liz, I know we're not just talking about *NSYNC, but I have to start there. Because you are not only the biggest *NSYNC fan I know, I also guarantee that for everyone listening to this, you are now the biggest *NSYNC fan that they know.

Liz Harter  1:11  
Yeah, that's guaranteed now.

Ted Fox  1:14  
Tell us a little bit about about your fandom, where it started, and how it's taken shape over the years.

Liz Harter  1:20  
So to start, we have to go way back to 1999--actually, kind of 1998. I was one of those kids that grew up, my mom really shaped kind of what I listened to based on controlling the radio. So I actually, prior to 1998, did not know that pop music existed. I thought that all music was just, you know, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods and The Association and the Beatles, some Jimmy Buffett thrown in there. (Ted laughs) And then I went to middle school, and people started talking about this group, the Backstreet Boys. And I was like, Who are they? And then they started telling me about TRL and MTV. And I was, you know, mind blown, had no clue that any of this was out there. And then, you know, kinda sort of this is the Millennium era of Backstreet Boys. So "I Want It That Way" had just come out, they were huge. And then, early in 1999, my dad came home from work, and his company was sponsoring *NSYNC's tour.

Ted Fox  2:16  
Oh wow.

Liz Harter  2:17  
So my mom went out, bought Teen People--I still have it, it's in my closet, actually--and she was like, Okay, this is who your father's company is sponsoring, and we're going to learn about them. And I opened that magazine and saw *NSYNC, and life has not been the same since. So kind of like fast-tracked everything, ended up meeting them a couple of times, and, you know, cemented that love for them from a ripe young age of 12. And just have not let go since.

Ted Fox  2:48  
And you--I don't know if you still do, but didn't you run a pretty big fan site for them?

Liz Harter  2:52  
I did, yes. So it actually, you know, you said that this is a conversation not related to work. But *NSYNC is actually, I think, part of the reason that I got my job at the University.

Ted Fox  3:03  

Liz Harter  3:04  
I was running, I took ownership of--I did not create it, I cannot take credit for it, and there is a ton of information on there--but a website called stillnsync.com. I don't think we're a .com anymore; I think it's a like wordpress.org now, but the site still exists. We had a Twitter and a Facebook. And this is prior to--you know, because early 2000s pop was just such a strange era when you talk about it in 2020. Because now we know everything about all these artists. You know, even the ones that were famous back then. But they didn't have any social media. You know, they had a website that was made on GeoCities. And, you know, there was flash plugins and things played music automatically. But before 2013, when *NSYNC performed with Justin Timberlake at the VMAs again, they did not have any social media. And really the only place that you could go to find people who also loved *NSYNC as much as you did was to find these fan sites out there. And I took ownership in, I think, 2010 of one of them. And technically I still own it, but I'm a little busy, so I don't put as much *NSYNC love into the world as I should. (Ted laughs)

Ted Fox  4:14  
So when I asked you to do this, and I just mentioned a few minutes ago, we established that you love *NSYNC, but you have a soft spot for kind of all the pop music of the early 2000s. Who else would kind of rise to the top of your list?

Liz Harter  4:31  
I mean, there's the big four. There's *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, and Britney Spears. Unfortunately, I've never seen Britney, but I've seen the other three in concert. But then, you know, Spotify Wrapped just came out, so I was looking at my top songs, and in my top five are two Spice Girl songs, and you get a little further down, and you get into the *NSYNC, and then you get into the Nobody's Angel, and then you get into, you know, kind of, like, really random, bad stuff that--I mean, they're not good songs. (Ted laughs) I shouldn't be listening to them still. But they're so nostalgic.

Ted Fox  5:05  

Liz Harter  5:06  
And actually, it's kind of been taking over. Part of what I do in being a social media manager is I'm on all of the platforms, and I'm, you know, seeing and moderating and seeing if Notre Dame should have a presence. So I'm big on to TikTok right now. It's very addictive. But it's @justme.rod on TikTok, he's this great--like, he is the millennial on TikTok, and he kind of pairs workplace anxieties with popular music from, you know, the early 2000s. And he has a couple Spotify playlists, and now those are, like, all my top playlists because I just listen to his playlists.

Ted Fox  5:42  
In terms of Britney, I've always kind of thought--maybe it's not underrated, maybe because I'm old I didn't think it had, didn't catch on as much--but an underrated banger of Britney's is "Till The World Ends."

Liz Harter  5:54  

Ted Fox  5:54  
But I don't know: Is that too late?

Liz Harter  5:56  
No, no.

Ted Fox  5:58  
Because that's like 2010, 2011?

Liz Harter  6:00  
With the big four, you know, I continue to follow their careers. Burlesque is actually a fantastic movie with Christina Aguilera. Like, Cher is in it, doesn't get enough love. But really, Britney, that album was--eh, you know, I don't play all of it. But "Till the World Ends" is great. And--oh man, there was another one that I can't think of now. She just got, you know, it was all those issues, and she was kind of like, sadly, the first to fall of all of them. But still made great music.

Ted Fox  6:35  
There's an interesting--I mean, when you talk about, too, before these artists would have all had social media, I wanted to ask you about, so *NSYNC, they go on hiatus in 2002, which ends up becoming a permanent thing. Some of my reading I was doing this morning was talking about how, Oh, no, it's just a hiatus, and then it just kind of became indefinite. And Justin Timberlake then has a solo career. Your experience at the time of how you felt about when they broke up, has that changed at all? I mean, he's had huge success as a solo artist. Has it changed maybe the heartbreak that you felt when they broke up? Or is there still never been something quite the same about that particular group ceasing to exist?

Liz Harter  7:23  
(sighs) It's a rough one. Still a little sensitive to talk about. No, I was really angry at the time, you know, 2002. We could make this like a 45-minute bonus podcast (Ted laughs), and I could talk to you about Justin's solo career, and we could talk about JC Chasez's solo career. Because I'm gonna go out on a limb and, as much as I love Justin, JC had the stronger voice. JC should have been Justin level and wasn't for particular reasons having to do with the Super Bowl. But that's besides the point. JC's music was also way ahead of its time. If that stuff came out today, it would be, like, top of the charts. But it came out 20 years ago. But yeah, would I love to see an *NSYNC reunion? Yes. Do I joke with my friends frequently that I have a whole bank account that's just dedicated to buying tickets when they go back on tour, and I'll just take four months off and travel around and see them? Yes. (Ted laughs) But have seen all but one of Justin's tours. There was one year that I went to three of his concerts. Their career and, like, the hiatus happened. Obviously, it was devastating; I was 14 years old, they were going to come back, and they never did. But now I'm an adult. And I don't have to ask my parents if I can go to concerts anymore. So I went to one of his shows. And I was like, Oh my gosh, that was awesome, I loved that. It was down in Indianapolis. And I looked at the tour. And I was like, they're coming to Chicago next--or he's coming to Chicago next. So I took two friends to Chicago. And then a couple months later, he came back to Chicago, and I was like, I loved that show, and I want to go see Justin Timberlake again. No one wanted to go with me. I looked on, you know, the secondary market and found a fairly close seat. I was like, You know what, I got money now, and I don't have to deal with someone else saying I don't want to pay that much money to see this concert. (Ted laughs) I was like, I'm gonna just do it. Let's go sit really close to the stage now. It's great. It's great. Now I do that frequently.

Ted Fox  9:21  
(laughs) Good for you. So kind of as we're wrapping up here, and this may be too hard of a question. But you talked about your big four. And you talked about, you know, Spotify put out its Wrapped this year where it tells you, These are, you know, your top songs of the year. If you were looking at your big four, is there an ultimate playlist of four tracks of one from each of them that you would have to have? (pause) See, I knew this was gonna be really (laughs)--as soon as I said it, I was like, Wow, if I'm gonna limit to one from each of the four of them, that's probably too hard.

Liz Harter  9:57  
That's rough. Well, and you're not the first person to ask what the top *NSYNC song is this week because Spotify told me it was "Bye Bye Bye"; that's a complete lie. The reason that that is the top song is because when you ask your Alexa to play *NSYNC on Spotify, which she's going to start right now--please stop. (Ted laughs) But. Starts with "Bye Bye Bye" all the time. That's not the one that I want to hear, so I always have to skip it. But if I had to pick four songs from each of them ... um ...

Ted Fox  10:23  
Let me change it, then. To go back to where we started: Could you pick the four *NSYNC songs that you had to have? 

Liz Harter  10:29  
Okay, if I have to pick one from each album, let's go there.

Ted Fox  10:32  
Okay, perfect.

Liz Harter  10:32  
There were only three albums. There's four with the Christmas album. So Christmas album, I would go, obviously, "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays." You know, you just got to get the staple there. From the first album, self-titled *NSYNC, I would probably say "I Want You Back." I just danced around my room to that before we got on this call. From No Strings Attached, it would be "It Makes Me Ill." And from Celebrity it would be--that's rough--"The Two of Us" probably. Yeah, yeah.

Ted Fox  11:09  
Okay, so what I'll do--and I know that if I don't do this right, my wife will help me--I will make a Spotify playlist of those four. And we will put it in the episode notes for this so you can go listen to--we won't say top four *NSYNC songs, we say the number one song from each of the four albums.

Liz Harter  11:27  
Yes, yes, those are good ones. I mean, I could probably come up with, like, Backstreet and Britney, but, you know. We'll put together a whole early 2000s Spotify playlist, it'll be excellent.

Ted Fox  11:38  
I like that idea. That's an excellent idea. Liz Harter, thank you for joining me for this today. I really enjoyed it.

Liz Harter  11:43  
Thank you.

Ted Fox  11:45  
With a Side of Knowledge is a production of the Office of the Provost at the University of Notre Dame. Our website is withasideofpod.nd.edu.