“Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” “I Want It That Way,” “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely”
Who Are They?
Only one of the biggest boy bands to ever exist (One Direction who?).
Way back in 1992, big-time producer Lou Pearlman (known as “Big Poppa” to his clients, a name that should only be reserved for Biggie Smalls) placed an ad in the Orlando Sentinel announcing auditions for a boy band. After hundreds of auditions, Lou settled on A.J. McLean, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough and Brian Littrell. The name Backstreet Boys was Lou’s idea, as was the venue for the band’s first ever gig (SeaWorld in Orlando…really?).
The band’s first single, 1995’s “We’ve Got It Goin’ On,” was only a minor success in the US, but those crazy Europeans loved it (as is usually the case). Because of the initial European success, the Backstreet Boys’ promotion was shifted to Europe.
The eponymous first album was released internationally (with the exception of the US and Canada) in 1996. The album immediately went platinum in Germany and the boys became one of the most successful debut artists in the world.
“Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” the first single from their debut US album, managed to climb as high as #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The US debut was something of a mish-mash of the band’s first two international albums (for once, the States got all the leftovers). Both self-titled debuts sold over 28 million copies combined.
Meanwhile, in 1997, Brian Littrell filed a lawsuit against good ol’ Lou “Big Poppa” Pearlman, claiming that the producer had not been truthful about the earnings made by the group. The rest of the band eventually joined the lawsuit, which resulted in a number of settlements.
During that legal mess, the Backstreet Boys began recording Millennium. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, sold over 1 million copies in its first week, broke the record for most shipments in one year, and became the best-selling album of 1999. (And you guys contributed to that success because I know for a fact that everyone has a copy of that album, whether you’ll admit to it or not.)
By October 1999, the band had struck one of the largest record deals ever (valued at $60 million) with Jive Records.
Where Are They Now?
Together again (minus Kevin Richardson) and stronger than ever.
In early 2000, the Backstreet Boys took a trip to the Bahamas to start writing songs for what would later become Black & Blue. To promote the album’s release in November of that year, the band traveled around the world in 100 hours (55 hours for traveling and 45 hours for public appearances). That’s dedication, people. Black & Blue ended up having the best international sales in a week for any album in history.
Though Black & Blue never matched the hype of the first two Backstreet Boys albums, it still enjoyed international success.
In 2002, the band expressed a strong desire to leave their management company (Nick Carter remained with the company to manage his solo career). Their relationship with Jive wasn’t any better. The band filed a $75-100 million lawsuit against Zomba Music Company (Jive’s parent company) claiming breach of contract. Basically, the label decided to promote Nick’s solo album at the expense of group. (This is a sign that the label considered Nick to be the poster boy of the band.)
On top of that, A.J. McLean visited Oprah in November 2003 to announce his addiction to alcohol and drugs. After A.J.’s appearance on the show, the band decided to put their differences aside and record a comeback album.
That comeback album, 2005’s Never Gone, received some pretty harsh criticism from music publications (Rolling Stone gave it an extremely disappointing one star rating). Kevin Richardson left the band a year later to “pursue other interests.”
The Backstreet Boys released two more albums after Never Gone (2007’s Unbreakable and 2009’s This Is Us). Just when fans thought they had run out of steam, the boys announced a joint world tour with fellow boy band heartthrobs New Kids on the Block in 2010.
But Why Backstreet Boys?
Plans for recording a new album this year have been confirmed!
What Does Sam Think?
Ah, boy bands. The songs of Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync were the soundtrack of my childhood. I’m sure you feel the same way (if you’re my age, that is).
Yes, the sweet nostalgia of singing “I Want It That Way” to my Backstreet Boys posters is hitting me all at once. Swooning over A.J. McLean and imagining he was singing to me…
Ahem. Sorry about that. Back to the point.
The Backstreet Boys were definitely more than just a nostalgia act. They possessed obvious talent and refused to be just another manufactured pop act. Of course they didn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking. Boy bands had been around for a while before these guys came around. The formula was pretty much set in stone by the mid-‘90s: Start a boy band, release a ton of catchy tracks, receive money and girls’ panties.
But we can’t forget that the Backstreet Boys weren’t the only heartthrobs taking the world by storm at this point. Does the name ‘N Sync ring a bell?
We can fight about who was better later (I personally preferred ‘N Sync, but I think that was because of Justin Timberlake and his sexy Ramen Noodle hair). The point is that both these bands, however silly they seem to us now, were an important part of the ‘90s.
I’m not going to argue that songs like “We Got It Goin’ On” had some profound hidden meaning or anything. The Backstreet Boys and other groups like them may have been making music they enjoyed, but when it comes to boy bands, it’s all about selling a product. And boy, did these guys sell well.
When you think back to the first band you ever loved, you’re probably thinking of one of these boy bands. Am I right? Of course there are exceptions (and liars), but let’s face it: You used to be obsessed with these guys. And after you got over that obsession, you discovered the bands you listen to today.
And before you judge little girls who go gaga for One Direction, just remember that you wanted to marry Nick Carter when you were 10 years old.
-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.