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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Backstreet's Back, All Right?

Here is an interesting question to ponder for this edition of the blog...what happens to boy bands when they become men?

It’s a serious question.  I was thinking about this as I was coming up with possible topics for the month of October.  The year I entered high school was the year that the so-called “boy band explosion” began.  Now, there may have been instances of boy bands prior to my starting high school, particularly with “New Kids On The Block”, “Color Me Badd”, and “New Edition”.  But throughout my entire high school career, I found it quite difficult to listen to the radio, as it seemed as though every song that dominated the charts were by a boy band. 

And for whatever reason that irritated me to no end.

For one, I’ll readily admit that at the time, I wanted nothing to do with the whole boy band scene.  The songs were so overplayed, I couldn’t bear to hear them after six consecutive months, and whenever I happened to catch a music video by a boy band, I either changed the channel or rolled my eyes at it.

For another, I couldn’t really call them “boy bands” as most of the people in the bands were in their twenties and early thirties.  And as someone who is currently in his early thirties, the last thing I want anyone to call me is a “boy”.

(Of course, maybe that’s just me...maybe some men my age would enjoy that.)

Therefore it’s quite entertaining to see what has happened to some of these boy bands since their heyday.  A lot has changed since 1997, and I did a little bit of research into what has happened to some of the most popular boy bands since they were topping the charts.

One thing that I have noticed about boy bands over the last fifteen years is the fact that in a lot of cases, there has been at least one breakout star.  Take the band *NSync, for example.  Everyone knows that Justin Timberlake not only made it huge as a solo artist, but also has been serious about beginning a film career as well.  With 98 Degrees, Nick Lachey has broken out as a star...even though it took a brief marriage to Jessica “Chicken of the Sea” Simpson to get his name out there.  With the British boy band “Take That”, both Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow had successful solo careers in the British music scene, as has Ronan Keating of “Westlife”.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of boy bands seemingly fade away into obscurity.  When was the last time you ever heard of any news from “O-Town”?  “5ive”?  “BBMak?”  Not very often, I bet.

At the same time, you have bands who continue to stay together to make music long after they transform from boys to men...bands who may lose a member here and there, or whose members may release solo material on the side, but still manage to find a way to stick together through it all.

This is the story of one such boy band.

If you happen to be a fan of the Backstreet Boys, you are in luck because this blog entry is just for you.  If you aren’t...well, take comfort in the fact that I have a particularly gory horror movie planned for tomorrow.

Okay, so before we get started, we should probably introduce the Backstreet Boys first.  If you look at the picture above, from left to right we have A.J. McLean, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, and Howie Dorough.  

The story begins in Orlando, Florida.  Childhood friends A.J. and Howie met up with Nick while they were doing auditions for commercials, theatre productions, and television roles.  When the three of them got together and discovered that they could sing and harmonize a selection of soul classics, they formed a trio, and began performing.

At the same time, in the state of Kentucky, cousins Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson developed a love of performing at early ages, singing in their church choirs and festivals whenever they could.  

I suppose you could say that the Backstreet Boys began as two separate groups...and it wasn't until Kevin ended up getting a job in Florida that the merge between the two groups began to take place.

To be more specific, Kevin took on a job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, taking on various jobs including dressing up as Aladdin and as a Ninja Turtle.  But once the costumes were stripped off, Kevin spent his nights trying to make it big in the world of music.  He ran into the trio of Carter, Dorough, and McLean after being introduced to them through a co-worker, and the trio became a quartet, as Richardson was brought into the group, with Littrell being the fifth and final member to join just months later.

By 1992, the five piece group was completed.  The eldest member at the time was Kevin, who was 21.  The youngest, Nick Carter, was not even thirteen.  And it was also in 1992 that the band would respond to an ad in a newspaper that would inevitably change their lives forever.

When Lou Pearlman placed an ad looking for people to audition for a new boy band, the five auditioned for the group, hoping that at least one of them would make it in.  Sure enough, A.J. was the first member to join the band after auditioning in Pearlman's own living room.  Little did the other four realize that over the next few months, they would end up becoming the other four members of the new group.

On April 20, 1993, the Backstreet Boys were officially formed, the name coming from an Orlando flea market named the Backstreet Market.  Just two weeks later, on May 8, the band performed their first gig at SeaWorld Orlando.  After performing several gigs at shopping malls and amusement parks for several months, the group ended up landing a record deal with Zomba Records in early 1994, and by mid-1995, the band were in the recording studios working on their debut album.

With assistance from Swedish based songwriters Max Martin and the late Denniz PoP, the Backstreet Boys went to work immediately on their self-titled debut, as well as their first single, "We've Got It Goin' On".  The single was released in September 1995 worldwide, and became a mild hit in the United States, peaking at #69 on the Billboard Charts three months after its release.  

But what was interesting about the Backstreet Boys when they first started out was the fact that although it took them some time to get recognition in North America, outside of North America, their popularity was huge.  "We've Got It Goin' On" reached the Top 5 in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, and the Netherlands.  And, here's a bit of trivia for you.  Did you know that the Backstreet Boys' debut album was released in Canada five months after it was released internationally?  It's true.  And although the Backstreet Boys quickly developed a following in Canada and all over the world, they were virtually ignored in their home country.

At least that's how it was...until 1997.

Seeing how popular the band was internationally, Lou Pearlman and Zomba wanted to see if that success could be duplicated within the United States.  The problem was that the band had already recorded their second album, "Backstreet's Back", which eventually saw an August 11, 1997 release.

It would be a bit silly to have the band's first American album be titled "Backstreet's Back" when nobody in America really had any idea who they were, never mind where they had gone.  So the decision was made to create an debut album solely for American audiences, taking songs from both albums, combining them together, and naming the album "Backstreet Boys".

Are we confused yet?

Anyway, one day after "Backstreet's Back" was released, the American debut hit the shelves in record stores all over the country.  And, considering that Halloween is coming up soon, why not do the feature on the spookiest music video that came from the very album?

ARTIST:  Backstreet Boys
SONG:  Everybody (Backstreet's Back)
ALBUM:  Backstreet's Back
DATE RELEASED:  June 30, 1997

You know, I'll be the first to admit that time does sometimes makes things better.  When I first heard this song, I was not a fan at all, and I thought that it was largely forgettable.  But watching this video fifteen years later, I have to admit that it's not as bad as I thought it would be.  The music is somewhat catchy, and I'll be the first to admit that the costume designer was quite good in this video.  And, you can also tell that the Backstreet Boys had a lot of fun filming this video.

This song was really one of the first songs that gave the Backstreet Boys instant success worldwide, including the United States (the other song being the #2 smash "Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)".  Soon after, they became one of the most successful groups of the late 1990s, playing thousands of concerts, winning several MTV Video Music Awards and American Music Awards, and having millions of fans all over the world.  1997 was definitely one of those years that really cemented the Backstreet Boys as a serious act on the charts.

But 1997 was also a rather tumultuous time for the Backstreet Boys as well.  When it was discovered that their manager, Lou Pearlman, wasn't exactly being truthful about the band's earnings, Brian Littrell was the first one to file a lawsuit against Pearlman, eventually being joined by all the other band members except Nick Carter.  Although settlements were eventually made, this effectively ended the partnership between Pearlman and the Backstreet Boys, and Pearlman moved on to his next band, *NSync.  

(I wouldn't feel so bad for Pearlman though.  He ended up screwing over *NSync, as well as the other musical acts that he had managed, and nearly all of them ended up filing lawsuits against him.  He was eventually arrested in 2007 following his involvement in a Ponzi scheme in which he bilked investors out of a reported $300 million!  He's now serving a jail sentence with a release date scheduled for the year 2029...when Pearlman is 75 years old.)

Over the next few years, each one of the Backstreet Boys would end up having personal issues as well.  Brian Littrell had to undergo emergency heart surgery in May 1998.  The band lost their friend, Denniz PoP in August 1998 from stomach cancer at the age of 35.  A month later, Howie lost his sister to lupus.

TRIVIA:  In the music video for "Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely", Brian and Howie's personal issues were incorporated into the video, as well as a dedication for their late friend, Denniz.

On top of that, A.J. McLean checked himself into rehab to deal with alcohol abuse, while Nick himself was trying to overcome his own addictions to drugs and alcohol.  As for Kevin Richardson, fans were shocked when in 2006, he announced his departure from the band, making the band a quartet.

However, as of 2012, Kevin announced that he was rejoining the band, and as of now, the band is working on their eighth studio album, set for a 2013 release.  Prior to that, the Backstreet Boys teamed up with the members of the New Kids On The Block for a tour, calling themselves the NKOTBSB.  It's almost like one of those family reunions where one generation gets together with their younger counterparts.

So, what are my thoughts on the Backstreet Boys these days, now that they have become men?  Well, I will admit that they don't nearly annoy me as much as they used to when I was a teenager.  In fact, I can honestly say that there are a couple of songs of theirs that I actually don't mind ("Shape of My Heart" being one song in particular that reminds me of my college years).  Sure, they might have released fluffy bubblegum pop songs, and yes, they may have been manufactured as a generic boy band.  But each one of the Backstreet Boys had an individual story and brought their own "A" games to the table...and in the end, it's netted them a career that has almost lasted two decades.

I say give the BSB a little credit for that.

(Although, I still reserve the right to poke fun at them once in a while.  What genius decided that writing down one chorus and singing it several times in a row constituted a smash single?  "I Want It That Way"?  How about NO!)

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