Since the dawn of music there have been great rivalries – but perhaps none greater than the competition between two groups born from the same money-making blueprint, by the same man. That man was Lou Pearlman and the two bands were *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys.
The Backstreet Boys were the first group that Perlman formulated, and 20-something year old me isn’t afraid to say that the boys paved a lot of the way for *NSYNC. Eight-year-old me would have insisted that *NSYNC was clearly the better band — but over the last ten years, I’ve had quite the change of heart.
Back in my day there was no question –- you were either team *NSYNC or team Backstreet (or, like some independent party, a 98 degrees fan) and choosing your allegiance was a serious decision. I was staunchly team *NSYNC as my future husband Justin Timberlake was a member and I never once questioned my loyalty to his boy band. That was… until I heard As Long As You Love Me.
On the way to dinner one evening, the radio was blasting in my mother’s car when an upbeat guitar riff started to play and the sounds of a teenage boy filled my ears. By the time the chorus began I could hear luscious harmonies and my heart sank.
The song was catchy (albeit slightly naive sounding) but there was one major problem: this group was not *NSYNC! The DJ confirmed those heavenly voices that blended so well together belonged to none other than *NSYNC’s arch nemesis… the Backstreet Boys! Though I tried to resist, I slowly started to warm up to BSB.
No one could have predicted the smash success of BSB’s leading single from their second U.S. (third international) release, Millennium. I Want it that Way was so popular even my mother knew the lyrics! The track was an unstoppable force on radio and my dance school even decided to create a routine to the album’s next single, Larger than Life.
The boys pushed through a gruesome court case against one-time manager Pearlman and came out on the other side with an album that remains my favorite BSB album to date – an album aptly titled Black and Blue. I credit this album (and my mom who bought for Christmas that year) with solidifying my status as a BSB-fanatic. But there was more heartache to come for BSB and their fans…
Armed with a husky voice and a bad boy attitude, AJ McLean will admit to his fair share of sex, drugs and rock and roll. He had arms full of tattoos and had the edgiest sounding voice of any of the boys, but his tough exterior was a mere mask for the inner turmoil he kept hidden from the public.
While filming the music video for fan-favorite The Call, McLean stated he used cocaine for the first time. But the dabbling did not stop there and soon, his life was spiraling out of control, threatening the future of the band.
On a stop in Boston, the BSB were expected to show up to a little league game. Hungover and uninterested, McLean refused to take part in the outing. Eldest BSB member, Kevin Richardson, infuriated with McLean’s carelessness broke down his bandmate’s door. McLean called his mother and manager announcing he wanted out of the band. His family and friends had other plans, and McLean was instead admitted into a treatment facility to begin to fight his demons.
The BSB released a greatest hits album before taking the longest break of their collective career. Fans and critics were markedly split regarding BSB’s 2005 “come back” album, Never Gone. The new album saw a departure from the band’s dance-pop fare and leaned more towards adult contemporary. Never Gone would also become the last BSB album featuring original member Richardson until his return in 2012.
In 2007 I was a college freshman with few friends besides the ones I left behind in my hometown. As ever, I found solace in the music I love.
That year, the BSB released their first album without Richardson. Inconsolable- and Unbreakable in its entirety remained on repeat in my dorm room (although my always-drunk roommates never complained). The only thing better than a new album was of course a tour to promote said album and in 2008, I went my to very first BSB concert. I have seen the boys six times in as many years and celebrated Richardson’s glorious return during the last two.
2015 gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of BSB’s eighth studio album and a glimpse into the early days of the band dominated by sleep-deprivation and endless touring thanks to the documentary, Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of. My sister and friend jumped at the chance to watch the film in theaters and sang, laughed and even cried with about 20 other BSB fans (and got judgmental looks from the guy that collects the tickets…whatever, dude).
Thankfully, the boys have no intentions of stopping after more than 20 years together; they’ve got a new record slated for release sometime this year!
Thank you Kevin, Howie, Brian, AJ and Nick. All of your time spent keeps us… (fangirls)… alive…