In the shadows of interactive anonymity I can finally admit it: I am, and have to some extend always been, a Backstreet Boys fan. Careful not to commit social suicide, this has been my own personal secret, although I suspect my brother knows, being a closeted BSB fan himself. But I can’t help it, I simply find most of their hit material absolutely irresistible in its unabashedly sentimental, insanely catchy way. And more embarrassing yet, this has nothing to do with my being gay. Even though I guess I once found Nick Carter fairly pleasant to look at, my secret fandom was never triggered by a crush or me questioning my sexuality. It was all about the music.
It is my sincere opinion that several of the BSB smashes will go down in history as masterpieces of pop craftsmanship, not least owing to the pop sensibility of lead producer Max Martin. Some of the songs might at first seem almost outdated to today’s audience, lacking as they are any of the R&B influences that so inspire the genre in the 00’s. Still, if you listen to early singles such as Get Down or We’ve Got It Going On, you will recognize a sort of pre-Y2K catchiness. Even though their debut album had several other decent moments, most notably Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) and Anywhere For You, it was not until the second album, 1997’s Backstreet’s Back, that they had me.
Lead single Everybody took the production values up a notch, creating what in more than one meaning counts as the BSB equivalent of Michael Jackson’s floor-filler evergreen Thriller. Supported not so much by a music video as a short film, Everybody instantly gained traction with the MTV crowd. Deliciously danceable and utterly self-confident, it signaled that world dominance was on the books for the Florida five. Second single As Long As You Love Me was an instant love ballad hit with its simple, low-key melody, and 1999’s Millenium led with a similarly irresistible love song, I Want It That Way. It was this album that definitely catapulted the group to American superstardom, having first gained a dedicated pre-teen fanbase in Europe. With Backstreet Boys, someone was finally ready to replace New Kids On The Block as the world’s leading boyband.
BSB then returned to grandiose dance pop with the futuristic video for follow-up single Larger Than Life, but slowly the group’s heyday was about to pass. By the time Black & Blue was released I had stopped paying attention, and waded into safer territory (socially speaking), but Shape Of My Heart is just as perfect a ballad as The Call is undeniably catchy. The group may still not have become acceptable to feinschmeckers, but critics were not quite as harsh and condescending as they had been previously, with good reason, as I later learned.
Surprisingly, Backstreet Boys managed to get back in the spotlight with Incomplete in 2005, marking a return to the charts, followed by the obnoxious self-mockery of second single Just Want You To Know, but to me the magic was gone. The harmonies were still there, to be sure, but the songs weren’t as good, and neither was the production. From actually (however secretly) liking BSB for their music, I was now left with enjoying them in a sort of nostalgic way. Of course, this was easier among my friends, as you seem to be free to admit to pretty much anything as long as you can convince them that you’re being ironic. I could even be public about it, as everybody gladly assumed I was joking.
Just the other day I was trying to decide who had been the Backstreet Boys of the last couple of years, but I simply couldn’t think of any. It might be that the era of the boyband is over, or that now they look more like the Jonas Brothers than N*Sync. Either way, if this the end of boybands as we know them, then maybe we can finally acknowledge that they had their moments of pure pop music gold. In their corner of popworld, they might as well be the greatest act of the last ten years.