Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Boy Bands Part III: Backstreet Boys

Today's Boy Band is the Backstreet Boys. They first emerged on the music scene in 1997, alongside another Boy Band, NSYNC. During that summer, I was in Paris and saw huge advertisements for both the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. I stayed with a French family that I know and I asked the girl in the family who these bands were. I thought they were English. She looked at me in shock and said that they were American. This was surprising, because they weren't known in America at the time.

By the time fall rolled around and I was in college at BYU, radio stations played debut singles by both Boy Bands. I learned that they were sent to Europe first, to break through before the American roll-out began. It was strange that there were two Boy Bands releasing singles and debut albums at the same time.

Musically, I preferred the Backstreet Boys. I thought they had better songs. On campus, I noticed that NSYNC was more popular. During my last semester at BYU, the Political Science department had a special gathering at a lodge near Sundance in Park City. The biggest hit of the evening was when a few Political Science professors (including my Human Rights course instructor, Darren Hawkins) took to the stage to sing their version of the Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way." I was impressed. The professors' version was about the student demands for an "A" and trying to put conditions on the professors, rather than accepting what the professors give them. I thought it was pretty bold and hip of these Mormon university professors to sing a Boy Band song.

Another song that I like is "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely." This was a hit single my last semester (which was appropriate because I was definitely lonely at BYU, being the only RLDS student among 30,000 Mormon students. Interestingly enough, during my first semester, Boyz II Men had a hit single with "Four Seasons of Loneliness", which I also loved). If the Backstreet Boys really want to know the meaning of being lonely, I recommend that they attend college at BYU! That was the loneliest place in the world for a non-Mormon.

After the release of their second album, Millennium, in 1999, the Backstreet Boys seemed to follow the "curse" of the Boy Bands. What's that curse? As we've seen with New Kids on the Block and Take That, the album that brought the Boy Band fame with a hit parade of singles causes ecstastic enthusiasm for the follow-up album, which, once release either fails to live up to expectations or satisfies the craving, though they don't have as many hit singles and the band kind of fades out until they break up.

In the past decade, the Backstreet Boys did release a couple of albums, but they haven't had much radio play. They seem to prefer ballads and aim for the Adult Contemporary music market, which is why they aren't successful. Once members of Boy Bands get married, their career seems to die off. Part of the marketing appeal of Boy Bands is the fantasy aspect for young girls and married guys lose that appeal. Last I heard, Brian Littrell (the main lead singer) was living in Atlanta with his wife. Instead of recording new music under the same Boy Band name, they should take the advice of Take That from the song "Never Forget." Their time in the spotlight was over at the Turn of the Millennium. Boy Bands don't last forever. The market favours Justin Bieber right now and the Backstreet Boys are not the Beach Boys.


Anonymous said...

The Backstreet Boys debut predated nsync's by several years. They were formed in 1993. They toured middle schools and malls in US for a couple of years, then Lou Pearlman took them to Europe where they hit it big in 1995. Their first album was in Germany in 1995-96. It was repackaged in Canada, which was the next country to discover the group as Backstreet's Back, then again it was repackaged as Backstreet's Back in 1996-97 for the US. nsync formed in 1995, and consistently lagged 2 years in popularity throughout their career. It wasn't until 1997, when Brian was unable to perform for a Disney concert due to open heart surgery, that Backstreet found out that Lou Pearlman had another boyband lurking in the wings. nsync was given the Disney concert in Backstreet's place while Brian had his surgery.
While Backstreet may never achieve the level of fandom it had in its heyday, their sales and tours are still doing VERY respectable business. The Boys are making a living doing something they love. The last 3 albums are frankly their best artistically speaking, even if the songs don't play on the radio. Considering what does, I'm not sure that isn't a compliment.

Sansego said...

I appreciate the history lesson, as I actually know very little about either Backstreet Boys or NSYNC. In fact, my posts about these Boy Bands are not meant to be highly detailed histories of the bands...simply my thoughts about them and when I first heard about them. I did not realize that they had been singing together that long.

I agree that radio today is pretty pathetic. If I was a radio station owner, I would play a much wider variety of music (from around the world). I am not a huge fan of ballads, though. A couple per album is good enough. Seems like when bands get older, though, they turn into Barry Manilow or Air Supply, which is not cool with me. I like the high energy pop songs the best.