×

Backstreet Boys Find Way to Hollywood Walk of Fame

Older and wiser, the quintessential boy band reboots on its own terms

It was nearly 20 years ago that five wide-eyed teenage Orlando refugees found themselves in Cheiron Studios, a little-known outfit in the middle of an unfashionably urbanized island in Stockholm, ready to work on a dance-pop album with a shaggy-haired, failed glam metal singer named Max Martin. It was an inauspicious beginning to a partnership that would eventually launch the Backstreet Boys as one of the best-selling bands of the SoundScan era.

That time period has been on the group’s mind recently, as it gears up to celebrate a two-decade anniversary and accept a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Just last month, the fivesome — now back at its full original complement thanks to last year’s return of Kevin Richardson — reunited with Martin in the studio to begin devising material for its eighth studio album.

“I like to believe that what we did at that time was special, and it came from a place of innocence, when no one really knew who we were,” says Richardson of the band’s early days in Sweden. “Of course we wanted to make music that people related to and radio would play, but there wasn’t such a mission statement of ‘we gotta make a hit, we gotta make a hit.’ ”

“Innocence” might not come to many minds in reference to this particular group, nor would an indifference to hits. After all, Cheiron and Martin, on the back of Backstreet’s success, would eventually become synonymous with factory-like efficiency in pop songcraft. And the Backstreet Boys, despite racking up album sales figures that read like balance-sheet typos, would quickly become pop purists’ most convenient whipping boys.

But perhaps that reputation has more to do with the group’s timing than its quality. The Backstreet Boys’ commercial peak coincided with that of the record industry itself, an extended binge in which the group’s label Jive could blithely ship out 11 million copies of Millennium in a single year, confident that around 10 million of them would actually sell by Christmas.

Now that the industrywide spree has crashed to a halt, it’s easy to conflate the group with that era of decadence. Never mind the still-immense worldwide fanbase or the lengthy resume of hits that any radio-literate person can hum start-to-finish; the Boys were somehow seen as having skipped straight from “flash in the pan” to “nostalgia act” without a respectable, intervening career.

Brian Littrell acknowledges the abuse the group endured — that strange commixture of jealousy, musical puritanism and displaced gay panic that afflicts all boy bands from New Kids to One Direction — was a bit much in its early years. “The naysayers hurt in the beginning of your career,” he says. “They really do hurt when you’ve put your heart and soul into a record and people seem like they just live to bash it. Our skin has gotten a lot thicker now.”

And while the group posted fiscal figures high enough to elevate it above the slings and arrows of the rabble below, it never was immune to the call of credibility. The Boys longed to pursue different stylistic avenues back in their heyday, but were continually frustrated in their attempts to parlay commercial success into creative liberty.

Backstreet Boys Star Walk of Fame

Even when the group seemed to have agreed upon a new artistic direction, Richardson recalls, somehow the best-laid plans would be led astray. “It wasn’t divide-and-conquer, exactly,” he explains, “but (Jive) would express their concerns to us individually, and then before you know it, what we wanted to do as a group was what the record company had dictated.”

Now making records unsupervised for the first time in its career, the band has been keen to explore. Aside from the work with Martin, the group is cutting acoustic-based tracks with Martin Terefe and collaborating with young production duo Morgan and Prophet, assembling the record entirely independent of label interference. “We made it on our own, and we own this record,” Richardson says.

Of course, there’s always a danger in forging a new path after 20 years on the same one, but it’s a concern the group seems content to shrug off, confident the music industry’s new world order has space for them still.

“As long as the music is Backstreet being Backstreet, I don’t really think we can fail,” Littrell says. “There’s no number-counter out there that says, ‘if you don’t sell however many million copies in however long, you’re a failure.’ I don’t think the music business consists of that anymore.

“We’re old-school veterans at this point.”

Go-go ’90s Springboard
The Backstreet Boys are set to return with an album this year that includes all five original

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Monkees/Badfinger/Nazz Supergroup Takes Beatles' 'White Album'

    Monkees/Badfinger/Nazz Supergroup Gets Back to '68 by Touring Beatles' 'White Album'

    The 50th anniversary re-release of 1969’s “Abbey Road” may be just days away, but that doesn’t mean Beatles fans have been there and done that when it comes to celebrating ’68. Todd Rundgren, the Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz, Badfinger’s Joey Molland and several other name musicians of a certain vintage are teaming up to go out [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • Saweetie

    Saweetie's 'My Type' Is a Smash, but Is it Too Provocative for Top 40?

    Saweetie’s “My Type” is a smash. The high-energy, up-tempto, bad bitch anthem has proven to be an undeniable force. Having won the hearts of TikTok users, radio (rhythmic, urban and now Top 40, logging more than 81,000 combined spins, according to Mediabase) and streaming, where BuzzAngle Music records 160 million U.S. streams to date and [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Peter Coyote Riffs on 'Country Music' and How He Admires and Challenges Ken Burns

    Though an instantly recognizable face from films such as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “A Walk to Remember” and “Erin Brockovich,” it is Peter Coyote’s voice — a coolly authoritative baritone with a Zen master’s holy roll — that has endeared him to documentary lovers and makers. Alrhough director-writer Alex Gibney used Coyote’s wisened narration for “Enron: [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Reaches Deal With Record Labels on Music Videos

    SAG-AFTRA has reached an agreement with the major record labels on a three-year successor contract to their music video agreement. The union announced Friday that the deal achieves important economic and safety gains for performers working in music videos. Details of the new agreement will not be released until after it is reviewed by the [...]

  • Album Review: Samantha Fish’s ‘Kill or

    Album Review: Samantha Fish’s ‘Kill or Be Kind’

    At a time when rock music remains in a deep recession — to put it politely — there are few more encouraging sights to see than a badass, slide-guitar-wielding female from Kansas City lobbing some blueswailing rock and roll. That’s exactly what Samantha Fish has been serving up for the better part of a decade, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content