You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

More Music

  • Morissey California Sun Album

    Album Review: Morrissey’s ‘California Son’

    Since his days with the Smiths, the warbling baritone crooner and shrilly irritable lyricist Morrissey has found heart and humor in the repetition of his central (now, right-winged) talking points. It could be a famed mix of sexual deprivation and longing, and the isolation that comes with placing oneself on the shelf. It could be [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • BTS 'Good Morning America' TV show,

    BTS Fans Slam Restaurant After Owner Posts Video of the Boy Band Eating

    Don’t mess with BTS stans. After an owner of New York Korean barbecue chain Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong posted a video of the K-pop band dining at his Midtown restaurant, fans claimed he was violating BTS’ privacy rights and flooded the eatery with one-star Yelp reviews in retaliation. Members of the group dined in the [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Rolling Stones Give up 'Bittersweet Symphony'

    Rolling Stones Give 'Bittersweet Symphony' Songwriter Royalties to the Verve's Richard Ashcroft

    UPDATED: Nearly 22 years after the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” was released, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have assigned to Richard Ashcroft the songwriter royalties and rights from the song, which samples one of their compositions, and removed their writing credits. The news was first reported by the BBC and New Musical Express. [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content