story / Gina Tron
images / Koko Ntuen
A lot of girls my age were big fans of the Backstreet Boys. I can recall vividly the Beatle-esque screaming fit my nation’s peers would have if they were in the same vicinity as the legendary boy band. I was not a fan of The Backstreet Boys. I used to draw pictures of me killing them. I hated them. I felt that I was supposed to. They represented everything I hated, or thought I hated. That didn’t stop me from secretly listening to their music in my bedroom though.
And my attempt to hate them was completely diminished when I interviewed the larger than life boy band for LADYGUNN. I got as giddy as a 14 year old.I was angry with myself for being so giddy and nervous. Why did I get so giddy? Maybe it’s because The Back Street Boys are ingrained in my brain. This is what happens when you are forced to meet part of your internal structure, a band that is so big that they, for better or worse, shaped you into the person that you are today.
I have a vivid memory of me crying in the back of a taxi in Montreal when I was 18. “Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely” was on the radio. I was on mushrooms. The song touched a hallucinogenic cord. At that time in my life I worked at Kinney Drugs and Petsmart to make money. The pre-BSB lives of some of the band’s members were not that different. Occupational wise, not mushroom wise. Kevin for example worked as a different kind of boy band member, a mutant one. He dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in Orlando’s Disney theme park. Brian in addition to working landscaping jobs, also worked in fast food, working at Long John Silvers for nearly two years.
Brian also worked in the kitchen department of a mental hospital. “I think having a normal job before [I became] a Backstreet Boy was definitely beneficial,” admitted Brian. It taught me a lot about working hard and taught me a lot about who I am as a person and who I wanted to be.” Howie worked as a tour guide at Universal Studios.
Nick, the baby of the group, did not get to experience the normalcy of odd jobs and hourly wages. Perhaps that is why Nick is coming out with a tell-all memoir this fall entitled “Facing The Music and Living To Talk About It.” The book is about his struggles and drug addiction. “We’ve all had our fair share of [struggle] with success and fame. It’s not an easy thing to deal with,” says the group. “I think being younger…it’s a tough thing.” When asked about the problems that come along with celebrity status, “Puffy [I believe they meant Biggie] was right when he said Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems. You have to know who you are as a person before you get into the business. Because that will be the same person you are when you come out.”
One of the struggles the group had to deal with was being under the thumb of Lou Pearlman, the music mogul that turned Orlando into a pop hot bed in the late nineties, spawning pop stars and boy bands left and right. He took Disney stars and turned them into marketable performers dripping with teen sex appeal. In 2008 Pearlman was sentenced to 25 years in prison after he plead guilty to charges of conspiracy and money laundering. The Backstreet Boys have been vocal about the constrictive years working with Pearlman, and about their newfound freedom as artists. Now, “The Backstreet Boys are in charge of The Backstreet Boys. We don’t have a record label. We are our own label now. We’ve been through a lot of tough times with managers.” Despite that they have “literally outlived our own contracts so now we do get to call the shots. We are the bosses.”
May of 1999 marked the band’s release of their smash hit Millennial. The band was at the peak of their fame and nothing proved how much larger than life they were at that moment than their appearance on TRL. They agreed with me that that day marked one of the most pivotal moments in their career. “We shut down Times Square that day. To look out to see the seas and seas of people that were there just to get a glimpse of us, that was an amazing experience. I don’t know if anything like that will ever happen again.”
Extremely dedicated fans can lead to some extreme situations. “We’ve had stowaways on our bus,” the band recalls. “We had two German girls get on our tour bus in Germany. They travelled for us for 100 kilometers. They were in the back of the bus hiding in between a bunk where we sleep. Our manager found them. We had to get them off the bus and put them in a cab and send them back to their city” Brian experienced a more recent fan situation. “There was a lady that broke into my property in Georgia,” he told me. “She was inviting me to her daughter’s 14th birthday party. She wanted me to come and sing for them and help cook hot dogs.”
I asked what their advice would be to those seeking a career in entertainment now , and perhaps fame. “You gotta pace yourself. These new pop bands like One Direction and groups like that… In order to have a long career you have to pace yourself. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”
The Backstreet Boys have certainly won the marathon of fame. And they keep going. “Were in our thirties and forties. We have families of our own now so its even more of an important thing…to set an example. You have to have good quality music to stick around for a long time. You can’t do crappy music and expect people to still love you and still support you.”