Growing pains for the Boys

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Date: Mar 10, 2001
Source: The Arizona Republic
Submitted By: GJ

Growing pains for the Boys

Associated Press

A.J. McLean and the Backstreet Boys head for Phoenix.

Larry Rodgers

The Arizona Republic

March 11, 2001

The five Backstreet Boys have grown into men since their last visit to Phoenix, and their act faces growing pains of its own as it rolls toward a pair of concerts here Monday and Tuesday.

With two members now married and the eldest pushing 30, the clean-cut quintet that started stealing young girls' hearts four years ago is adopting an edgier stage and musical presence that targets a wider audience.

The comic-book spacesuits of the group's last outing have given way to black leather and bandanas, while the sugary melodies of I Want It That Way and Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) have been augmented by darker songs dealing with sadness, loneliness and guys who cheat on their girlfriends.

The Backstreet Boys, who have been marketed with surgical precision since their genesis, appear to be realizing that they can't survive much longer by singing to 11-year-olds holding "We Love You" signs.

A transition to an older audience won't come easily, as Hanson, New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men can attest, but Backstreet already is traveling down that road - somewhat tentatively.

After working closely with Tower Records to market their first two albums to the teenybopper crowd, Backstreet gave little advance notice that it would be segueing into more mature territory with its recent Black & Blue CD, an executive for the record chain says.

"When this album came out, they didn't publicly try to position themselves as trying to reach the older (listeners)," says Linda Hoffman, national advertising manager for Tower.

But once such grown-up songs as The Call and I Promise hit the airwaves and Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell got hitched, the band left itself no option but to look toward its next chapter.

"The fact that they actually announced the weddings - by doing that, they really did position themselves to appear to be older," Hoffman says.

"So the hopes and dreams of the little girls who think, 'I love this guy and I'm going to marry him,' are disappearing."

Hoffman and a Valley radio-station executive predict that the transition from teen fans to an older crowd won't be easy.

"I think they're going to have a hard time making that transition," Hoffman says. "It depends on what the next album is going to do" in terms of subject matter and overall sound.

The program director of KPTY-FM (103. 9), where listener requests for songs by Backstreet and rival 'N Sync have cooled in the past six months, shows even less optimism:

"I don't think that their audience is necessarily growing with them," says Garrisson, who uses a one-name moniker.

"Once everybody realizes the individualism of life - that usually hits right around high school . . . you start to realize what is your (musical) taste and what's been pushed on you."

At that point, Garrisson adds, late teens tend to veer from the mass-marketed boy bands as they figure out "whether you're a rock-and-roll guy or a rap guy or whatever."

Despite the Backstreet Boys' maturing image, Garrisson sees their fan base continuing to be dominated by "young girls who read teen magazines and pin up pictures on their wall."

The band is hedging its bet on this tour by including plenty of bubbly favorites from the past as it showcases new tunes from Black & Blue.

Garrisson thinks the group will milk the lucrative "bubblegum White crowd" for many more millions before moving on:

"They're still making a gazillion dollars . . . but you have girls who have not hit puberty in your audience. Most (performers) don't care as long as the tickets are selling."

Hoffman views the Backstreet Boys' future with more uncertainty:

"When their next album comes out - if there is one -we will definitely market it appropriately."

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