Going from the Backstreet to the main street
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Date: Mar 26, 2005
The once beloved Backstreet Boys are about to launch their first album in five years and start a modest tour, but do their former fans still care? Sheri Block finds out.
Written by Sheri Block
Backstreet's coming back. But as one of the biggest-selling boy bands in pop music history prepares its return, questions remain: Will their former fans still care?
One of the most beloved boy bands of the '90s, the Backstreet Boys sold millions of albums, played to massive crowds on countless stadium tours and won the hearts of teenage girls worldwide.
The boys -- Brian Littrell, Kevin Richardson, A.J. McLean, Nick Carter, and Howie Dorough -- are about to release their first album in five years and embark on a small 16-city club tour.
It's a risky move, considering the era of the boy band has long been dead.
The market was fertile ground during the group's rise in the mid to late '90s, but the new millennium has seen the birth of "anti-pop," with the Avril Lavignes of the world replacing the likes of Britney Spears and pop-punk bands such as Simple Plan, Green Day and Good Charlotte occupying the iPods of the nation's youth.
Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, an online source for music industry news, says the critical question is whether there will be an audience for the Backstreet Boys' music.
"That'll be the real key, if their music ends up getting accepted by the public again," says Bongiovanni. "The history of teen pop acts, which I guess you'd have to call the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Britney or anybody else, demonstrates that they have a very rapid ascent and a very rapid descent as well in their career arcs. Very few of them last more than a few years."
Backstreet was hardly the first group to call itself a boy band and incorporate vocal harmonies with synchronized dance moves (think The Bay City Rollers in the '70s, Menudo in the '80s and later New Kids on the Block), but they did lead the way for similar groups, including 'N Sync, 98 Degrees and O-Town.
The group's self-titled debut album, released in 1996 in Canada and Europe, sold more than eight million copies and spawned hits such as Quit Playin' Games (With My Heart) and I'll Never Break Your Heart.
The hits continued on their next three albums, and so did the sales. Millennium, released in 1999, sold 21 million copies alone.
"The Backstreet Boys were enormous," says Bongiovanni. "They were stadium headliners. The one act that comes immediately to mind was New Kids on the Block, which went from being able to sell out football stadiums to not even being able to do club tours and then they just disbanded."
Backstreet's new single, Incomplete, is described as a "power ballad." It will hit radio stations on Monday. The rest of the yet to be titled album is due for release in June.
"We're all excited again," Kevin Richardson told The Canadian Press in a recent interview about the group's return. "We just needed a break to recharge our batteries and step back and absorb it all, and realize what happened to us over the last 10 years."
Christy Johnson, now 25, is less excited about the Backstreet Boys return.
A fanatic follower of the group during the height of its popularity, Johnson remembers waiting in line overnight for a chance to see her musical idols in concert.
Today, Johnson is skeptical about the group's comeback.
"I'd check them out but I don't think I would go to the extent I did when I was younger," says Johnson. "It's more of a teenage thing. I'm a little older now, so boy bands don't appeal to me like they used to."
Janet Giovanelli, editor in chief of J-14, an American teen magazine, says that like Johnson, many of the Backstreet Boys' fans have moved on.
"My gut reaction was no way because it's been over five years since their last album and their fans, they were young at the time, they're in their late teens, early 20s, they're not going to be interested in the Backstreet Boys," she said.
"But the more I looked into it, I see that their club dates are selling out really fast. They've added another date here in New York and both dates are sold out.
"There definitely is some interest there. Will they ever see the glory days that they had nine, 10 years ago? Doubtful because music just seems to be going in such a different direction."
She's not sure how the younger set, like J-14 readers, will respond to an act like the Backstreet Boys.
"My readers are young and five years ago, some of them were in kindergarten, so they didn't know about the Backstreet Boys, it was more about Barney."
During the group's hiatus, Nick Carter released a solo album, 2003's Now or Never, but it paled in comparison to 'N Sync counterpart Justin Timberlake's smash debut Justified. Littrell will release a solo album this year on a Christian label.
Carter has also been in the trouble with the law -- he was charged with impaired driving in March -- and McLean spent time in rehab for depression and alcohol abuse while the group was still together in 2001.
"I don't think it's going to hurt them," says Giovanelli. "Look at the success of 50 Cent, that shooting helped him ... it's bringing more attention to them, as sad as that is and also, they haven't done anything so horrific."
Nabeela Damji, 17, is one fan who hasn't been deterred by the problems some of the group members have experienced.
"They're human, right? As long as people and their fans realize that they're human and they make mistakes, then I guess it's all good and you have to support them because they're not perfect."
Damji, who attended two Backstreet Boys concerts in Calgary in 2001 and 1998, welcomes the comeback.
"I am sooo excited," says Damji, who has no doubt she will buy the new album. "It's well overdue. There's just something about them. They're an amazing band. They can sing, they can dance, they've got it all."
With the Backstreet Boys on the comeback trail, can more boy band reunions be far behind?
"If there proves to be a market for the Backstreet Boys, I would imagine that you'll see 'N Sync again," says Bongiovanni.
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