Backstreet Boys’ upbeat outlook hooks teens

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Date: Nov 05, 2099
Source: The Detroit News
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By Kevin Ransom / Special to The Detroit News

Teen-pop rules! You could call the astounding success of the Backstreet Boys and other “boy groups” in the late ’90s a sugar-sweet reaction to the punishing grunge-rock and alt-rock that ruled the charts earlier this decade.

Or you could just call it fun.

Either way, t he Backstreet Boys are back in Motown and playing sold-out shows at the Palace on Saturday, Sunday and Monday .

“The music of the Backstreet Boys is positive, and light and easy to listen to,” says Sandy Warner, 36, of South Lyon, who’ll be in the crowd this weekend. “It doesn’t project the negative, depressing images that a lot of the alternative bands seem to project.”

For Warner, the parent of two children, ages 7 and 13, that’s an important consideration.

“I just couldn’t listen to the alternative and grunge bands any more,” says Warner, although she says she still enjoys groups like Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind. “The Backstreet Boys have a positive outlook on things everyone can relate to, like boyfriends and girlfriends. Nothing gets too deep or too heavily emotional.”

Maybe that’s why the commercial power of the Backstreet Boys has been so staggering. Their Saturday show at the Palace sold out in eight minutes — the fastest in Palace history — and all three shows were sold out within 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Backstreet Boys have sold a combined 18 million copies of their last two albums. Indeed, when their Millennium album was released in May, it sold 1.1 million copies in its first week, breaking the single-week SoundScan sales record previously held by Garth Brooks.

And on Aug. 14, when tickets for their fall tour went on sale, 765,000 sold out in one day, raking in $30 million. Most of those tickets were gone within an hour.

Like many massively popular teen-pop acts, the Backstreet Boys take a drubbing from the critics. When not ignoring the Boys completely, critics use terms like “gooey,” “bland,” “formulaic” and even “insipid” when describing the Boys’ electro-pop and swooning ballads. But the fact that their music is so harmless and inoffensive is what makes it so palatable to the mass audience.

“Yeah, their music is pretty harmless,” says Dana Lundon, music director at WQKI-FM (95.5). “Obviously, their biggest audience is teen-age girls, but I think parents also like them because they’re pretty good role models.

“I think a lot of parents are just so happy that their kids are into the Backstreet Boys, as opposed to someone like Marilyn Manson,” she adds.

“But they really are the epitome of pop music. It’s pretty contagious stuff,” says Lundon, 34. “It’s not something I go home and play, but if it comes on the radio, I don’t shut it off, either. And I find myself singing one of their songs to myself and thinking, Oh, like I haven’t heard that enough. ... It’s just very hooky.”

Cristin Lentine of Sterling Heights is such a big fan of the Boys that she traveled to Washington, D.C., in September for a show. She’s going to two of the Palace concerts and will catch their Lexington, Ky., concert Nov. 27.

“Their music is unbelievable, and I don’t agree that it’s just for teen-agers,” says Lentine, 20. “I’m involved in a group called the Mature Fan Club. It’s men and women, mostly over the age of 25, who are into the Backstreet Boys’ music.

“Their promoters and marketers have targeted young people, but that’s just the way the record industry is. It’s been that way since the Beatles.”

Lentine isn’t just a teen-pop fan, however. “I think Metallica is great, and I’m also into groups like Nirvana and Aerosmith.”

As a 16-year-old, Danielle Eckhout of Utica is an enthusiastic member of the Backstreet Boys’ target audience.

“Yeah, I guess they have more appeal to young girls, because of their looks,” says Danielle, who’s going to two of the shows this weekend. “Some of them are really good-looking, and they’re real trendy-looking, like the ideal guy. And their words appeal to us too, because they sing about love — you know, that little word.”

Unsurprisingly, Eckhout knows very few boys who are into the Boys.

“My boyfriend despises them,” she says. “He won’t even go to the show. And if one of the guys starts singing a Backstreet Boys song, the other guys will say, Hey, shut up, quit singin’ that.’ ”

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