Boy band mania has dawned upon the world once again. Though modern groups like One Direction have captivated a new generation of frenzied fans, it’s arguably more exciting to see groups of yesteryear reunite to fulfill those nostalgic for the hottest male talents of the good old days. The Package Tour, for a recent example, brought together a few popular guy groups from three different eras: New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, and 98 Degrees.
However, there has been one boy band to rule them all and they are already making a big comeback—or maybe, they’ve always been here. There once was a time when the Backstreet Boys experienced the same immense popularity One Direction has been showering in these days. With their good looks, distinct and charming personalities, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and refined dance skills, the five-man singing group from Orlando, FL may have been a product of a marketing machine, yet they were genuinely talented and passionate about entertaining. In the mid to late 90s to early 2000s, one could not avoid the images of these guys’ transformations into iconic monsters and leading a group in a flash mob-type setting before the term flash mob was even invented in the “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” music video, or hearing the ultra-catchy and sweet pop hooks of “I Want It That Way” on the radio. Their record sales were off the charts, their concerts sold out in minutes, and they always made the talk show and variety show rounds—and their music videos were always in the rotation back when MTV actually played music videos. You would appoint a boyfriend from the five guys in the group—AJ [McLean], Brian [Littrell], Howie [Dorough], Kevin [Richardson], or Nick [Carter]—and you were part of those Team BSB or Team ‘N Sync fan wars. Yup, all those other boy bands—‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, LFO, 5ive (Do you even remember some of these names or is it just me?)—followed and the Backstreet Boys were the leader.
Then came a point where the boys grew up and became men and the axis of the music world tilted away from sugary pop ditties sung by male groups. Some personal and professional issues arose as well, such as disputes with the Backstreet Boys’ record label and management company. McLean checked into rehab in 2001 for drug and alcohol addiction, which caused the band to postpone some dates on one of their concert tours. In 2006, Richardson announced he was leaving the group to pursue other creative interests. Despite these changes, the Backstreet Boys continued to record and release music and perform live shows and make TV appearances as a group, earning and keeping the love of a devoted worldwide fanbase.
The Backstreet Boys have a rich 20-year history as one of pop music’s most well-known and beloved acts. In this milestone year, they have received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, released their eighth full-length studio album In a World Like This, and are currently on an international tour to support the album. Most importantly, they have done and are doing all of this with Richardson back in the mix, so Backstreet’s definitely back, in the way they were meant to be. Although older and wiser (And all married with kids, minus the engaged Carter, who is well on his way), these are men that will always endearingly be Boys to us. Today, we look into some of the band’s key moments and the hot hits that have become so integral to the identity and backstory of the Backstreet Boys. Hang on to those hats—we’re talking about two decades here, folks!
1993: Formation and the beginning. Lou Pearlman places an ad in the Orlando Sentinel seeking young male vocalists to form a “New Kids-type singing and dancing group.” McLean, Carter, Dorough, and Richardson are initially chosen, with Richardson’s cousin Littrell landing the fifth spot. They play their first show as a group at SeaWorld Orlando and embark on an unconventional summer promo tour, singing in malls, restaurants, schools, and charity galas.
1994: Signed. The Backstreet Boys sign their first record deal with Jive Records.
1995: First song. The Boys begin recording songs with Max Martin and Denniz Pop in Sweden. “We’ve Got it Goin’ On” is released as their first single, which reaches the top ten on European music charts.
1996: Success begins on international ground. Building off the commercial success of “We’ve Got it Goin’ On,” the Backstreet Boys continue to make an impact in Europe, as well as Asia and Canada. Their self-titled debut album is released, which features their first single and the hits “Anywhere for You,” “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” and “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart).”
1997: Arriving on home soil. The Backstreet Boys release their self-titled debut in the U.S., which contains a mix of tracks from their international debut album as well as new material from their second international album Backstreet’s Back. “As Long as You Love Me” and “All I Have to Give” become a couple of popular tracks, as well as the up-tempo “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” which only appeared on a 1998 rerelease of the album since the song became a hit overseas.
1998: A storm before another storm. This year is one that precedes a year in which the Backstreet Boys would experience some of their best success and popularity yet, but first, they must weather through personal struggles and professional battles. Littrell undergoes open-heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect, which pushes back the Boys’ concert tour to accommodate the procedure and his recovery. In the fall, the Boys’ cancel a show as Dorough mourns the loss of his sister Caroline to lupus. Reports surface about a lawsuit between the band, their management, and Lou Pearlman, which alleges that the Boys want more control over their corporate identity. The lawsuit is settled, though the details are not disclosed to this day. They also part ways with their longtime managers, Johnny and Donna Wright. In October of this year, the Backstreet Boys are recognized for headlining a tornado relief concert in Florida by being presented with the Key to the City by the mayor of Orlando.
1999: Backstreet Mania. On May 18 of this year, the Backstreet Boys release their third studio album, Millennium, which enters number 1 on the Billboard charts, selling 1,134,000 copies in its first week. It becomes the best-selling album of the year and is certified 13x platinum in the U.S. The singles “I Want It That Way,” “Larger Than Life,” “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely,” and “The One” enjoy heavy radio play and the music videos become a daily part of MTV’s Total Request Live (TRL) countdown. The worldwide 115-date Into the Millennium Tour breaks multiple ticket sales records. At a time where pop music is absolutely dominant, the Backstreet Boys are kings.
2000: Black and Blue around the world. The Backstreet Boys release their fourth studio album Black and Blue, which showcases more of the band’s songwriting talents and stays true to their pop sound. Black and Blue is anchored by the singles “Shape of My Heart,” “The Call,” and “More Than That.” To promote the album, the boys travel to several international cities in 100 hours—a rather impressive feat.
2001: Greatest Hits and rehab for one Boy. The Backstreet Boys embark on the international Black and Blue tour at the beginning of the year, but put the tour on hold as McLean checks into rehab for alcohol addiction and depression. In October, they release their first compilation album The Hits: Chapter One, which includes a new track called “Drowning.”
2004: Plotting the return. After parting ways with their management company The Firm and a solo effort by Carter, all five members of the group reconcile and return to the studio to record their next album and also embark on mini tours around Asia and Mexico to promote their comeback.
2005: A new sound. The band finally releases their fifth studio album Never Gone after a slight delay, with the ballad “Incomplete” as the first single. Although it is the first BSB album that uses live instruments, the album is widely panned by critics, as the sound and vibe of the new record strays away from the upbeat pop tunes they are famous for and deeper into power-ballad and pop-rock territory.
2006: One down. In June, the Backstreet Boys issue a statement that Richardson would be departing the group to pursue other interests. The band continues recording and performing as a quartet, and Richardson even joins them occasionally during performances and TV appearances in the next several years.
2007: Post-Kevin. The Backstreet Boys release Unbreakable, their first album as a quartet and their sixth studio record. It is the first BSB record without involvement from longtime collaborators Max Martin and Kristian Lundin. The new album is considered a good mix of their earlier feel-good pop tunes with their recent more mature-sounding and edgier direction.
2009: This is Us. The band continues to prove they can move on without one of their original members by releasing their seventh studio album This is Us, which reverts to their upbeat pop sound combined with R&B, and going on yet another world concert tour in support of the album.
2011: One half of a super boy band. The Backstreet Boys embark on a wildly popular joint international tour with the boy band of the generation before them, New Kids on the Block. They are billed as NKOTBSB, which is also the title of their compilation album featuring hits from both bands, a couple of new collaborations, and a mashup of their songs. Before the tour, the Backstreet Boys also announce their departure from longtime label Jive Records.
2012: [Missing] Backstreet [Boy]’s Back, All Right! The Backstreet Boys officially announce that Richardson would be permanently rejoining the group. They begin recording their next album and perform as part of Good Morning America‘s Summer Concert Series, marking their first performance as a reunited fivesome.
2013: The 20th Year: On April 20th—20 years since they officially became the Backstreet Boys—the band hosted a special fan event in Hollywood, where they previewed songs from their new album and teased a documentary about themselves, which is set to be released next year. Two days later, they received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They released their eighth studio album—a poppy yet personal effort—In a World Like This independently on July 30 and are currently on a world tour to support the album and to celebrate 20 years as the Backstreet Boys.