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Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough On How Crippling Anxiety & Shyness Inspired His Family Album, 'Which One Am I?'

Howie Dorough & Family

Photo by Nicole Hensley

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Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough On How Crippling Anxiety & Shyness Inspired His Family Album, 'Which One Am I?'

After being relegated to the background in his millennium-era boy band, today the pop performer is embracing his chance to take center stage

GRAMMYs/Jul 26, 2019 - 09:31 pm

In his new solo album, Which One Am I?, Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough sings about spending summer days as a kid, hiding in the pool changing shed to avoid being seen in swimming trunks. Meanwhile, he would go to school praying that he wouldn't have to sing in music class. Likewise, if a teacher ever asked him to speak in front of the class, he tells the Recording Academy that he would face a wave of nerves and anxiety, which would sweep over him and manifest in stutters and misread words. 

It might be hard to believe that that anxious kid would eventually grow up to be a member of one of the most successful boy bands in the world. But happily, Dorough's fear of public speaking didn't stop him from performing, and it hasn’t stopped him from hosting fan after-parties or album listening sessions. Meanwhile, his aforementioned physical insecurities haven't prevented him from stripping down at Backstreet Boys beach parties.

Shyness and anxiety are some of the many childhood struggles Dorough explored in his new family album, Which One Am I?, which he created with the hope that both children and adults would relate.

As a father of two young boys himself (James, 10, and Holden, six, with his wife of 11 years, Leigh), the doting dad noticed a lack of suitable music for his sons to listen to once they were past the "Kidz Bop" stage, but not old enough for teen offerings on the radio. Nor was there music which adults would find entertaining alongside their children. 

Teaming up with GRAMMY-nominated composer Tor Hyams and his vocalist partner Lisa St. Lou, Dorough set out to create a family-friendly record and subsequently ended up exploring the issues of his youth. The album, released to coincide with the launch of the Backstreet Boys DNA World Tourhas also been adapted into a musical, Howie D: Back in the Daywith Dorough set to star in the debut run of shows kicking off at Omaha’s Rose Theater in January.

Below, the Recording Academy speaks to Dorough about his new record and the personal inspiration behind it.



How does it feel to finally release your solo record?

I’m excited! It's definitely something which if you had asked me 20 years ago, or 15 years ago, whether I’d be doing this right now, I would have been like, "You're off your rockers!" I was shy growing up, but as well as that, I would never have thought I’d go from pop music to making a family album.

You worked with Tor and Lisa on the record. How did the songs evolve after your initial discussions with them?

They said, "You have a lot of relatable things that kids can relate to—and adults, too." Everyday situations like worrying, being shy, feeling small and being in somebody’s shadow. So, we started writing about this stuff. The majority of the songs are loosely based on real-life experiences, like "Pollyanna’s Shadow" refers to growing up with my older sister, Pollyanna.

You used to go into music class, praying that you wouldn't have to sing in front of your classmates, which seems ironic now that you’ve made a living singing to millions of people around the world. How much did that shyness hold you back as a kid?

I was definitely very shy—even just reading in front of my class, I would stutter. Or I wouldn’t stutter, but I'd get so nervous and my anxiety would take over so much that I’d read words that weren’t even there! I'd just be standing there shaking in front of the class.

Do you ever feel like that these days?

Even to this day I still get nervous every time before I go on stage. Every time we're about to do something for television or at an awards show—if they took my blood pressure, it would probably be sky-high! A lot of people don’t realize, but part of me is still shy. I’m not like some other people who are like, "I just want to sing for you all the time. Let me be on all the time." I’m a little more reserved. And that’s why, believe it or not, I don't do a lot of karaoke. People are like, "You must do karaoke all the time," but I really don't. If it's not one of my songs, I probably haven’t sung it in 30 years. I still get shy about being out there, especially if I’m exposing myself in a different light to be criticized and critiqued.

"Me and Kevin [Richardson] were more in the background and I struggled with that for many years. I never wanted to just be a background singer, but I realized over time that everything was meant to be."

So, how do you get up in front of sold-out crowds to perform every night?

I just do it. I just get up there! Little by little, I’ve learned not to embrace, but to understand the nerves and the butterflies. I've realized that it’s actually what I need to keep me on my toes.

You explore struggles with your multi-racial identity growing up in the album, but it sounds like being in a boy band has also caused identity issues. What has been the most memorable cause of mistaken identity?

Oh boy, I’ve had so many over the years! People will say, "Oh, is that the group with Justin Timberlake?" and I'll say, "No, it's not," then they'll be like, "Oh, you're in Menudo? Or 98 Degrees?” Then even within my own group, it’s like, "Are you AJ?" I'm like, "No, I'm Howie!"

"Pollyanna’s Shadow" is a song which a lot of kids who grow up with an older sibling will relate to. But have you also felt that with the Backstreet Boys over the years—in terms of sharing the spotlight with four other guys and often having to step into their shadow as they take on lead vocals?

Absolutely. In the early years, when the group first started, I was more of a lead singer, then little by little as we started working with [songwriter] Max Martin and the label, I got pushed more to the back. Me and Kevin [Richardson] were more in the background and I struggled with that for many years. I never wanted to just be a background singer, but I realized over time that everything was meant to be. If we didn't have the songs—and the vocals which were chosen for those songs back then—who knows if they would have been as big of hits as they are nowadays? And now I get my chance to shine here and there, just like Kevin, and it's always a great feeling.

It sounds like the other guys have been supportive of that?

When Kevin took a break I remember going to the guys and saying, "You know, I want to continue doing this with you guys, but now it really feels so awkward being in the background. It's one thing to have somebody else there in the background with me, but now that Kevin's not here, I need you guys to allow me to step up to the play in order to feel like I work in this group." The guys were really good about it. It was never like any of the guys were saying, "You can't do it." It was more the choices of the producers. And I don’t fault them for it because obviously they want the record to be the best it can be and if my voice may not be the exact tone they’re looking for, I get it. Nowadays it doesn’t bother me as much anymore.

But given that you were experiencing shyness and anxiety, did that make you more accepting of being in the background? Or did it somehow impact your performance back then?

I think with that pressure from the producers and constantly trying to prove myself, that definitely created anxiety. And, that in turn probably affected my voice and made it not as strong as it could have been.

Is anxiety harder to deal with given you have to constantly hit the spotlight on stage with the Backstreet Boys, or does it help since you have thousands of fans screaming their support and encouragement for you?

I think it's both. What guy wouldn't want a bunch of screaming women yelling for him? It definitely gives you a boost to your confidence, but I still find myself challenged with trying to be the best that I can be on stage.

You're also launching a musical, Howie D: Back in the Day, at the Rose Theater in January. How did the album evolve into a musical?

The more we started writing, we were like, "Oh, this is a musical here." This is not your normal kids' record. It’s definitely a little different. So, after we got the record done, things shifted over into making the musical. The pieces really felt like they needed to be more of a musical with an accompanying CD, rather than just a CD on its own. So, we started doing rewrites and writing the musical and about three of the songs from Which One Am I? ended up making it into the musical. Then we were like, "We still have such a great body of work here. It would be a shame to not let it see the light of day for our fans after I’ve been talking about this for five years!" So, we finally put the album out!

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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