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For The Record: How 'Backstreet Boys' Ignited The '90s Boy Band Craze

Backstreet Boys in 1996

Photo: Mike Prior/Getty Images

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For The Record: How 'Backstreet Boys' Ignited The '90s Boy Band Craze

Released in Europe in 1996, Backstreet Boys' self-titled debut album solidified the iconic pop group as global stars and pivoted pop music into its prime. An international chart-topper, the album created the formula for boy bands as we know them today

GRAMMYs/May 8, 2021 - 03:43 am

There are a few specific motifs that come to mind when reminiscing about the '90s: grunge, Spice Girls and, of course, boy bands. While the inception of boy bands had come long before the era, bringing along electric fandoms decades before, the '90s were really the first time when the boy band craze peaked. The first ones to lead the charge? Backstreet Boys.

At a time when there was a gap in mass-market bands catering to teens, the music of Backstreet Boys, referred to as simply BSB by loving fans, was somewhat of an experiment. Just as the grunge scene was phasing out, the group ushered in a new era of radio-friendly pop that would span from Hanson to Britney Spears—except Backstreet Boys initially did it from overseas.

Formed in Orlando by the late record producer Lou Pearlman, Backstreet Boys emerged in 1993 and began working on their self-titled debut album in Stockholm two years later. Helmed by then-rising producer Max Martin, Backstreet Boys helped turn the fresh-faced newcomers, who were just between the ages of 15 and 24 at the time, into megastars nearly overnight. It wasn't long until fans felt like they knew BSB's Nick Carter, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough and Kevin Richardson.

In 1996, the group released Backstreet Boys in Europe, where it became an international chart-topper across the continent as well as in Asia.

U.S. audiences, though, primarily recognize Backstreet Boys' second eponymous album, released in 1997, as their true debut. Still, it was the internationally released Backstreet Boys, which shared a handful of tracks with the U.S.-only version of the album, that made them global stars before they even shared their music stateside.

"As little kids growing up, you always hope to have success in your home country," Dorough told Billboard in 2017. "That's where your pride is, you know? It was so crazy how it happened everywhere else first. I think it was meant to be that way, looking back on it. It really seasoned us to come back home, to really be ready for America." The U.S., a market the group once referred to as "No Fan Land," would eventually catch BSB fever.

Read: Taylor Swift, '1989': For The Record

In retrospect, Backstreet Boys' 1996 release was truly for diehard fans. Known as "The Red Album" due to its cover backdrop, Backstreet Boys marked the beginning of a new era in pop, one which channeled the R&B guy group success of Boyz II Men with the heartthrob sensationalism of New Kids on the Block. The album cover, now a pop culture relic, is representative of the '90s boy band aesthetic: an intense glare paired with attitude, a monochromatic wardrobe, a mushroom cut and the look of five boys who are about to break a million hearts. (The flashy counterpart of the 1997 U.S. album featured a brooding quintet in oversized button-downs against a grey wall on its cover art.)

It's fair to say that Backstreet Boys' self-titled album became a blueprint for the cohort of boy bands to come. The group's debut single, "We've Got It Goin' On," was responsible for the initial allure of what a modern boy band should be. The confident, Euro-pop-driven track solidified their infectious harmonizing skills and proved they had an edge that channeled NKOTB. It wasn't long until it skyrocketed into the Top 10 in Europe.

The R&B-tinged, Boyz II Men-esque ballad, "I'll Never Break Your Heart," followed, showcasing BSB's versatility as crooners. While it was their fourth single in Europe, the uptempo ballad "Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)," framed by its slick production and teen-dream aesthetic, hit No.1 on the European Hot 100. Its overwhelming praise would help it become the second single from the group's stateside debut.

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

According to the band, though, the single was "an afterthought." "It was like the last one we had done and they were like, 'Okay guys, we think this may be a good song, let's try it,'" Richardson told Billboard.

Originally, Richardson and Littrell had recorded "Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)" themselves, he recalls. "Then the label heard it and wanted it on the record," he added. "Nick wasn't even on the song at all until they wanted it to be a single." To this day, it remains one of the songs that solidified BSB as not only a boy band, but as hitmakers.

The overwhelming success of Backstreet Boys initially seemed revolutionary—to both the group and to music fans—and pivoted pop music into its prime. Still, BSB weren't exactly warmed up to the "boy band" label initially. "We always wanted just to be considered a vocal harmony group," Dorough told Billboard.

The album's breakout would also go on to spark one of the music industry's most notorious rivalries. BSB initially believed they were a singular force. Little did they know that Pearlman, the group's founder and label CEO, also signed the band that would become their biggest competition: *NSYNC. While fans fueled the rivalry, it didn't help that Pearlman had effectively cloned the band.

In the Backstreet Boys' 2015 documentary, Show 'Em What You're Made Of, Richardson recalls Pearlman showing him a recording of *NSYNC's talents; he called it a "betrayal." "When we started out, we were like, 'Yeah, we're a team. We're gonna take over the world. There's nobody like us,'" Richardson said in the film. "Then you find out, 'Well, actually, there is somebody like you.'"

In 1998, Johnny Wright, who managed NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, told Rolling Stone his plan was "to turn Orlando into the next Motown, but we were going to call it Snowtown – because we weren't doing it with R&B acts, we were doing it with pop acts." While the five-piece was less than thrilled, the creation of both BSB and NSYNC would forever alter pop music.

Read: Backstreet Boys Talk GRAMMY Museum "Experience," 'Millennium' Legacy & Touring

Soon enough, more boy bands emerged, namely 98 Degrees and O-Town. While BSB and *NSYNC undoubtedly paved the way for more recent boy bands like One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer and PRETTYMUCH, there's been no boy band rivalry to match since.

Although its release was initially limited, Backstreet Boys laid the foundation and created the formula for boy bands as we know them today, from sound and style to the dedicated fandoms that have flourished in the years since. Without the success of the band's self-titled album, it's possible the boy band craze could have been an ephemeral phase or even nonexistent. Pop fans, whether they were team Nick Carter or Justin Timberlake, owe it all to Backstreet Boys.

For The Record: The Transformational Public Heartache Of Janet Jackson's 'All For You' At 20

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."

Mumu Fresh On What She Learned From Working With The Roots, Rhyming & More

Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17. 

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"

 

Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?

Fleetwood Mac in 1975

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?

"Dreams" experienced a charming viral moment on TikTok after a man posted a video skateboarding to the classic track, and now it's back on the charts, 43 years later

GRAMMYs/Oct 16, 2020 - 04:00 am

In honor of Fleetwood Mac's ethereal '70s rock classic "Dreams," which recently returned to the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a viral TikTok skateboard video from Nathan Apodaca, we want to know which of the legendary group's songs is your favorite!

Beyond their ubiquitous 1977 No. 1 hit "Dreams," there are so many other gems from the iconic GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, as well as across their entire catalog. There's the oft-covered sentimental ballad "Landslide" from their 1975 self-titled album, the jubilant, sparkling Tango in the Night cut "Everywhere" and Stevie Nicks' triumphant anthem for the people "Gypsy," from 1982's Mirage, among many others.

Vote below in our latest GRAMMY.com poll to let us know which you love most.

Related: Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" Back On Charts Thanks To Viral Skateboard Video On TikTok

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Poll: What's Your Favorite Van Halen Song?