New Again: Backstreet Boys

In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present.  

2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Backstreet Boys. Don’t panic, you’re not that old; 1993 is a little misleading, as the boy band didn’t release an album until 1996. On the celebration agenda: a tour, a new album, and a documentary by Stones In Exile director Stephen Kijak. Things that we hope will be added to the agenda: coordinated monochrome outfits (preferably a ribbed-tank/long flasher coat/cargo trousers combination) and a joint tour with their belated legacy, One Direction.


The boys from backstreet never exactly broke up; over the past decade, they’ve released three albums (Never Gone in 2005, Unbreakable in 2007, and This Is Us in 2009) and toured five times, once with New Kids on the Block as the ultimate supergroup of yesteryear, NKOTBSB. For Backstreet purists, however, things ended in 2006, when the eldest/tallest member of the group, Kevin Richardson, quit. Good news, purists, you can rock your body, yeee-ahhh, rock your body right, ’cause Richardson is back, all right.

The last and only time we spoke with the quintet was in August 2001. Richardson, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, A.J. McLean, and Howie Dorough voiced their concerns over *NSYNC’s copycat act, arousing pre-teen fans, and money. —Emma Brown

The Backstreet Boys
by Dimitri Ehrlich

They’ve been mobbed by fans and been the subject of angry websites, but at least it isn’t lonely at the top.

DIMITRI EHRLICH: What do you think your fans expect of you?

AJ McLEAN: I think they want to see a concert that’s entertaining and has a positive vibe that’s not angry. Something they can bring their moms and dads to.

EHRLICH: Do you ever not want to sign autographs?

MCLEAN: Our fans have to realize that we bleed like everyone else. If one of us is sick, or we’re being rushed to get on the bus, we’re not going to be able to sign for everyone, but we try.

EHRLICH: Brian, you had serious heart surgery a few years ago. What happened?

BRIAN LITTRELL: I was born with a heart murmur. When I was 21, the stress of the career and traveling—the lack of sleep and just not eating right—had taken its toll. Our schedules had been pretty crazy for about three years and there was no rest at all. So in order to continue on, and you, know, have a life, I had to fix it.

EHRLICH: Was there ever a moment when you thought, I might not live through this?

LITTRELL: The night before my surgery, I remember telling my mother to take care of my dad because he stresses a little more than she does. It was a scary situation.

EHRLICH: Did you have any incidents with obsessed fans or stalkers?

LITTRELL: I remember being on tour in Europe and the show was delayed for three hours because there was talk of a bomb underneath the stage. The police showed up and dogs sniffed away, and then we went onstage and performed for an hour and a half. It was a little hard to be totally into the show because you’re thinking, what if that dog had a bad night and just missed it? That would suck.

EHRLICH: Do you think you’re happier now that you’re a big star who’s made lots of money?

NICK CARTER: I’m not like a lot of those people in the business. I don’t care about the glamour and the glitz. I just care about living and having fun. I don’t care about money. It could all go away tomorrow, and I could still be happy because I don’t need much to survive.

EHRLICH: How would you characterize the rivalry between you and *NSYNC?

KEVIN RICHARDSON: We don’t have any problem with them personally. The guys are just like us—they’re good vocalists, they want to be successful, and I can respect that. The fact is one of our former members put together their group after we became successful. They’re a clone of us. And we felt like we were stabbed in the back by that. That our management company elected to put them with the same producers and writers that we had was really frustrating because when their songs initially got played, people thought it was us. Then if we turned down a gig, management would hand it to them ’cause they were making money off the both of us. Management was like, “OK, you’re not going to do it, then fine,” which was another smack in the face. We finally got new management and then our record company signs them! Then to top it off some of the video directors that we’d both used leaked information about our producers and collaborations, so it felt like, OK, we gotta keep everything a secret. For a while it seemed like we couldn’t make a move without, BOOM! There they were, making the same moves. I felt like they needed to find their own identity. And I think they’re doing that now. The guys themselves are ­nice—they’ve never done anything to me. I don’t know ’em that well.

EHRLICH: Do you ever feel weird that you’re titillating some really young girls?

RICHARDSON: We do have a young fan base, but we also have a lot of fans in their late 20s and 30s. My brother is a minister, and one time he asked us, “Do you guys do any pelvic thrusts?” [laughs] Sometimes he will get on his soapbox and preach to me, and I respect that, though I don’t look at it as a bad thing. Sexuality is a part of all of us. Sometimes when we’re doing these moves, you might catch a young girl’s eye or her mother’s eye, and the older woman might be like, “Yeah!” and the young girl might be like, “Oops!” We get mixed reactions because we have a wide range in our audience.

EHRLICH: Do you ever think, given the nature of your music and fan base, that you have a limited number of years to make money and you should just cash in while you can?

RICHARDSON: I think it’s a mistake to take the attitude of “Let’s get it while we can.” We’ve passed on so many commercials and merchandising opportunities with dolls and things they wanted to sell with the Backstreet Boys name on it. To us, that is major, major taboo territory. All five of us have been singing since we could talk. Michael Jackson and Madonna have had peaks and valleys. They started out with very, very young fan bases. As long as we’re selling records, people are coming to our shows, and we don’t feel stagnated and crappy, then, hopefully, we can have a long career.

EHRLICH: Your most recent album is called Black and Blue (Jive). Was there a reason you named it after one of the best Rolling Stones albums of the ’70s?

HOWIE DOROUGH: We were struggling for a month to figure out a name. Then one day we happened to be wearing black against a blue background for a photo shoot, so Brian said, why don’t we just call it Black and Blue? When we found out about the Stones’ album, we thought, Well, they’re legends and people follow in their footsteps, so maybe people can follow in ours.


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