Nearly 20 years after declaring they’ve "got it goin' on," the Backstreet Boys are still in demand.
The boy band that graduated from teenage dreams to full-fledged adults without spiraling into obscurity (or worse) is packing arenas across the globe with its current “In a World Like This Tour," which began last year.
The tour marks the 20th anniversary of the group that, along with baby-faced rivals ’N Sync and 98 Degrees, dominated the charts worldwide during the boy band boom of the late 1990s -- and with 130 million albums sold, it's unlikely the Backstreet Boys will ever relinquish the title of best-selling boy band in history.
Both BSB and their fans have matured beyond the glory days of syrupy pop. The group's latest album, 2013’s “In a World Like This,” continues a blend of contemporary pop rock and R&B inflected harmonies and the stage show proves the guys -- in their 30s and 40s -- still have it goin’ on.
Ahead of their stop at the Forum on Thursday, Pop & Hiss caught up with member Brian Littrell to talk touring, reunions and how the group has kept it together.
This tour is massive. It must feel great to still be in such demand.
We’ve been all over the globe. We’re about to do our second European run in July. We’re doing our second [North American] run now. The fan response has been amazing. We started it as our 20th anniversary tour, and we’ve already been together 21 years now. The anniversary has come and gone but we’re still kicking.
What was it like marking 20 years in a genre that’s largely regarded as temporary?
A lot of times [with] groups like us you’re either the flavor of the month or you’re not. Your shelf life is really small -- two, maybe three, years. For us, it comes down to the music and the passion to keep at it. It’s a lot of fun to do what we do. It’s hard work, but at the same time it’s very rewarding. We’ve grown up with our fans. All of our fans are older now and they are bringing their kids to our shows now, so it’s a good feeling to still be around. I think that’s a testament to the music.
We’re a decade past the time when records regularly sold a million-plus copies in a week. How have you adapted to the changes in the industry?
I think we came out at a great time. We got together in '93, the big [pop] boom happened in '98-'99. Everything comes and goes, though. Music is like fashion. Sometimes bell-bottoms are in, sometimes they’re not. Saleswise, it’s a different climate. Music [really] lives on the Internet. A lot of the press want to look at the numbers because the music business is quite a bit of the numbers game. If you’re not selling as many units as you did years ago, they look at you almost as if you’re not a success.
When you look at our success now and our touring capabilities all over the globe, there’s no other artist that can do what we do, unless you’re Justin Timberlake or somebody super huge. To go all over Europe and China and Japan and Australia, we go everywhere. Those concert tickets don’t translate as record sales, but they still translate into an experience and it’s a number somewhere.
How long was the reunion with Kevin Richardson in the works?
He actually came to us when we were about to start the joint venture with New Kids on the Block [in 2011]. He saw all the press and he got excited. But fans knew we were four members at that time. We felt like it would be better for the fans' sake if it was an ace in the hole. He was ready to come back but we hadn’t recorded any new material [with him]. We felt like if he came back, we really needed to have everything new and a clean slate again. We spent a month in London recording and we wrote about 85% of "In A World Like This." It’s been a growing process, we’re not kids anymore. We’re all husbands and fathers. Life is different, but the fans still go crazy.
Were you surprised to see a boy band resurgence?
It’s all timing. Boy bands are like fads. Every 7, 8, 10 years there’s a new movement. There’s a new generation that wants that type of stuff. When we first came out … there wasn’t much pop on the radio unless you were Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. With One Direction and guys like that, they have great songs. They’re working with the same producers we worked with years ago. We’ll see how long they last, because you never know. But I hope they will be around for a while.
What’s next for the Backstreet Boys?
We finish this leg of the tour in late June, then we go to Europe. We’re doing our first shows in Israel, which we’ve never been. We put up a show there and it sold out in 30 minutes. The promoter asked us to do another one and that sold out in five minutes, so we are going to do three shows. We’re gonna lay low for the rest of the year and get back in the studio and see what comes for 2015. We don’t really stop and slow down too much, so we try to keep the wheels moving. We’ve also got a documentary coming out. It's basically the story of where Backstreet Boys came from and that’s coming out around September.
Can’t resist asking, how does the documentary tackle Lou Pearlman?
Well, we address that in the film. We talk about that. It’s funny because everybody knows his story. [Editor's note: Pearlman, the impresario of a number of successful boy bands, including Backstreet Boys, N Sync, LFO and O-Town, was convicted of pulling off one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history and in 2008 was sentenced to 25 years in prison]
He’s in the state pen for embezzling over $300 million. We’re doing OK. He’s the one that got greedy and messed up. It’s unfortunate. I wish it could have been another way, but greed gets the best of you. We do address that and talk about it in the film. It's deep. Our lives weren’t always happy-go-lucky.