I hate to be the bearer of bad news for One Direction fans, but the immensely popular British boy band won't be around forever. History has taught us that solo aspirations or in-fighting among band members will likely do in the quintet within the next two to three years (five, if they're lucky), just like they've done in nearly every pop band that came before them. Many of us can see the Harry Styles solo album coming from a mile away. And when that day comes and One Direction is no more — which hopefully happens later rather than sooner, for the sake of millions of teenagers — don't be surprised if the Backstreet Boys are still going strong.
The Backstreet Boys, you see, are the exception to the rule.
The “I Want It That Way” band celebrated its 20th anniversary and released its eighth studio album, “In A World Like This,” last year. Backstreet has been recording new music steadily since its self-titled 1996 debut, never going more than five years without an album release. To put that in perspective, pop acts such as 'N Sync and the Spice Girls haven't released an album in more than a decade and 98 Degrees and New Kids on the Block both waited more than a decade before recording another album. Backstreet performs Wednesday at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island along with Avril Lavigne. In October, the guys will take part in a four-day Backstreet fan cruise, in collaboration with Carnival Cruise Lines.
That's not to say it's been smooth sailing (excuse the pun) the entire time for Backstreet. There have been solo albums, stints in rehab and lawsuits — not to mention Kevin Richardson left the band in 2006 before returning in 2012. Still, they've far outlasted everyone's predictions and, as last year's surprise cameo in “This Is The End” proved, remain relevant after all these years. Here, band member Brian Littrell talks about where Backstreet goes from here and pictures a day when the general public gets past the boy band stigma and gives the guys their due.
Q: Backstreet is now 21 years old. What keeps you guys from calling it a day and going your separate ways?
A: We're having fun doing what we're doing. Backstreet has been around a long time. Normally groups like us have a shelf life of two to four years. We always wanted to have a long stay in the music world. And we've been able to do that the past two decades. Nobody from our music genre in the '90s is around anymore. It's a solo artist's market, not a group market.
Q: Could you imagine a scenario where you guys are still releasing music and touring together into your 50s?
A: Well, we're close. Two of us are in our 40s, I'm about to be 40 here in a minute, AJ (McLean) is late 30s, Nick (Carter) is the baby. He's got a while. I don't know if we'll be touring all over the globe all the time like we are now. We've been extremely busy the past two or three years with this 20th anniversary tour. But yeah, I could see us still doing this in our 50s. I don't see why not, as long as we're having fun and enjoying it. I would hope somebody out there will still want to hear a Backstreet Boys song when I'm 50-something. There would be less dancing though. We do a lot of dancing at our shows now. We dance our butts off. It keeps us in shape.
Q: Is there another band whose career blueprint you've been trying to follow?
A: For me, the band that comes to mind is Bon Jovi. They blew up during the hair band movement in the 80s and then … nobody wanted them. So they went to Europe and continued to tour and selll records. And the next thing you know, the tide turned and they came back to the U.S. and now they're doing stadiums.
That's kind of the blueprint that's happening with us. We exploded in the mid-to-late '90s and then there were 10 million groups like us … and the pop music sound went away. Backstreet has been growing abroad and making records and continuing to tour. Now, here we are 21 years later and people are kind of falling back in love with the Backstreet Boys.
Q: Your son is 11, which means he wasn't around during the height of the boy band hysteria. Does he grasp who you are and what you've accomplished?
A: Baylee grew up around the time of the Never Gone tour (in 2005). He gets who Daddy is. Baylee is a little entertainer himself. He opens up for us on tour and sings two songs before Avril Lavigne. Some of the other band members have younger kids and babies. It's harder for them to grasp that “Daddy is a superstar.”
Q: Do you feel like Backstreet's last few albums have been as good as its first few?
A: Yeah, I do. The music is just as good. I think we've had a lot of great songs. I think it's a little more raw and not so overproduced anymore. People today just want to hear what you are. With our latest record, we wrote like 85 percent of it. That's why it's a special record to us. We now own ourselves. We have our own label after outliving our contract with Jive Records. A lot of people gave up on us but we kept kicking and making music.
Q: The Backstreet cameo in “This Is the End” might have stolen the show, which wasn't easy to do in a star-studded comedy. When you guys filmed the movie, were you at all concerned the audience would end up laughing at you rather than with you?
A: No, not at all. We had a conference call with Seth Rogen to talk about the idea. We felt like it was going to be something super funny — a big surprise. Everywhere we go now, people are like, “Dude, I saw ‘This is the End.' That was cool.” Hopefully some day Backstreet Boys are in heaven singing, just like in the movie.
Q: Do you still find yourself daydreaming about certain goals or scenarios or have you achieved everything you've wanted to?
A: I daydream about Backstreet Boys accepting a Grammy one day. We've been nominated many times but never won one. So I think that would be a nice thing. Grammys are hard to get. Your peers and the people in the music industry are the ones voting, not the fans. People have to respect you across the board. We'll keep working at it.
Q: It's easy to dismiss Backstreet as just another boy band, but the record sales tell a different story and put you on the list of the best selling artists of all time. Do you feel like the band gets the respect it deserves?
A. I don't want people to think I have a chip on my shoulder. Backstreet Boys have achieved so many things. I'm extremely happy where we are in our lives. I'm OK with our persona. I know what we are. I know we're super talented and have great music and loyal fans. Maybe one day the world will pat us on our back and say, ‘Hey, well done, guys.' Maybe on the 30th anniversary, when we're in our 50s and not dancing.
The Backstreet Boys, with Avril Lavigne
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, 1300 South Linn White Drive
Tickets: $15-$150 at livenation.com
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