What the world deems as popular music ebbs and flows with trends and evolving sounds. Nothing was as commercially successful in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the boy band, with both the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC hitting it big. Oddly enough, they were both formed in the Orlando area under the direction and management of Lou Pearlman. Many serious music fans may dismiss the boy band sound, which isn’t any different than what we heard from the Spice Girls, other than the group is male and American, but I acknowledge the infectious nature of their biggest hits and also appreciate the role they had in introducing generations of music fans to their first concert or first record. The boy band, or even in a larger sense, a pop ensemble of vocalists, goes back several decades, and thrives on today in 2022. You may not find “Millenium”, the third album from the Backstreet Boys, on any Top 500 list, but the commercial marketability of these acts was remarkable, and this album was easily the #1 selling album of 1999.
Not unlike the Spice Girls, most of this album is pretty forgettable, but it is all simple, formulaic pop songs, mixing up-tempo dance tracks with slower ballads, pulling the heartstrings of their mostly female fanbase. However, like I said, each of these records comes with some major hits that have stuck with all of us for over twenty years, and there are two songs on this record, one in particular, that stand out to me.
“I Want It That Way” is probably the definitive Backstreet Boys song, and anyone over the age of 25 and younger than 50 probably knows it and loves it. I have no shame admitting I enjoy it immensely, even with a touch of sarcastic humor, but it is a truly magnetic pop ballad that pulls you in. Mix in the video with visually appealing singer-dancers, and it is not hard to see how this music thrived in its time. By the third album, the band was pulling back from the control of management and production somewhat, and fought hard to make this the first single, vs. an up-tempo track. It is hard to argue with the results at all.
The other song in question, which was the first on the record and the second song released, is “Larger Than Life”. It is a pretty familiar formula, with a driving beat, a dramatic pause in the middle, followed by a stepped-up conclusion. And yes… just like “I Want It That Way”, this song is pretty easy to latch on to.
Other than these two tracks, the rest of the record doesn’t do much for me, and I do find it amusing that two successive songs on the album are titled “Don’t Want You Back” and “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now”. Mildly confusing perhaps, but both mirror the angst of pop idol relationship songs. Being Mother’s Day, we have the Mom tribute song, co-written and primarily sung by Brian Littrell, “The Perfect Fan”. I appreciate the good intentions of the Backstreet Boys, and for all that teen mania, they seem to have survived that surreal craziness fairly unscathed and continue to perform and record successfully to this day.