Backstreet’s Back: A Fan’s Guide

It was 1997. I was thirteen, home after school, eating a Fruit by the Foot, watching the Box  (the music video channel) and waiting for the new Korn video to come on when I first saw the Backstreet Boys. They were shirtless, dancing in the rain, and imploring me to quit playing games with their hearts. I was hooked. A devote Catholic (at the time) I thought their gyrating bodies and sensual moves absolutely sinful and dutifully reported this to my mother, who agreed. Yet I kept my eye out for their music videos and once I bought their self titled album and listened to ‘If You Want it to be Good Girl, Get Yourself a Bad Boy” there was no turning back.

My female classmates were equally smitten by the Boys: Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough,, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, and Nick Carter. We each had our favorites and knew all of the lyrics to their hit songs “Everybody,”As Long as You Love Me,” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.” I remember practicing the dance moves to the “Everybody” video in my friend’s living room and purchasing every teeny-bopper magazine featuring the Boys that I could get my hands on. My walls were soon adorned from floor to ceiling with the beaming faces of the Backstreet Boys and I fell asleep each night listening to their rendition of “Set Adrift on Memory’s Bliss.” My father thought I was crazy but my mother understood. She had been a Beatles fan.

My classmates; however, soon turned their attention away from the Backstreet Boys and on to the usurpers, *NSYNC. A fist fight almost broke out between two sets of friends during a class debate. The topic? Who was cuter: Nick Carter or Justin Timberlake? Obviously I sided with Nick. My best friend , Cortnie, was a Brian girl and I was devoted to AJ (in fact that was my AOL screen name. Oh the shame). Cortnie and I became fast friends because of the Backstreet Boys and attended their first concert in Philly. The stadium was sold out. Young eager faces awaited the start of the concert. Thousands of fans (and their Moms and Dads) chanted “Back-street Boys. Back-street Boys” until all at once the lights dimmed and the Boys jumped out of the stage to deafening screams and applause. There they were, living embodiments of the posters on my walls; singing, dancing, and gyrating, not fifty feet away. It was an amazing and unforgettable first concert.

The years passed and the Backstreet Boys’ popularity grew with the phenomenal success of their next two albums and subsequent tours for Millennium and Black and Blue. Cortnie and I endlessly analyzed everything to do with the Backstreet Boys and were devastated whenever we learned they were dating other women. In hindsight our objectification of the Boys was not uncommon for American youth at the time but we felt as if there were a deeper connection between us and the Boys.  I will admit that when I was fourteen I honestly believed  I would not only meet AJ one day but marry him. In fact my father ran into Howie and AJ in Philly after a show and jokingly asked AJ if he spent all of his money on hats to hid his receding hairline. AJ gave him the finger and I agonized about the future relationship between my father and my husband. The endless games of MASH at my friends’ sleepovers only confirmed that not only would I marry AJ but we would live in a mansion with our five children and a pet iguana.  A little girl can dream, can’t she?

In  high school I met another Backstreet devotee, Sabrina. She and I struck up a conversation about BSB one day and have been best friends ever since. I interviewed her for this article and we reminisced about our infatuation with the Boys: going to concerts, skipping school to buy our reserved copies of their albums, and our devastation whenever Backstreet lost the number one spot on TRL.

Then after the success of Black and Blue waned and the Boys took a well deserved hiatus, my devotion to them began to thaw. College was on the horizon and the real life drama of high school dominated my time and attention. I still purchased all of their albums and went to their shows whenever they were in town, but the magic was gone. The advent of social media had made the Boys more approachable, they were family men now, married, happy, and easily accessible to their fans via  Facebook. The fantasy had ended, yet a spark of it remains.

Since 1997 the Backstreet Boys have released eight albums, held numerous world tours, started solo careers, and families. They recently celebrated their 20th anniversary as a group by receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. My devotion toward Backstreet these days is limited to Twitter and the occasional concert. I always see them whenever they come to town and with good cause. Say what you will about them, the Backstreet Boys are true showmen and their respect for their fans is as endearing today as it was all of those years ago. The Boys return to the area on August 16th at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden. It will be my fifteenth Backstreet Boy concert but certainly not my last.

Melanie R. McBride is a freelance writer and editor in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area. She can be reached via Linkedin .

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