The Backstreet Boys have been releasing music since 1996, so they have a bit of material to work with when it comes to performing live shows. Unfortunately, their setlists have remained rather.. uhm.. let’s say ‘predictable’ since that’s about as kind as I can be about it.
They’ve performed I’ll Never Break Your Heart and Quit Playing Games on every single tour since 1995. All I Have to Give, As Long As You Love Me, and Everybody joined their tour setlists in 1998 and have been mainstays. After the release of Millennium, Larger Than Life, I Want it That Way, Show Me The Meaning, and The One all joined the party and Black and Blue’s release introduced Shape of My Heart and The Call as permanent features. The only song post Black and Blue that’s been performed on every tour since it’s release has been Incomplete, from Never Gone.
Do I love all of these songs? Absolutely. I’m a Backstreet Boys fan! Of course I do! But… fellas… the same greatest hits coupled with exactly 50% of the songs on every new album released is getting a little formulaic after 20 years of touring. Sure they sprinkle Drowning in here and there. Occasionally we’ll be treated to More Than That. They dropped We’ve Got It Going On for a couple of tours before throwing it back into regular rotation. But otherwise? You can pretty much set your watch by the Boys’ setlists.
I realize not everyone sees the Boys at multiple shows, but a ton of fans I know have already accepted that seeing the Boys once is simply not enough. Oh they’re playing shows in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Boston, and Pennsylvania? Clear my calendar! I’ll keep coming back whether they change their setlists or not, but how do other artists, which just as many hits handle an overload of ‘standards’ they feel beholden to?
If you’re Madonna? You just tell the fans to shove it and perform whatever you want (and then dedicate a whole tour to doing the classics for the last time, calling it the Reinvention Tour just to be cheeky). If you’re Paul McCartney? You just perform every single song from every single band you’ve been in that the fans can’t get enough of, even if it means your shows last three hours. If you’re the Police doing a reunion tour? You perform all of your greatest hits but in completely different arrangements from the original recordings.
There are SO many options for the Boys to choose from that I thought it might be helpful to give them some ideas!
Bruce Springsteen is one of the masters of touring. The man performs marathon setlists with the E-Street Band that are the stuff of legend. I’ve personally seen the man do three and a half solid hours of music on multiple occasions and each time it has been like a religious experience. In 2009, he did a set of shows at Giants Stadium where he performed a full album, from start to finish, in the middle of each setlist. Bookended by other hits and rare material, the shows were a major hit with casual and hardcore fans alike.
Steely Dan did something even more wild – for their Shuffle Diplomacy Tour they scheduled multiple shows in each city where they performed full albums, just like Bruce. In a twist, however, they left one night open for ‘by popular demand’ shows where fans that purchased tickets online were able to vote for the songs they wanted to see performed. The songs with the most votes made up the setlist. While most of the greatest hits were chosen for those shows the band, in an effort not to disappoint, also scheduled a night entirely dedicated to rarities:
“The “Rarities” show, in particular, pulled out the stops, astonishing even the most cynical “hardcore” fan. It delivered not only “The Bear” (an outtake from Aja that had already appeared a few times early in the tour), and “This All Too Mobile Home” (the number that closed out the shows on their ’74 Pretzel Logic tours, but never appeared on an album) but the first performance ever of “The Second Arrangement.” This particular song is something of a Holy Grail for Dan fans, the one that would have appeared on the Gaucho album had it not been accidentally erased by a hapless assistant engineer; performed live for “the first and maybe the only time” in Fagen’s words, it had more than a few in tears .”
As someone that was brought to tears by poor quality Youtube videos (complete with fans talking and singing off-key in the no so background) of a surprise performance of Back to Your Heart during the In A World Like This Tour, I can safely say this is a feeling that crosses fandoms. This was a rare – very rare – moment where the Boys actually changed things up. (I do need to give them credit for bringing back Don’t Want You Back – that was a stroke of genius and I haven’t found a fan yet that didn’t appreciate it!)
Billy Joel gives fans the option of choosing during his setlists. At multiple points during his show he’ll give fans a choice between two songs – the song that gets the most applause gets performed. Simple and effective!
Even artist that are younger and more easily comparable to the Boys have found creative ways to design shows around giving fans something new at each and every performance. Kelly Clarkson allowed fans to request covers on her Stronger Tour. The North American leg alone produced a variety of awesome material AND a pretty sick Buzzfeed article aptly titled “22 Times Kelly Clarkson Covered A Song And It Was Better Than The Original.”
The Boys are SUPER talented and have shown some panache while performing small bits and pieces of Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Maroon 5, and Daft Punk covers during soundchecks and the acoustic portion of their shows. In fact, the running list of performances we’ve been keeping on TDS shows the Boys are more than capable of switching up their normally scripted approach.
They have been more creative on their recent cruise performances but those are super exclusive and we can’t even seem to get them to release the shows on DVD or digital release! IF YOU’RE GOING TO PERFORM RARE MATERIAL, PLEASE MAKE SURE ALL OF YOUR FANS CAN ACCESS (AKA BUY) IT!
So what do you think the Boys should do to freshen up their setlist? Take fan votes? Perform entire albums of material? Schedule shows dedicated to rare and unreleased material? Change the arrangements of their hits completely? Should I just shut the f**k up and be grateful they’ve been able to play the same timeless songs for 20 years? Hit us with all of your thoughts and ideas in the comments and on the forum!