There are some things that are so hard to conceptualize that I have to avoid thinking about them. These things include outer space, the depths of the ocean, the fact that The Beatles were only together for 10 years, and the number of variations on the Furby that exist.
In the world of the Backstreet Boys, it’s Dirty Little Secrets. Some fans will read that and have no idea what I’m talking about. Others recognize it as an old online Backstreet community page (we still mourn the closing of DLS!). But there are others, the most ardent fans among us, that know the origins of Dirty Little Secrets and are still equal parts fascinated and obsessed with the potential this era held.
Here are the basics: post Black and Blue, the Boys gathered together to discuss the next album cycle. During a meeting that most of them believed would be about putting together new music as a group, it was revealed that Nick was planning to work on and release his debut solo album. Needless to say, most of the Boys were blindsided and didn’t respond well to the way in which these plans were presented. Personal feelings aside, there were also business factors at play – the group had been divided on their management company, The Firm, but ultimately decided to part ways. It was when Nick announced he’d be releasing solo music that he also confirmed he’d be sticking with The Firm. The rest of the Boys’ reportedly stormed out of the meeting feeling frustrated and angry over the news, and decided to start working on the follow up to Black and Blue without Nick. The group wasn’t breaking up and the ultimate plan was for Nick to rejoin them after the demos were in place and the recording sessions would start. The other four Boys began enlisting some interesting writers and producers and prepping for the next phase of their careers.
Now that we’re all caught up on the history, the name Dirty Little Secrets was derived from a song that Barry Weiss, the President of Jive Records, was introduced to by AJ as they continued working on the album:
It is now basically confirmed that “Dirty Little Secrets” is one of the singles on the next album and that BSB will be doing a duet with Shakira. Barry Weiss of Jive Records had the following to say:
“When A.J. sent me the demo disc, it has two tracks on it, I was expecting two new songs. I popped it in and track one was him explaining what the song meant to him, and then when track two came on, I instantly double checked the package to make sure he didn’t give me the wrong disc.
It’s not a typical Backstreet song. It’s techno, dance, R&B- Anything but ‘Pop’. I’ve talked with each of the Boys and they are aiming at a new style of music. We are looking at putting together a 20 track release, maybe more. They all want to work with different people, so probably look for five guest appearances or maybe even more. Right now we have locked Shakira. No song has been picked…but that should definitely be hot. She is the Latin Britney, only hardcore. Totally huge in the Spanish speaking market. We are also tossing around the idea of maybe Missy Elliot…Lil’ Kim.”
These quotes now often only exist on resurrected Geocites pages and the infamous Backstreet.net where they’ll be housed for eternity but tracking down the original articles proves tricky. That being said, how many of you read the above and wanted to cry over the lost potential?! Besides consistent reports regarding a Shakira duet, there were also murmurings of a pairing with Christina Aguilera. AJ and Howie also confirmed separately that the Boys had spent time in the studio with Jermaine Dupri. Glen Ballard, Babyface, and Linda Perry were also name dropped during the initial stages of the process, with the hope of creating a new and innovative sound.
Unfortunately, it was around this same time period in 2002 that the Boys began another legal battle with Jive. Based on their contract, they were obligated to release a new album in 2002, hence the decisions to work on putting the foundation of a project together while Nick was jamming out with Tommy Lee. The Boys felt that Jive intentionally undermined their ability to release new music in 2002, depriving them of a $5 million bonus payment and the opportunity to continue to capitalize on their success in a now waning consumer market.
This was the beginning of the end of the DLS era as the Boys continued to battle Jive as well as their own motivation to continue running on the hamster wheel that is fame. While each member expressed enthusiasm and commitment to the new release on multiple occasions, it ultimately ended with this statement as reported by MTV News:
“As a group, we have decided not to record our next album at this time,” the band members said in a statement released late Wednesday. “We are not breaking up, but individually we are currently at different places in our lives, and our hearts and minds are focused in other areas. All of us are getting along great and are supporting each other in our individual endeavors.”
I think I can safely speak for most fans at that time when I say this appeared to truly be the end. There was always hope that the Boys would reunite, but that’s exactly what it would be: a reunion. Although we had the 2001 release of Chapter One, they had ultimately been out of the spotlight for 2 years by this point and with a fickle teen fanbase no one was certain if they’d ever find their way back into the studio. Some fan speculation posits that this announcement was a part of a larger plan to try to get Jive to drop the group entirely so they could start fresh (there were even some radio reports that Tommy Mottola had interest in signing the Boys to Sony at that time). Whether it was politicking or a true reflection of the end for the Boys, fans everywhere that had been waiting patiently for the next promised release were disappointed.
Luckily for all of us, the world’s guardian angel, Oprah, stepped in and created an impromptu reunion for an interview with AJ about his struggle with substance abuse. This effectively kicked off the Never Gone era, and ensured that the Boys would reach more milestones and continue to release new music and tour consistently (which they’ve done for the last ten years – IT’S BEEN TEN YEARS SINCE THE RELEASE OF NEVER GONE!!!). It even appears that some songs survived the DLS era and made their way onto Never Gone (Poster Girl and possibly Set It Off).
Still… it makes one wonder what the music from the Dirty Little Secrets era would have sounded like and if any old demos still exist. It’s also a period of time that the Boys aren’t often asked about, though it seems pretty significant that they had begun working on a group project without an active member being available to contribute (I’m not counting Kevin’s hiatus since he was officially on leave). The year 2002 in particular was not only full of rumors about the actual music that was being recorded but also about the relationships within the group. Reports of Nick and Brian feuding in particular (“NOOOOOOOO!” – every Frick and Frack fangirl) were being published so often that Nick had to address them and assure people that he was not being asked to leave the group by Brian or planning to depart from the Backstreet universe entirely.
The DLS era has to be one of the most tumultuous periods that the group experienced since their break up with Lou Pearlman and the Transcontinental team, but the Boys are rarely (if ever) asked about it. Consider that Lou is still a topic that comes up regularly in interviews and was a key component of the Boys’ documentary, Show Em What You’re Made Of but that the period after Black and Blue is hardly mentioned. It is unbelievable that there’s not more interest in the Boys’ careers between 2001-2003.
But the The Darkside team is persistent! And one of our other long time members, DaanyaalKhan, attended a soundcheck on the In A World Like This tour and asked the fellas such specific questions about the Dirty Little Secrets era that Brian asked him if he was a reporter. No, Brian, that’s a member of the Backstreet CIA. We know our shit and normally find ourselves complaining about the lack of research real reporters do when they interview the Boys.
(Thanks to sv02 for capturing and posting this to your YouTube channel!)
There is a lot more to the Dirty Little Secrets era than we could ever cover in a blog post, so definitely stop by The Darkside Forum for all of the news and speculation surrounding a forgotten piece of Backstreet history!