The Lost Boys: How A Pop Sensation Came Undone

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The New York Times ran an article on the Backstreet Boys in 2002, when the group was experiencing one of their darkest eras, called The Lost Boys: How A Pop Sensation Came Undone.  It still holds up as one of the most captivating features ever done on the Boys.  If you haven’t read the article or only vaguely remember it, make sure you check out the full article.  Below, I’ve picked out some of the more interesting bits for us to review and analyze.  Let’s journey down memory lane and be thankful our favorite boyband survived the tumultuous time period.

…more precisely, the Backstreet Boys’ ups and downs are part of a larger story, one about the music industry today. It’s about five young men put to work as pop puppets who develop minds and ideas of their own, then find out what can happen to long-term ambitions in a consolidating industry in which quarterly profits are crucial, professional relationships are not what they seem and pop groups are treated like disposable products.

What is your first thought when you read the above paragraph?  For me, it’s the immovable reality of it.  The Boys have been talking about building a long term career from the beginning but have always been fighting an industry that takes a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately approach.

”They were probably single-handedly responsible for the advent of ‘Total Request Live,’ for Radio Disney, for Teen People becoming the force it has become, and, no doubt, for the explosion in teen purchasing power in America,” said Barry Weiss, the president of Jive. ”They pushed the envelope.”

It’s hard to disagree with this.  The Backstreet Boys benefited from a few key factors, particularly in the American market.  The Millennial Generation (defined as anyone between the ages of 18-35 in 2015) has been the largest in United States history since the Baby Boomers.

The result?  One of the largest teen populations in the history of the country during the 1997-2002 pop music boom.  Couple that with a technological revolution and a healthy and growing economy, and you end up consistently selling millions of albums.  And this isnt just as it relates to the Big Three (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and NSync).  Aaron Carter was able to push 3 million copies of Aaron’s Party (Come Get It).  Jessica Simpson sold nearly 2 million albums of her debut effort in a crowded marketplace.  Mandy Moore also has a platinum certification to her name. So does LFO.  BBMak went gold in the States.   EVERYONE was eating in the late 90s.  You could be the worst of the worst and still manage to snag a certification on the US album charts!  It was a great time for mediocrity and an even greater time for those artists that had real talent – like our Boys who were raking in millions of dollars:

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…according to executives who worked with the band, the Firm negotiated tens of millions of dollars in advance payments for recordings and performances from Jive and the concert promoter Clear Channel. This helped the management company finance its growth. It soon became a powerhouse in film and music, with a current staff of about 240 people. It acquired the sneaker company Pony, a chain of stuffed-animal stores and the merchandising rights to the cartoon aardvark Arthur. It also started buying other management companies, most notably Michael Ovitz’s Artists Management Group earlier this year.

David Baram, the president and chief operating officer of the Firm, denied accusations — from rival managers, and from Aaron Ray, a former partner in the Firm — that the Firm was built off the backs of bands like the Backstreet Boys. ”Our success is totally a function of never making short-term decisions for our artists,” he said. ”We’ve been fortunate enough to grow our business where we’re not dependent on any particular commission check.”

I want you all to reread that.  The money that The Firm negotiated to get from Jive ended up growing their company exponentially.  The business of being the Backstreet Boys was HUGE.  So much so that your management company could use your advances to invest in their own best interests – and maybe start to ignore your needs as a client.  Kevin expressed disappointment in the safeness of Black and Blue from a musical standpoint. But even if the band had been unhappy with the artistic output, The Firm was ready to make up for it with big money advertising deals.

Executives of the Firm said that the rest of the band had been happy with the album and voted to release it, especially since any further changes would have meant missing its Christmas-season release date. To promote the album, the Firm worked closely with Wal-Mart, MTV and Burger King, which paid several million dollars to sponsor the band. (According to executives close to the band, Jive Records, which was not included in the Burger King deal, made a separate deal for ‘N Sync and Britney Spears with McDonald’s, whose campaign beat Burger King’s by about a week.)

HOLY SHIT, BURGER WARS!!!  As a fan, it’s shocking to read that Jive had no cut of the Backstreet Boys’ Burger King deal.  Jive, pissed about missing out on millions of dollars, decide to partner with McDonald’s to roll out a separate competing promotion.  Wow.  Jive and the Boys’ relationship must have been shit for years.

lostThere has always been a feeling that Jive never supported the group and/or that the Boys were too much trouble to deal with:

Executives working with the Backstreet Boys said band members had stopped getting along after the release of ”Black and Blue.” Executives with the Firm were also frustrated with the band for not working as hard as ‘N Sync seemed to be, especially in making public appearances.

HOLLLLLY SHIT.  Okay the Boys may be many things but not being hard workers is not one of them.  I think what you’re seeing here is a difference in approach to the business. Personally, it seems that NSync was more amiable in their relationship with Jive as opposed to being harder workers.

Furthermore, Mr. Littrell’s wife, Leighanne Wallace, who was critical of the Firm, began exerting a major influence over his decisions, according to executives close to the band, incurring resentment both within and outside the group.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I mean, sometimes Leighanne’s opinions on Jive are pretty fucking amazing.  Case in point:

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But I could see how from a business perspective this might be… ahem… problematic.

With Mr. McLean and Mr. Littrell strongly advocating leaving the Firm, the band walked into the offices of the Firm to deliver an ultimatum. Much to the band members’ surprise, the Firm did not put up much resistance to their leaving. The bigger shock came when the other group members found out that Nick Carter, arguably the most popular of them, had chosen to remain. The Firm told the group that it would manage his solo career, and the band stormed out.

The fact that The Firm wouldn’t put up a fight shouldn’t be much of a surprise since by this time they’ve already used their investment well.  The Boys had served their purpose and oh wait, they still had Nick’s solo effort to promote!  I wonder about the split within the group and how those conversations sounded.  Aj and Brian were the most vocal about wanting to leave.  Nick, clearly, wanted to stay.  Kevin and Howie seemed to be more in the middle.  That has to be a touch situation to manage internally, with five different people with different opinions attempting to make the best collective decision for the group.

As we all know, this wasn’t the end for the Boys.  The final meeting they had with The Firm kicked off the Dirty Little Secrets era which ultimately bled into Never Gone.  The fellas have been going strong ever since and we’re all luckier for it!

Is there an article or feature you remember on the Backstreet Boys that you would like to see featured?  Let us know in the comments or via email!

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