As we quickly approach January, the month that the Backstreet Boys will be officially back in the studio and working on their next release, it only seemed appropriate that we take some time to discuss who the Boys will be working with to assemble the album. Recently, we’ve begun to cover Max Martin for no other reason than to honor the work he’s created for the Boys. I certainly hope he provides them with at least one track on their next effort since the song In A World Like This happens to be one of my favorite singles of the last decade. Regardless of my praise for Max, however, I couldn’t help but notice that the lack of female writers and producers that are well known in the industry.
I’m ashamed to say it, but the first time it had even occurred to me that the Backstreet Boys haven’t work with many female writers/producers was very recently. The deluxe edition of In A World Like This included a song titled Take Care, which sounded very different than the rest of the album in a way I couldn’t help but love. It had this prominent drum beat with minimal musical additions that let the Boys vocals really stand out. The background harmonies were so deep that the Boys used them in their documentary and the effect inspired goosebumps. I was asked by several people that I watched the documentary with about the music that played in the background in a few key scenes because of how much depth their vocals had. Even fans of the Boys that had already heard their new music were questioning, “what song is that?!”
A fellow member of the Backstreet Army that has helped us out on the blog on several occasions, Hayley, found an interesting interview with one of the writers on the track. Her name is Lowell Boland and she’s a musician in her own right, releasing her debut album We Loved Her Dearly in 2014. In an interview with the Toronto based paper, The Star, she called her credit on Take Care “the one I’m most proud of” despite it only being released as a bonus track and the fact that neither of the other seven tracks she worked on for the Boys made the final cut. She was terribly complimentary about the Boys’ abilities saying, “I was there during the mixing of a lot of the latest Backstreet Boys record, and what’s amazing is that they are so good at harmonizing with each other. They’re actually incredible.”
Are you in love with her yet? I’m in love with her.
Lowell went on to share her idea for reimagining the entirety of In A World Like This:
“So I just started soloing their vocals and putting reverbs on them for a little while. It almost sounds like Pet Sounds. And I have a plan, sort of – and they’re pretty fond of me, so I feel like I could actually get away with this – to just remix the whole new album in a really, really amazing way. I don’t want to get sued, but I want to completely revamp it, just take away all the beautiful pop stuff they tried to do and put some organ in there.”
Listen, I love the Boys for many reasons but the main reason has always been utterly simplistic: their voices. The harmonies the five Boys put together are incredible and as the years have passed I feel like they’ve been less experimental with the vocal work they’ve done. People sometimes misinterpret the idea of pushing musical boundaries. I don’t need the Backstreet Boys to release a heavy metal inspired album to feel they’ve taken a step out of the box – but what about creating new sounds and layers through more complex vocal arrangements? It’s a less conventional way of changing things up sonically and could be rewarding for fans that value their core abilities as performers. Lowell seems to understand that really well and it’s inspiring to hear her discuss – not the bells and whistles that come with producing music – but their vocals.
The Boys’ first album as a foursome, Unbreakable, was actually the most inclusive of female writers (sort of ironic that we blogged about how underrated that album is amongst their discography). Let’s take a second to look at the full roster of female writers/producers that the Backstreet Boys have worked with over the course of their careers:
Backstreet Boys: 0 writing or production credits attributed to women.
Backstreet’s Back: 0 writing or production credits attributed to women.
Millennium: 0 writing or production credits attributed to women.
Black and Blue: 1 writing credit attributed to a woman, 0 production credits attributed to women.
- Lisa Miskovsky has a writing credit on Shape of My Heart.
Never Gone: 4 writing credits attributed to women, 1 production credit attributed to a woman.
- Lindy Robbins has a writing credit for Incomplete. Shelly Peiken has a writing credit on Lose It All. Victoria Wu has a writing and production credit on My Beautiful Woman. Alexandra Talomaa has a writing credit on Siberia.
Unbreakable: 10 writing credits attributed to women, 1 production credit attributed to a woman.
- Lindy Robbins had co-writing credits on Inconsolable, You Can Let Go, Everything But Mine, One In A Million, Any Other Way, and the bonus track In Pieces. Kara DioGuardi has a writing and producing credit on Something That I Already Know. Aimee Mayo had a writing credit on Helpless When She Smiles. Pam Sheyne had a writing credit on Trouble Is. Nikki Hassman had a writing credit on Unmistakable. Despite this being the album that has the most females involved in the creation of the music, the only woman with a production credit on the album was DioGuardi.
This Is Us: 1 writing credit attributed to a woman, 0 production credits attributed to women.
- Tiffany Amber had a writing credit on Bigger.
In A World Like This: 1 writing credit and production credit attributed to a woman.
- Lowell Boland had a writing and a production credit on the bonus track Take Care.
Over the course of over 20 years and 8 albums worth of material, the Backstreet Boys have had a total of two (co)production credits attributed to women. Two.
We can say it’s three if we’re being kind and counting Lowell’s work on Take Care.
It certainly isn’t the responsibility of the Backstreet Boys to create gender equity in the music industry. The fact of the matter is that even female artists like Beyonce, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Adele, etc. also don’t work with female writers and producers nearly as often as they do males. So I don’t want people to misinterpret my point as the purpose of this blog isn’t to say that Lowell or Lindy or Kara would do better work for the Boys simply because they’re women. But in a world largely shaped by men, women being represented in media are important because it brings a different perspective to art.
The Boys have had a habit of working with a lot of the same people over the years and I’m not preaching that they cut ties with Dan Muckula, Max Martin, Martin Terefe, or Jim Jonsin, but when you work with people you’re used to it might only be natural that you find yourself creating music within a comfort zone. One way to explore new ideas is to develop them from new perspectives. I don’t want to hear music that sounds like my favorite spot on the couch, is what I’m saying. And the Boys shouldn’t want to make that kind of music either.
So…Boys… maybe give Lowell Boland a call and put a woman behind your mixing board for more than one track this go round?