Backstreet Boys Still Have A Lot To Prove
By Alan Sculley
A.J. McLean sounds fully prepared for the demands of touring this year with his bandmates in the Backstreet Boys.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, so I can actually perform it and look good,
too,” McLean said in a recent phone interview.
He had better be in shape. According to McLean, the current tour requires more dancing from the Backstreet Boys than the show the group took on the road following the 2007 album Unbreakable.
“We’ve got four extra dancers. And production wise, we’re doing like a bunch of different gags and stuff,” he said. “It’s going to be very theatrical, lots of dancing on our part. It’s going to be very entertaining. It’s going to be really, really entertaining and cool with all the old songs mixed in with the new ones.”
The new music comes courtesy of This Is Us, the CD the Backstreet Boys released last October. The album is an attempt to recapture the R&B-influenced dance-pop sound of the group’s early albums, after a bit of a stylistic departure on its 2005 CD Never Gone and Unbreakable, which were more pop oriented.
McLean, though, said the musical direction of the group wasn’t the main reason Unbreakable, in particular, was less than a smash.
“Honestly, the reason why it didn’t do so well is because the songs weren’t that good,” he said.
Seeing lackluster album sales was a new experience for the Backstreet Boys, which was put together by music mogul Lou Pearlman in 1993.
Along with peers N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys (McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson) rose to huge heights in the late 1990s behind the multi-platinum albums Backstreet Boys (1997) and Millennium (1999). The
latter album became the best-selling album of 1999, with nearly 10 million copies sold.
But after the 2000 release of the next CD, Black & Blue, things began to fray for the Backstreet Boys. The CD failed to match the popularity of Millennium, and even more ominously, the group had to postpone the second leg of its tour when McLean checked into a rehab facility to confront his addiction to alcohol and problems
After the October 2001 release of The Hits: Chapter One, the Backstreet Boys went on hiatus, and it wasn’t until late 2003, when a clean and sober McLean went on The Oprah Winfrey Show to share details of his addiction and recovery, that the group started making plans to enter the studio to make Never Gone and make a full-fledged return to action.
The group proved it hadn’t lost its fan base, as its world tour was a success. But Never Gone – while it topped one million copies sold – failed to reach the heights of previous albums.
And in June 2006, Richardson announced he was leaving the Backstreet Boys. The remaining foursome, though, wasted little time moving forward, entering the studio to make Unbreakable just days after Richardson announced his departure.
That album, after debuting at
No. 7 on Billboard’s album chart, sank fast and fell out of the top 100 two
It’s against this backdrop that This Is Us arrived last fall.
In re-embracing its R&B/hip-hop roots, the Backstreet Boys teamed up with several A-list songwriters/producers. RedOne was brought on board for the lead single, “Straight Through My Heart,” and others that collaborated with the Backstreet Boys included T-Pain, Max Martin, Claude Kelly and Jim Jonsin.
“We wanted, that is, the goal is to outdo our past, but at the same time sort of just stay fresh and new,” McLean said. “I think by getting with (these) producers and writers it kind of puts like a whole new face (on the songs), but at the same time it’s something familiar from the past.”
The attempt to evoke more of the group’s Millennium-era sound on This Is Us, has so far failed to reverse the group’s slide in album sales. “Straight Through My Heart” failed to chart, and This Is Us fell off the album chart after
Still, all is not doom and gloom for the Backstreet Boys. The group’s summer tour mostly plays amphitheaters and arenas, and McLean feels the group sounds fine despite losing Richardson as a vocalist.
As for McLean himself, things are looking up on a personal level. In January he got engaged to girlfriend Rochelle Deanna Karidis. He’s also still clean and sober, and keeping his eye on the ball as a performer.
“It’s always a daily sort of, not a daily struggle, but you’ve always got to keep it in the back of your mind,” McLean said of his healthier lifestyle. “You’ve just got to make sure that you have a balance in your life and not let anything catch up to you, so I think that’s what I’m doing.”
The Backstreet Boys will perform Saturday, August 28 at 8 p.m. at the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center, 695 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati. Tickets are $39.15-$76.55. For tickets or more information, visit online at
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at email@example.com