Backstreet’s Back Alright: The Truth About the Iconic 90’s Boy Band

Back in the ‘90s, the world went through a boy band phase, and the Backstreet Boys were the biggest stars on the planet. Any young, aspiring singer would do anything to make in the cut-throat industry alongside Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and other musical legends. In 1993, five young boys formed a band and had no idea that they would have a sky-rocketing career and become insanely famous.

The Backstreet Boys in the ‘90s / The Backstreet Boys on the red carpet in 2019
Source: Shutterstock / Photo by imageSPACE, Shutterstock

Despite not having the same legendary personas as the icons among them, the Backstreet Boys found immense success. With over 130 million albums sold, the boys and their charming good looks have been cemented into pop culture. Through the years, the boy band craze has died down, and the Backstreet Boys seem to have faded with it. The hunky teens are now middle-aged men and are still releasing music. However, nothing compares to the sensational success they once experienced. But behind their smiling faces and angelic voices lie some dark secrets.

With no social media, everything we knew about the group came from speculations plastered all over the tabloids, but now we know more. From feuds to deaths, here are some behind the scenes secrets of the Backstreet Boys.

Fake Rivalry with *NSYNC

During their heyday, it looked like the rivalry between the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC would go on forever. Fans went as far as to buy multiple albums to boost record sales for their favorite group. We never actually witnessed the band members bumping heads with each other, but we also never saw them acting all buddy, buddy. That led to the notion that there was a feud brewing.

NSYNC posing in the streets of New York / Backstreet Boys posing in the streets of Jamaica
Photo by Busacca, Mediapunch, Shutterstock / Source: Shutterstock

But now that the boy band members have grown up and matured, they’ve spilled the tea and given us the truth about what went down. As it turns out, there was no rivalry. A.J. Mclean revealed that the fellow boy bands had nothing but respect for each other. The ”rivalry” was amplified to boost the popularity of the bands.

The Carter Brothers

When Aaron Carter was barely a teenager, he found enormous success as a singer. But Aaron got his first taste of the industry from his brother, Nick Carter, who was part of the hottest band in the world at the time. The siblings were even part of a reality show called House of Carters, which depicted their family and lives.

Nick and Aaron Carter posing together outside of a restaurant
Photo by Mediapunch / Shutterstock

Everything has seemed to be going smoothly for the brothers until recently. Aaron has been suffering from drug dependency issues for years and recently spent some time in rehab. In response, his big brother supported him on Twitter, only for Aaron to accuse him of not being genuine and only acting sympathetic to benefit his image.

Bad Girlfriend

In the early 2000s, the press was obsessed with Paris Hilton. The blonde socialite tarnished the family name with her crude antics, and the tabloids swallowed it up. Hilton was often spotted partying and indulging in alcohol. Unfortunately for Nick Carter, he was with the wrong girl.

Paris Hilton and Nick Carter lying on a bed holding PlayStation controls
Photo by Sara Jaye / Shutterstock

Carter and Hilton were an item for a while, but she wasn’t the best influence on Nick since his substance abuse reached its peak when they were together. Nick recalls that period as a dark time in his life and openly blames his ex-girlfriend for it. In his 2013 autobiography, the singer revealed that Paris encouraged him to be part of that lifestyle.

Their Manager Almost Ruined Them

A lot of mystery surrounds the group’s struggle with their manager, Lou Pearlman. The sketchiness of their relationship was apparent as soon as they got their first taste of international success. At the time, you couldn’t find the latest gossip on the Internet, so you had to rely on the tabloids. There were a lot of rumors and speculation, but nothing was confirmed.

Lou Pearlman taped to a wall with tape over his mouth and yellow police tape across him
Lou Pearlman 1997. Source: Shutterstock

That is until Pearlman was apprehended by the authorities. As it turned out, he was running one of the largest known Ponzi schemes in history. Pearlman would siphon off the money he made through the Backstreet ventures, leaving the group with very little for themselves. He also capitalized on the initial, terrible deals that he forced them to sign. Even though he was apprehended for the Ponzi scheme, it is believed that he caused more personal harm to the band members.

Brain’s Voice Problems

Devout Backstreet Boys fans noticed a change in Brian Littrell’s voice. He was known for possessing the most angelic voice of the group, but recent performances reveal a crack when he is hitting the high notes. This caused him to switch to a different singing style when it’s time to hit higher notes.

Brian Littrell behind a microphone in Canada 1998
Brian Littrell 1998. Photo by Ponopresse / Shutterstock

In the Backstreet Boys documentary, Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, they go into detail about Littrell’s struggles with his voice and the band’s difficulty coping with the problem- since he took sole responsibility for most of the songs. It turns out that he suffers from vocal tension dysphonia, a condition that tightens the neck muscles. He receives medical attention regularly to help improve the condition.

Mommy Fans

Back in the ‘90s, it was clear that the Backstreet Boys catered mainly to the female demographic. I mean, a band of five eligible men does have its appeal. But it makes sense that men weren’t the target audience. Throughout the years, the young girls who once screamed at their concerts have become mothers.

The Backstreet Boys on the red carpet in 2019
Photo by Matt Baron / Shutterstock

So, now the sea of fans at the Backstreet Boys’ shows are women in their late twenties and early thirties. This was even jokingly brought up during a rap battle between the Backstreet Boys and Charlie Puth when Puth took a shot at the group announcing that all their fans were moms. It was all in good fun, of course.

A.J.’s Struggles

A.J. McLean was known as the group’s bad boy. The hunky, young singer defined the term “cool” for Backstreet Boys. However, A.J. went through struggles early in life and even got several tattoos to represent them. For a little while, the challenges he went through were unknown.

AJ McLean on the red carpet in 2018
Photo by Matt Baron / Shutterstock

In the late ‘90s, A.J.’s drug problems were evident, and it was difficult for him to face it. When the boys were at the peak of their careers, in the early 2000s, A.J. was forced to take an indefinite leave of absence so he could check into rehab. It eventually sparked the group’s break from the spotlight, until they reunited on Oprah.

The Loss of a Carter

The brothers’ personal demons aren’t the only tragedy in the Carter family. In 2012, the sudden demise of their sister Leslie added to the pain and misery. The 25-year-old passed away due to substance abuse. What’s even more devastating is that her big brother Nick didn’t even show up to the funeral.

Aaron, Bobbie, Nick, Angel, and Leslie Carter posing on the porch of a Hollywood home
Aaron, Bobbie, Nick, Angel, and Leslie Carter. Photo by Andre Csillag / Shutterstock

Apparently, Nick’s reason for his absence was his ongoing feud with his parents. The circumstances must have been dreadful for him to miss his own sibling’s burial. Nick claimed his family blamed him for being partially responsible for her death. Nick later admitted that finding out about his sister’s death was the most horrific news he had ever received.

Demystifying the Lyrics

If you take a close look at the band’s lyrics, you will realize how adult they are. They grew up in a band, but the group waited until they had aged considerably to venture into mature content. Tracks like Get Down are catchy and have a PG music video, but there have been some peculiar interpretations.

Backstreet Boys fans in the crowd of a concert in 2014
Photo by Marcin Wziontek / Shutterstock

You may not have even realized it, but the song The Call is about a man who gets caught after cheating on his girlfriend. And if you really want to demystify the meaning, look no further than their smash hit, Larger Than Life. The lyrics “your love is affecting our reality” are believed to be the group’s admission that their struggles with fame are partially due to their demanding fans.

Kevin’s Unexpected Departure

Unlike plenty of other boy bands, the Backstreet Boys managed to stand the test of time. The band has been together for about 25 years, but things have certainly changed since their ‘90s glory days. From 2006 to 2012, the band had to function as a quartet when Kevin Richardson announced his sudden departure. They released two albums during this time: Unbreakable and This Is Us.

Kevin Richardson behind a mic in 1998
Kevin Richardson. Photo by Ponopresse / Shutterstock

Many people perceived the Unbreakable album as the group sending a message that nothing could shatter them. They were initially pressured to hold auditions for a fifth member, but they wisely decided to shoot down that idea.

Nick Goes Solo

During the band’s rise to the top, Nick Carter was the most advertised member. The teen heartthrob was the youngest Backstreet boy and had a considerable female following. By the time they finished Black and Blue, the group had already started working on their next album when they were blindsided by Nick, who revealed his interest in doing some solo work.

Nick Carter posing in front of posters for his solo album
Source: Shutterstock

The rest of the group was understandably frustrated because Nick chose to stay with The Firm, the production company they had just parted with. Thing escalated fast, and it got to the point where the band started recording their next album without Carter. He was expected to join later on. Carter released Now or Never and maintained a friendly relationship with the group. It was around this time that the Backstreet Boys went on an extended hiatus.

Makes No Sense!

When you think of the Backstreet Boys, the first song that pops into your head is “I Want It That Way,” their biggest hit ever! That song solidified the success of their 1999 album, Millennium, which brought the band to its peak. However, the song’s lyrics don’t make sense.

The Backstreet Boys posing together in August 1999
Source: Shutterstock

Because of the song’s catchy tune, many people overlook the lyrical shortcomings. But at a certain point, it became too notorious to ignore, and even Kevin Richardson admitted that the song makes no sense. The lyrics revolve around a person admitting their endless love for a girl, but the chorus claims that this love is not worth it. Additionally, the music video has nothing to do with the song.

A Dear Friend and Crew Member

The Backstreet Boys’ success wasn’t only due to their talent, but thanks to everyone who was involved in bringing their performances to life. The group is close with their crew and didn’t forget about former member Daniel John Lee at the time of his death. You might be wondering how one person could have impacted the band so much.

Daniel John Lee standing in front of a lake with mountains behind it
Daniel John Lee. Source: Pinterest

You may not know this, but Daniel met his end in the fateful plane that crashed into the Twin Towers on 9/11. It was already a difficult time for the band, who were dealing with A.J. Mclean’s substance issues, which sparked their hiatus. On top of everything, they had to deal with the terrible passing of one of their friends.

A Hole in Brian’s Heart

Brian Littrell has had his share of health complications. The Backstreet Boys’ fame was so extreme that the band’s struggles spread like wildfire (even without the help of the Internet and social media). One of the band’s most notable early troubles was when Brian Littrell was battling a heart condition.

Brian Littrell posing in the music video I’ll Never Break Your Heart
Source: Shutterstock

Since he was born, Brian has dealt with a hole in his heart. As a toddler, he was rushed to the hospital multiple times. He underwent corrective open-heart surgery in 1998, and luckily, it proved to help. He even started a foundation to help children with similar complications. He appeared without a shirt on in Show ‘Em What You’re Made of, with the intention of showing off the scar he has from the surgery.

Bad Habits Die Hard

A.J. Mclean’s substance addiction has been well documented, but he was also addicted to a particular habit that could have a negative effect on the general population. He was known for smoking cigarettes. Like all bad habits, this vice had its consequences. Mclean revealed that he gave up smoking because it was destroying his voice.

AJ McLean standing in front of Niagara Falls
Source: Shutterstock

Smoking has a long list of negative effects, including a sore throat. Being in the music industry meant that A.J. needed to take some extra precautions to protect his career, and “No Smoking” was high on that list. Thankfully, he maintained his natural singing voice and continues to steer clear of cigarettes.

Boy Bands Unite

In the real world, this may not seem dark, but when it comes to the universe of the movie Dead 7, it certainly is. It basically brought the boy band generation on to our screens. Nick Carter managed to convince his Backstreet Boy pals Howie Dorough and A.J. Mclean, as well as members of *NSYNC, All-4-One, 98 Degrees, and O-Town, to star in the horror zombie film.

Chloe Lattanzi with NSYNC and Backstreet Boys members on the set of Dead 7 / Boy band members on the set of Dead 7
Source: Instagram

The movie appeared to be a parody, intended to produce cheap thrills. However, Carter admitted that he captured the storyline and was actively involved in the production process. The movie included a wonderful performance by its cast- none of whom were professional actors. It aired on SyFy and received a pretty good response from viewers.

Spreading Awareness

Howie D. is the quietest member of the Backstreet Boys. He has the least amount of lead vocals in the group but is known as the sweetest Backstreet Boy. Howie also gives a sense of diversity to an otherwise Caucasian-centric group. But sadly, he lost something heartbreaking in the process – his sister.

Howie Dorough on the red carpet in 2002 / A portrait of Caroline Dorough-Cochran
Photo by Picture Perfect, Shutterstock / Pinterest

In 1998, Caroline Dorough-Cochran contracted lupus, which eventually led to her untimely death. Howie opened the Dorough Lupis Foundation in honor of his sister. He helps spread awareness about the disease and also helps patients who are struggling financially with the treatment. If that wasn’t enough, he also donates money towards Lupus research.

Another Tragic Loss

Kevin Richardson is a huge family man and acted as the group’s big brother. He took on this role because of a devastating family tragedy. After his father lost a battle with cancer, the singer quickly became “the man of the house.”

Kevin Richardson with his mother at a campsite
Source: Instagram

Kevin’s dad was his mentor and inspiration. The reason he even got involved in the industry was because his father had always encouraged him to follow his dreams. When he was only 19 years old, his mother called him and gave him the heartbreaking news that his father’s health was declining. Two months later, he died. Richardson opened up about his depression during this difficult time. The band’s song Incomplete was dedicated to his father’s memory.

The Backstreet Boys vs. the Record Company

Unfortunately, it seems the Backstreet Boys never received what they rightfully. In 2002, the group left their record company, Zomba Recording (parent of Jive Records), for a disclosed amount of $75 million. They laid a number of charges against the company, including intentional interference, breach of contract, trademark infringement, and unfair competition.

The Backstreet Boys posing together in 1997
Source: Shutterstock

The boys also claimed that Zomba was withholding millions in advances that they never received. They were meant to get these advancements as part of a deal they had made for delivering the albums to Zomba in quick time. The boys held their end of the deal, but Zomba did not. Instead, the record label ignored the album Black and Blue and coerced Nick Carter to produce some solo material.

Dwindling Fame

During their heyday, the Backstreet Boys were practically the kings of the music industry. Even though they never took home any Grammy awards, they were nominated numerous times thanks to their immense popularity. Nowadays, the age of boy bands has faded. With the exception of One Direction, the boy band craze kind of came to an end.

The Backstreet Boys at Busch Gardens, Florida 1997
Source: Shutterstock

New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees, and The Backstreet Boys have basically become nostalgic acts. The band acknowledged their decline in popularity and opened up about the frustrations that come along with it. Brian Littrell confessed in an interview that the group was confused when they were coming down off their peak in 2002. “What do you do when you’re a grown man in a boy band?” he asked.

More Than Just a Pretty Face

When the subject of objectification comes up, men don’t have it easy. It’s the women whose voices are heard. Guys are often expected to feel good when girls are all over them, and people are constantly staring. The Backstreet Boys are no exception and were exposed to some objectification at the beginning.

The Backstreet Boys hanging out in a hot tub in April 1999
Source: Shutterstock

When they were in their late teens and early twenties, the boys were filming Quit Playing Games with My Heart. Their main appeal was that they were extremely pleasurable to look at. To capitalize on this, the video featured the heartthrobs singing in the rain with their bare chests showing. They admitted on more than one occasion that it was extremely uncomfortable to film. Either way, the ploy worked, and they captured a whole generation of female fans.

Album Sales Are Not What They Used to Be

When you hear the words boy band, The Backstreet Boys immediately come to mind. But you can’t deny that the new age has changed the music industry. When they were in their prime, Millennium broke album sales records. It earned the number one spot on the Billboard 200 and is still one of the highest sold records in the world.

The Backstreet Boys on the red carpet in 2004
Photo by Matt Baron / BEI / Shutterstock

Millennium flew off the shelves and sold 30 million copies! Unfortunately, recent sales are just a shadow of what they once were for the once massively successful band. Their latest album, In A World Like This, made it to number five on the Billboard 200. Since its 2013 release, it has only sold about 800,000 copies. The Backstreet Boys’ last number one record is Black and Blue, which came out in 2000.

The Baby of the Group

As the years go by, the list of problems for Nick Carter keeps getting longer and longer. Most of the Backstreet Boys have managed to keep their demons in the past, but the youngest member of the group is still the most erratic. 36-year-old Nick was arrested in Florida in 2016 when he wasn’t able to get into a bar.

Nick Carter on the red carpet in 2018
Photo by Erik Pendzich / Shutterstock

You may be wondering why he was denied access. Well, he was already wasted when he got there. This meant that before he was able to set foot inside, his good sense was already gone. Nick was charged for battery after he decided to punch the bouncer! He was restrained and taken to the authorities.

We All Grow Up

No matter how famous you are, nobody stays young forever. Even hunky, teen heartthrobs like the Backstreet Boys get older. When the band was formed in 1993, the oldest member, Kevin, was 22, and Nick was at the tender age of 13. The youngest bandmate is now a 40-year-old man.

The Backstreet Boys on the red carpet in 2018
Photo by Ken McKay / ITV / Shutterstock

Part of the attraction of the Backstreet Boys is their youthful energy. So, it makes sense that their popularity has dwindled as they became middle-aged men. The boys managed to maintain a loyal fan base, but their tween fans also grew up. As the years go by, the average age of their concertgoers will continue to rise. It’s just not how it used to be.

The Ultimate Accusation

In the aftermath of the Weinstein scandal, a lot of male celebrities were accused of sexual harassment by some women from their distant past. The music industry was involved in this wave of accusations too. Melissa Schuman, Nick’s ex-girlfriend, accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Nick Carter on the red carpet in 2017 / Melissa Schuman on the red carpet in 2018
Photo by Broadimage, Shutterstock / MediaPunch, Shutterstock

However, Nick claims that he is innocent and never acted inappropriately toward her. His side of the story is that the relationship was consensual. The real details of their exchange are unclear. People on the Internet don’t exactly believe in the term “innocent until proven guilty.” Many people have already taken Schuman’s story as the truth. Nick still has his supporters, though. I guess only time will tell what really happened.

The Backstreet Boys aren’t the only iconic boy band in history. They came around in the ‘90s, but a band from the ‘60s might have helped paved the way for their success. This is the real story behind The Beach Boys.