DUBAI: On April 20, the Backstreet Boys — the top-selling boy-band in history — return to Dubai to perform in front of a sold-out crowd at the Blended festival. For fans and the band alike, the date is more than just another concert — it’s their silver anniversary. The group officially formed on April 20, 1993.
“Yes, it’s our twenty-fifth anniversary,” group member AJ McLean confirmed to Arab News.
McLean still remembers that day in 1993 vividly. That morning, 18 year-old Brian Littrell flew from his home in Lexington, Kentucky to join his cousin Kevin Richardson, McLean, Howie D., and Nick Carter in Orlando, Florida. While the group has changed a lot in the years since, the chemistry that was there from day one remains.
““We would not be the group we are today if it was not us five. The first time we sang together as a group was in a garage in Orlando and it was an immediate connection,” McLean said. “We all gelled personality-wise, we all gelled vocally, we just gelled as a group.”
The band came together because of an ad in the local newspaper seeking a group with a “New Kids on the Block look with a Boyz II Men sound.” It was that focus on vocal harmony and songcraft that drove the group forward, guiding them to 130 million worldwide record sales, including 24 million for their 1999 album “Millennium” — which featured their biggest hit, “I Want It That Way” — alone. Not to mention collaborations with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Sting, Elton John and Aretha Franklin.
Aside from the band’s chemistry, McLean is quick to credit others for their longevity. Specifically their passionate followers. “I would attribute a lot of it to our amazing core fan base, driving us to continue to do something that we love to do,” he said.
The band’s relationships haven’t always been as strong as they are now, however. The age difference between members is, in some cases, as much as eight years. Richardson, the eldest member, left the band in 2006 before permanently rejoining in 2012. But things are more settled these days.
“We’re all married. We have children. The dynamic is much closer now,” McLean said. “We all have one common factor, which is being parents, being husbands.
Before, when two of us were married, or one of us had a kid, and the rest of us didn’t, it was hard to empathize with wanting to have more time off or wanting to have your family with you on the road. Now it is pretty much Daddy Day Care, and we love it. We have a newfound respect for each other.”
As they grow closer to one another, they have also grown closer to their music, involving themselves much more in the process than they did in the early days, when they were guided by Lou Pearlman.
“The whole music industry has changed so drastically; we’ve gotten better as writers, we’ve gotten better as producers,” McLean said. “We’re definitely a lot more hands on now with the creative process. (Earlier), everything was handed to us: ‘Here’s the song you’re going to do. Here’s your producer. Cut it.’ It’s more fun now.”
And McLean has seen a newfound respect for the band come from the broader musical community — something he sees as a career highlight on its own.
“We’re seeing artists of today singing our songs. Nick Jonas did a cover of ‘I Want It That Way’ on tour in Japan, for example. It’s pretty cool to see this resurgence happening now.”
Performing live is something that has always fueled the band’s passion.
“It will always be something fresh and new,” McLean said. “Every audience is different. But the one thing that has been a constant is the love of music, and the fact that we have fans in countries that don’t even speak English that are singing every single line to every song. We always try to one-up ourselves live, change the performance to make it fresh and enjoyable.”
While McLean certainly enjoys singing some of the band’s biggest hits, he said the group have a more personal relationship with deeper cuts.
“It’s nice to do some songs that weren’t singles. It’s more for us personally as well as for our core fans. Songs like ‘Don’t Want to Lose You Now,’ ‘Get Another Boyfriend.’”
The Dubai show will doubtless see the Backstreet Boys bring out the big guns, though. “We’re going to put on an amazing show. It’ll cover 25 years of great music.
"You’ll hear all our biggest hits as well as a few personal favorites and some surprises,” McLean said. “We’re going to take you down memory lane. We can’t wait.”