Sterling harmonies, impassioned vocals, irresistible songs and flawless, funky performances have helped BACKSTREET BOYS win fervent international acclaim reminiscent of Elvis, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. But what does an award-winning, record-breaking quintet do after selling over 55 million albums worldwide in less than three years, and embarking on an historic North America tour that sold-out mere seconds after tickets became available?
Indeed, what's left for the biggest pop group in the world who've dominated the pop charts around the globe? What does such a group do for an encore after winning two consecutive Diamond Award certifications in the U.S. for album sales each exceeding 10 million copies, and their creative endeavors result in complete domination of the 1999 Rolling Stone Readers Poll, including honors for "Artists of the Year," "Album of the Year," "Single of the Year" and "Best Video"?
If you're NICK CARTER, HOWIE DOROUGH, BRIAN LITTRELL, AJ MCLEAN and KEVIN RICHARDSON, you deliver a hotly anticipated third album that surpasses all expectations and pushes your creative limits to the popping point.
Their new BLACK & BLUE album--the group's fourth release--sold more than five million copies worldwide in its first week of release, setting a new first-week record in international sales. At the same time, in the U.S., BACKSTREET BOYS set a new precedent by becoming the first artist in SoundScan history to ever achieve million-plus first-week sales with back-to-back albums. BLACK & BLUE, released November 21, sold more than 1.6 million copies in its debut week of release. This follows 1999's MILLENNIUM album, which moved more than 1,134,000 copies in its opening week.
Featuring 13 songs--including five compositions co-written by the group plus two songs written solely by BSB--BLACK & BLUE marks the biggest step thus far in the BACKSTREET BOYS' creative evolution. Co-produced by the Cheiron team (Max Martin, Rami, Kristian Lundlin, Jake, Per Magnusson, David Kreuger); Babyface; Rodney Jerkins; Timmy Allen; Franciz & LePont and Larry "Rock" Campbell, BLACK & BLUE's combination of funky pop and romantic balladry raises the standard for contemporary music. Indeed, in its first week of release the album's first single, "Shape of My Heart," was added to 170 of the 171 Top 40 stations in the U.S. Overseas, the song became an instant Top Five hit in Sweden (#1), Norway (#1), Canada (#1), Germany (#2), Switzerland (#4), Austria (#5) and Holland (#5).
The new album is testament to BACKSTREET BOYS' dedication, integrity and creativity. Far from coasting on their laurels, BLACK & BLUE finds the group singing and composing with fiery intensity. From the funky strains of "The Call," "Get Another Boyfriend" and "Shining Star," to the poignant harmonies of "Yes I Will," "I Promise You (With Everything I Am)," and "How Did I Fall In Love With You," every verse, ad lib and harmony is performed with unparalleled passion. When the quintet sings "I never want to play the same old part" on the gorgeous "Shape of My Heart," the sentiment doubles as a romantic expression and an artistic statement. After four years of undisputed global dominance, BACKSTREET BOYS remain the most industrious and ambitious pop group on the planet.
The group's creative intensity is evident in the songs they composed and co-wrote for BLACK & BLUE. On the relentlessly funky "Shining Star," NICK CARTER and HOWIE DOROUGH team with tunesmiths Franciz & LePont for a pungent slice of hardcore R&B. "Time"--composed by BACKSTREET BOYS and produced by Babyface--beguiles listeners with its ethereal harmonies, old-school R&B melody and introspective lyrics. Yet another group composition, "The Answer To Our Life" is pugnacious funk with an engaging pop twist. Collaborating with writers Brian Kierulf and Josh Schwartz, AJ McLEAN demonstrates his auspicious songwriting abilities on "Yes I Will," a ballad highlighted by sweet fingerstyle guitar and an endearingly devotional lyric. The album concludes on an exquisite, heartfelt note with "How Did I Fall In Love With You," a collaboration between HOWIE DOROUGH and songwriters Calum MacColl and Andrew Fromm. This lushly orchestrated ballad boasts caressing vocals that rank among BACKSTREET BOYS' finest performances.
In all, BLACK & BLUE is the artistic achievement one would expect from the world's most popular singing group. As their burgeoning trophy case attests, BACKSTREET BOYS are as popular with the music industry as with their devoted fans. In 1999, the group captured five Grammy nominations, four Billboard Music Awards, including "Album of the Year," "Artist of the Year," "Albums Artist of the Year" and "Albums Artist Duo/Group of the Year." Also in 1999, the group nabbed an American Music Award ("Favorite Band, Duo or Group"); an MTV Music Video Award ("Viewer's Choice Award"); a People's Choice Award ("Favorite Musical Group or Band"); two Blockbuster Music Awards ("Favorite Pop Group," "Favorite CD"); and a Juno Award (Canada), among countless other 1997-1998 honors and citations. In addition, "I Want It That Way" was voted #10 in the Rolling Stone/MTV list of the "100 Greatest Pop Songs."
BLACK & BLUE arrives hot on the heels of Millennium, BACKSTREET BOYS' record-breaking 1999 sophomore U.S. release, and their third international disc. Millennium entered the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart at #1, having sold 1,134,000 copies in its first week of release and shattering the previous Soundscan record held by Garth Brooks for single week record sales. Millennium landed the top spot on the charts in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Thailand. The album sold nearly 500,000 copies alone in first day in release in the U.S., is already certified 13-times platinum in the U.S. and remains a fixture on Billboard's Top 200 albums chart.
Unlike many pop sensations that struggle yearly for critical respect, BACKSTREET BOYS' albums and tours have been greeted enthusiastically by fans and scribes alike. In an effusive album review, Rolling Stone wrote that Millennium "digs melodic claws into your skull on the first listen--it's the swooniest blending of the five vocalists' timbres to date, and mighty pretty besides." In addition, Rolling Stone featured the group the cover three times in 18 months from May 1999-December 2000. And People magazine added "these lads can sing...the Boys do possess distinctive voices...they are adept at vocal interplay, creating harmonic magic as those voices soar and intertwine." Critics were similarly flattering about the "Into The Millennium Tour." The Washington Post described the group's performance as "two hours of infectious dance pop and sweet ballads," while the New York Daily News raved "... The Boys' 'Millennium' tour at the Meadowlands proved these guys to be tops at their trade...The Boys feature the snazziest show, the most earnest singing, and songs only a brain surgeon could wipe from your mind."
According to conventional wisdom, such critical enthusiasm is only given to journeyman rockers and obscure independent artists, but the BACKSTREET BOYS have always enjoyed the support of fans and the media. The group's self-titled 1997 debut album remained lodged on the Billboard album chart Top 20 for over two years. The disc received gold and platinum awards in 45 countries with more than 28 million albums sold worldwide. They scored 5 Top 10 singles; released a multi-platinum full-length video, ALL ACCESS; and performed on scores of major television programs, including their own pay-per-view concert special in 1999. The quintet were nominated for a "Best New Artist" Grammy Award and named among Entertainment Weekly's "Best Entertainers of 1998." They were also among People magazine's 1998 "Men We Love" and "25 Most Intriguing People of the Year."
The BACKSTREET BOYS' incredible ascent to superstardom begins in Orlando, Florida in 1993. AJ MCLEAN, HOWIE DOROUGH and NICK CARTER encountered each other at local acting auditions. Inspired by Boyz II Men and Color Me Badd, the three young students formed a singing group. A mutual friend introduced the trio to KEVIN RICHARDSON, who at the time was performing at Walt Disney World. After an Orlando talent search proved unsuccessful, KEVIN convinced his Kentucky-based cousin BRIAN LITTRELL to relocate to Florida. With the crucial final piece in place, BACKSTREET BOYS began the opening chapter of their amazing story.
Initially, BACKSTREET BOYS performed cover tunes, including Shai's "If I Ever Fall in Love." But as the group quickly cultivated its own unique style, they became determined to secure a record contract. Towards that goal, BACKSTREET BOYS resorted to such extreme tactics as performing a capella in the foyers of local record label offices. Within six months of forming, the group was one of Florida's hottest live acts, performing at high schools, Sea World and even an opening slot for R&B songstress Brandy.
With an indie single "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming" and a whole lot of stage experience, the BACKSTREET BOYS entered the next phase of their unpredictable and exciting career. The group's former manager was friends with A&R executive David McPherson (who was at Mercury Records at the time) and in a canny move, called him on her cell phone from one of their live shows so McPherson could experience the pandemonium the group incited. Soon after that fateful phone call, Jive Records signed BACKSTREET BOYS.
In 1995, the group released "We've Got It Going On." Composed by Denniz Pop and Max Martin, the song charted in England and throughout Europe. A second single "I'll Never Break Your Heart" began to climb the charts. Its success lay the foundation for the tidal wave that was about to come.
BACKSTREET BOYS won a 1995 Smash Hits Award in London for Best New Tour Act and performed the gold single "I'll Never Break Your Heart" on British TV's Top of the Pops. In early 1996, the group was voted #1 International Group by TV viewers in Germany. "I'll Never Break Your Heart" went gold in Germany and topped the charts in Austria. By February of 1995, the track had become a hit in Quebec, BACKSTREET BOYS were selling out shows and the group had become a phenomenon throughout Europe and Canada. In Spring of 1996, the group released their full-length album in Europe and Canada, supporting the disc with a sold-out, 57-date summer headlining tour. By fall, "Backstreet Mania" had also swept Asia, the Pacific Rim and Australia. Then came news that the group's debut CD had gone six times platinum in Canada and topped the charts. The quintet's 32 Canadian performances sold out in under 20 minutes as the intensity inched closer to the U.S.
By the end of 1996, BACKSTREET BOYS had completed a second European tour and earned the coveted 1996 MTV Europe Viewers Choice Award--beating out the Spice Girls, Oasis and Jamiroquai--and had sold nearly 10 million records worldwide. All this success was only the groundwork for what was yet to come--a triumphant homecoming. In early 1997, the group returned to Orlando and began collaborating on new tracks for their U.S. debut. Released August 12, 1997, the self-titled album included all the BACKSTREET BOYS international hits, plus new songs recorded with some of the biggest names in music, including Robert "Mutt" Lange (Shania Twain, AC/DC, Def Leppard) and PM Dawn (a remarkable interpretation of "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss").
The BACKSTREET BOYS' debut album spread as quickly across the U.S. as a prairie fire, spawning mega hits and instant classics like "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart);" "As Long As You Love Me;" "Everybody (Backstreet's Back);" "I'll Never Break Your Heart;" and "All I Have To Give."
But U.S. fans weren't the only ones. The media couldn't get enough of these five charming young men from Orlando. The group's domestic television schedule included performances and appearances on Saturday Night Live (twice), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, MTV "Live", The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Nickelodeon's "All That," ABC-TV's The View, "The 25th Annual American Music Awards," "The World Music Awards," "VH1's "Storytellers with Tony Bennett," the Disney Channel's "In Concert" series, "The 1998 Billboard Music Awards," "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve 1999," and "Shania Twain's Winter Break Featuring Elton John and the BACKSTREET BOYS."
In addition to their ever-escalating touring and promotional schedule, the BACKSTREET BOYS also met with a very real and potentially tragic crisis in 1998 when BRIAN underwent heart surgery to correct a congenital defect. He has since completely recovered.
While their place in music history is already assured, NICK CARTER, HOWIE DOROUGH, BRIAN LITTRELL, A.J. MCLEAN and KEVIN RICHARDSON continue to perform and compose with unparalleled intensity and exuberance. In the wake of BLACK & BLUE, BACKSTREET BOYS have again achieved critical acclaim:
USA Today: "...the guys are exerting more creative control. Five of the album's songs were co-written by Backstreet members...(and) including two penned entirely by the five singers. The brisk, shimmering "The Answer of Life," one song that the Boys wrote on their own, is among the album's best tracks; "Time," another Backstreet-composed effort, has the sweetly soulful vibe of a lost Boyz II Men single."
Billboard: "'Shape Of My Heart,' an unshakably catchy ballad...It's one of several wonderfully engaging slow jams-the best of which is 'Time,' a lovely group composition produced with soulful precision by Babyface. Beyond ballads, Black & Blue crackles with funk-infected uptempo ditties that are notable for their rough edges. 'Shining Star,' another strikingly good group composition, stands out for its seductive vocal growls and producer Rodney Jerkins' sharp hip-hop beats."
US Weekly: "...the delicate 'Shape of My Heart' and 'More Than That' are sumptuous ballads in the vein of the group's chart-topper 'I Want It That Way.' 'Time' pairs their strong harmonies with production from the master of the modern R&B ballad, Babyface. 'How Did I Fall in Love With You?' echoes Vanessa Williams's 'Save the Best for Last,' and the McLean-penned 'Yes I Will' conveys a pledge to 'someday start a family with you.' ...they once again deliver a record brimming with supremely crafted ballads and up-tempo jams."
To celebrate the release of BLACK & BLUE, the group visited six continents--Europe (Stockholm), Asia (Tokyo), Australia (Sydney), Africa (Cape Town), South America (Rio) and North America (New York)--in 100 hours. At each stop along the tour, the group visited local landmarks, held press conferences, met fans and performed brief a capella versions of the album's first single "Shape of My Heart."
With their astounding new album, BACKSTREET BOYS triumphantly answer the challenge global fame has imposed on them. Judging from the performances and songs featured on BLACK & BLUE, the group's musical reign has only just begun.