If you ask any member of Backstreet Boys to share a seminal moment from the Grammy Award-nominated pop juggernaut's two decades in music, you'll get a variety of different answers.
Now there's no shortage of accolades to choose from, whether it's the fact that they're the best-selling boy band in history with in excess of 130 million albums sold worldwide or that they're the only group since Sade to release seven consecutive albums in the top 10 of the Billboard Top 200. However, the Boys have their own picks.
Brian Littrell remembers the time the group performed the largest indoor show ever recorded at the Georgia Dome during 2000's Millenium Tour, a record that still hasn't been broken. Meanwhile, AJ McLean recalls an 8-hour Rio stopover in the midst of the Around the World Tour when 48,000 fans swarmed the outside of the hotel for a mere glimpse of the 5 boys. For Kevin Richardson, it's a tossup between performances on stage with Sting and Elton John and the first time he and his mom heard "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" on the radio in 1996. Each of their seven Grammy Award nominations holds a special place in Howie Dorough's heart. However, all five musicians can agree with equal excitement on one thing—the future.
That bright future commences with their eighth full-length studio album, In A World Like This. Not only does the 2013 release celebrate 20 years of Backstreet Boys, it's their first effort with founding member Richardson since 2005's Never Gone. It comes hot on the heels of their historic global co-jaunt with New Kids on the Block, NKOTBSB, in 2011, and three consecutive sold-out annual cruises. It also proves that Backstreet Boys are back and better than ever.
After Richardson announced his return to the fold in early 2012, recording proved imminent. Instead of simply hunkering down at home, the quintet hopped a plane to the United Kingdom to spend three weeks living and writing together with producer Martin Terefe [Jason Mraz, Train] to begin work on music for what would eventually become In A World Like This, set for release on July 30th. For the first time since 2000, these five individuals all lived under the same roof, and they rekindled their collective chemistry almost immediately.
"It was one of the best bonding experiences we've ever had," affirms Dorough. "We focused on the music. We had the opportunity to hone in on where we wanted to go creatively and we got to know each other on a new level with Kevin back. The group has a different dynamic with him. The sound feels complete and fully rounded.
"It was like The Real World," laughs McLean about their time in London. "We've been on tour buses before as a group, but here we were making breakfast, playing video games, working out, and cruising to the studio together. The first night there, we even all picked up instruments and played a song in this kumbaya moment. When Kevin came back, it was like we hadn't missed a step. The morale's better than ever."
In early 2012, Richardson had felt the spark to join Backstreet Boys again, and the trip to London only fanned the flame. "It was exciting, easy, and comfortable," he proclaims. "Music has always been a huge part of my life. When I left, I put it aside to focus on starting a family with my wife and work on other creative pursuits. The door was always opened though, and I felt inspired to call them after they finished NKOTBSB."
That inspiration proved infectious amongst his brothers as well. Free from record label obligations and truly independent for the first time in their career, the spirit stands palpable within the uplifting title track and first single, “In A World Like This”. The Max Martin [“I Want It That Way”, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”] penned track builds from a lithe acoustic guitar into an unshakable chorus, fitting for the group’s perspective on the current stage of music singing “In a world like this where some back down, I know we’re gonna make it.” Then, there's the irresistible propulsive pop of "Show 'Em (What You're Made Of)" and "Love Somebody". These tracks exude sexy dance floor energy, instantly becoming global anthems in their own right. On the other end of the spectrum, the group's penchant for swaggering and soulful R&B remains intact. In essence, it's every facet of their sound.
"It's a natural evolution," Littrell says. "We're not trying to be something that we're not. The subject matter is a little different. We have the freedom to do whatever we want now, and it's an invigorating feeling. The music is just Backstreet Boys."
Richardson elaborates, "Like always, there's a little bit of everything. There's some R&B. There's some straight-up pop. There's some rock. At the end of the day, we're singers. We sing with emotion, soul, and passion. I hope people feel that. We just aimed to make a versatile record."
In order to accomplish that goal, they also enlisted the talents of Max Martin [Taylor Swift, Pink, Katy Perry, Maroon 5], Morgan & Prophet, Justin Trugman [The Saturdays], and Dan Muckala[LeAnn Rimes, Leona Lewis]—who produced fan favorite "Incomplete"—back in Los Angeles. In between recording, they also returned to the stage as a five-piece for a very special performance as part of Good Morning America's "Summer Concert Series”, shattering the top morning show’s previous attendance record.
2013 started with a bang. Backstreet Boys were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, celebrated 20 years together with a Fan Celebration streamed worldwide and launched a worldwide tour beginning with sold out arenas across China. Every step of the way BSB was boasting a bevy of new material for their diehard and impressively loyal fan base.
"We wouldn't be here without the fans," McLean goes on. "We want them to know that we've never gone away and we never will. We're thankful for everything they've done for us. I feel like this album makes that statement loud and clear."
Littrell continues, "I want the fans to see us, feel us, and hear us for who we are now. They helped us create all of this. I want them to be attached to this emotionally. Music is our heart and soul. We live it and breathe it every day."
"We're stronger than ever," concludes Dorough. "We've got time and knowledge under our belts. We've grown more and more every album. This is everything we were always meant to be."
In A World Like This, the best memories for Backstreet Boys are still ahead of them. — Rick Florino
In A World Like This Available Everywhere July 30th.