The Backstreet Boys, or BSB, is a boy band and pop group that rose to considerable popularity in the late 1990s, and has since broken music and concert sales records, having sold more than 87 million albums (38 million in U.S.) to make them the highest-selling boy band on record. The five-member group consists of Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean and Kevin Richardson.
Early beginnings: 1992–1996
Lou Pearlman, an aviation entrepreneur based in Florida, was inspired by the success of the New Kids on the Block in the 1980s to create his own clean-cut boy bands. After a series of auditions in 1992 and 1993, he recruited Nick Carter (at 12, the band's youngest member), Howie Dorough, 19, Alexander James McLean, 14 and, following the departure of two members - Sam Licata and Charles Edwards - Kevin Richardson came aboard in March 1993, who was 20. The group took its final shape on April 19, 1993, when Brian Littrell - cousin of Richardson - joined the group after a phone audition. Their first concert on May 8, 1993 was performed in front of 3,000 teenagers. Pearlman booked them at grade-school assemblies, shopping malls and Sea World, and assigned management duties to Johnny Wright, who had worked with New Kids on the Block.
After a possible Mercury Record deal failed, the band was spotted in Cleveland, Ohio by Jive Records, an independent label best known for its hip-hop acts in February 1994. By June, they were recording their first single "We've Got It Goin' On" an urban pop song by writer/producer Denniz PoP. The single struggled in the US and only reached #69 on the Billboard charts, but it sold well in Europe, later earning the band their first Gold disc in Germany. In 1995 the band's first album, Backstreet Boys, was released in Europe and Canada, hitting the top 10 in numerous countries. Jive and Pearlman kept the band busy overseas for the next two years, sometimes putting it on tour for five months straight.
1996 marked a big change for the Backstreet Boys as European popularity grew. They kicked off 1996 by being voted No.1 International Group by TV viewers in Germany - "I'll Never Break Your Heart" went gold there and hit No.1 in Austria. The group earned their first Platinum record in Germany (500,000 CDs sold) and toured Asia and Canada.
By 1997 when bands like the Spice Girls, Hanson, and Savage Garden began to succeed in bringing back dance/pop music to the forefront in United States, Jive and Pearlman decided to bring the boys back to the United States after 8.5 million discs had been sold worldwide. They began to record a new album for the American market and released "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" as their new single; the single quickly went platinum and climbed to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. In August, the boys hit big on the U.S. charts with the release of their self titled debut album Backstreet Boys. The album debuted at #1 in Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Finland and Austria, and sold over 30 million copies worldwide (14 million copies in the U.S.) setting a record for the most successful debut album in history. In October, a free concert in Spain was cancelled after too many fans attended, and so in December 1997, the band embarked on a 60-city, 20-country tour.
In 1998, Littrell underwent open heart surgery at the insistence of his then girlfriend Leighanne Wallace, in the middle of their sold-out US 39-city tour; he had twice postponed the surgery in the past. He had been struggling with a heart murmur since he was born, almost dying at the age of 5 due to a bacterial infection. Littrell needed about 8 weeks to recover from the surgery, but shortly after this time, the Backstreet Boys cancelled an appearance in Minnesota after learning that Howie Dorough's sister had died of Lupus. Four of the Backstreet Boys went ahead with a lawsuit against Lou Pearlman, in which they claimed that the Backstreet Boys was owed more of the $200 million they had generated to that date. In October 1998, the band received the keys to the city from the mayor of Orlando in honor of the tornado relief concert the group headlined in March.
By February 1999, the Boys received their first Diamond award by the RIAA for shipment of 10 million copies of their debut album. At this point, they had hire a new manager team called "The Firm", famous for managing bands including Limp Bizkit and Korn. The two-year-old management company sent two executives who showed up backstage at a concert in Orlando Florida, and was kept waiting for four long hours outside the group's dressing room but managed to impress the band members to sign the deal. Along with their new management team, the Backstreet Boys sued Pearlman several more times, until he renegotiated the settlement on terms more favorable to the band. Executives of the Firm stated that the Backstreet Boys had bought out Pearlman's stake in the band, but he denied this.
In May 1999, the Backstreet Boys released the album Millennium, which sold over 1.13 million units in its first week, setting a record for most albums sold in the first week of release (which was later beaten by *NSync's "No Strings Attached"). They also held the most sales for an album's second and third weeks. The record dominated the worldwide charts, landing at the #1 spot in 25 nations. The album was certified 11 times platinum by december 1999, making it the fastest selling album in a year and went to sell over 34 million copies worldwide. The first single "I Want It That Way" broke a record for radio station adds in its first week with 165, and topped the UK Singles chart for 2 weeks (where the song was the first new #1 entry since Elton John's 1997 "Candle In The Wind" tribute to Princess Diana). The song eventually set a record for the most weeks on the chart since the chart was conceived in 1980, and would reach the #1 spot in over 18 nations. In addition to receiving gold and platinum awards in 45 countries, the band's sophomore album was nominated for 5 Grammy Award's including Album of the Year. In August, the Backstreet Boys sold out a 39-city tour in less than a day, selling over 765,000 tickets in a matter of hours, prompting additional shows in many markets and shattering a number of box-office records, selling out all 53 concert dates of their "In To The Millennium Tour" which kicked off in September. The tour drew over 2 million fans, breaking the record for largest indoor audience. Impressed by the success of the Backstreet Boys, Sony BMG, which already owned 20 percent of Jive's parent company, purchased a remainder for $3 billion, the most ever paid for an independent record company. In the meantime, The Firm negotiated tens of millions of dollars in advance payments for recordings and performances from Jive and the concert promoter Clear Channel. Also by the end of 1999, the Backstreet Boys met new problems declaring their current Jive contract null and void, soon striking the largest record deal ever valued at $60 million with Jive.
In 2000, the Backstreet Boys graced the pages of the new millennium's first issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Burger King makes a deal with the boys for tour sponsorship, videos, and CDs with unreleased live tracks that will only be available for sale at Burger King restaurants in August and September. In February Littrell and Richardson confirmed their engagements to their fiancées.
Black & Blue
In November 2000, the group released their new album Black & Blue, with the title of the album acting was a metaphor for how the boys felt they were "beaten up" by the media and others. To promote the release of Black & Blue, the boys traveled around the world in 100 hours to Sweden, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, and the US; 55 of the hours were spent traveling and 45 spent making public appearances. The album debuted with 1.6 million units sold in the first week in America, making the band the first ever artist to have two albums sell a million or more copies in the first week. Black & Blue sold more than five million copies worldwide in its initial week, setting a new first-week record in international sales. Globally, Black & Blue — whose 13-song selection features five songs co-written by members of the group, plus two songs written by all five Backstreet Boys — achieved platinum status in over 30 countries and gold certification in 10 regions around the world during its first week of release. In the first week of release, Black & Blue's first single "Shape of My Heart" was played on 170 out of 171 of the Top 40 stations in the U.S. Meanwhile overseas, the song immediately jumped into the Top Five in Sweden (#1), Norway (#1), Canada (#1), Germany (#2), Switzerland (#4), Austria (#5) and Holland (#5). However, towards the end of 2000 McLean first started using cocaine while shooting for the video "The Call".
In 2001, the Backstreet Boys kicked off the 1st leg of their "2001 Black & Blue World Tour". The full tour earned US $350 million in ticket sales, making the band among the world's highest-paid live entertainers. But, contrary to the belief of some observers, not replacing the Rolling Stones as the world's No. 1 live band. (That would be a false statement, seeing as how the Stones' 1994/95 world tour grossed $370 million and the 1997/98 tour grossed $400 million). The world tour became the richest tour in history comparing the extremely high stage production and ticket prices and according to SFX Touring president Arthur Fogel, it also is the richest touring deal in music history. The tour featured on a TV special, The Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life on CBS. To coincide with the TV special, TV Guide issued six different covers of the boys: five individual shots and one group photo. However, the second leg of Black & Blue summer tour was put on hold when it was reported that A.J. McLean checked himself into rehab to battle drinking, drug addiction, and depression, after he and Richardson had an intervention in a hotel in Boston. The tour was postponed until September. Another tragedy struck when the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred, killing a Backstreet Boys crew member, Daniel Lee, who had been using time off in the tour schedule to travel from Boston to Los Angeles to be with his pregnant wife. The death caused the cancellation of the band's plans for overseas tours.
In October 2001, the boys released The Hits: Chapter One, a disc of their greatest hits and "Drowning", their last single until their return in 2005. The band members say they resisted, feeling that it was too early in their careers for such an album and that it would ruin their long held plan to mark the group's 10th anniversary in 2003 with a greatest-hits release. But Jive Records had not released a blockbuster album since 2000's Black & Blue, so after long debate the label decided to rush a Christmas release of a Backstreet Boys' greatest-hits disc. The greatest-hits record sold nearly 9 million copies worldwide and hit No. 1 in Canada, which set a record for being first artist to have five No. 1 discs in-a-row and yielded an international top 10 hit "Drowning", keeping the group's profile up even with a greatest hits' disc. The Boys performed at the United We Stand concert in Washington DC as well as The Concert for New York City, two benefit concerts for the victims of September 11 and were a part of the All Star Tribute benefit single "What's Going On" (with proceeds going to AIDS and 9/11 charities). By the end of 2001 and into 2002, it became clear that the Backstreet Boys were on an extended break with no new recordings or releases.
In 2002, the band strongly advocated to leave their management company, The Firm. Surprisingly, the company did not put up much resistance to their leaving. However, the shock came when the other group members found out that Carter had chosen to remain with The Firm for them to manage his solo career. It became apparent that this was reason for their lack of resistance to the Backstreet Boys moving on and this unexpected move forced the band to take a break. With again no blockbuster album released by Jive this year, the label, according to industry observers, has no choice but to bank on releasing a Carter's solo album by the end of the year, ahead of the next Backstreet Boys' album, which was due in early 2003. The relationship with Jive got even worse when the Backstreet Boys filed a $75-100 million lawsuit against Zomba Music Group which is the parent company of the record label, claiming breach of contract (The band's lawyer stated that ZMG used the Backstreet Boys' trademark to shuttle traffic to other Web sites and for a band this big, which was supposed to receive royalties from the record label, weren't getting any personal attention it needed). According to the suit, the Backstreet Boys in November 1999 revised their 1994 contract and committed to releasing two further albums for Zomba. In exchange for delivering them on time as part of a pre-determined schedule, the group would receive multiple non-returnable payments that would serve as advances against future royalties.
In December 2003, McLean appeared in an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show where he talked for the first time in public about his addiction to alcohol and drugs (mainly cocaine) and his struggles rising to fame. The rest of the band members surprised him by coming to the show in person and giving him support, marking the first time the Backstreet Boys had appeared together in public after almost two years. Richardson recalled his confrontation with McLean two years prior, when he had said to McLean, "...I hate you...You are dead to me..." The band began to re-form and reconcile their differences to start recording a comeback album.
In 2004, the Backstreet Boys started performing together to promote their return to the music scene. In September they kicked-off a small Asian tour, visiting Beijing and Shanghai, as well as Tokyo. Then, based on the success of this tour, they announced a Mexican tour, visiting Mexico City and Monterrey, performing all new material. Renewed interest grew with the announcement of airing an hour long televised documentary of the Backstreet Boys on VH1's Behind The Music.
After a five-year hiatus, their new single, "Incomplete", was released to radio stations on March 28, 2005 and quickly became the #1 most requested song in top markets in both U.S. and overseas. The song was a drastic change from their previous albums, switching to more of a adult contemporary style the resembles the sound of Hillary Duff, Simple Plan, and Ali & AJ combined rather than the traditional Britney Spears-esque pop that donminated the charts five years before that, the video for the single comprising lots of angst ridden facial expressions and the boys falling to their knees a lot. In May, the only European Backstreet Boys concert in almost 4 years was quickly sold out. On June 14, 2005, the Backstreet Boys released their comeback album Never Gone, which they spent more than a year recording. The album debuted at #3 on the U.S. chart with substantial first week sales of 291,000 copies and has gone to sell over 2.1 million worldwide, including #1 debuts in Japan, Germany, India, Chile, Brazil, Australia, and Korea. They began the first leg of their Never Gone Tour during July in West Palm Peach, Florida.
- For a detailed look at the group's discography, see Backstreet Boys discography.
The Backstreet Boys are among the top-selling artists in the SoundScan era. They have sold over 40 million albums in the U.S. alone and 87 million worldwide. Their self titled debut album Backstreet Boys which was released in 1997, sold over 14 million copies in the U.S. setting a record for the most successful debut album in U.S. history.
In 1999 they set a record of most albums sold in its debut week with Millennium. In 2000, the group set another record being the first artist to have two albums sell more than a million records in its first week with Black & Blue. It sold 1.6 million. They also set the record of most albums sold in the world in one week with 5 million.
- The title "Never Gone" is not a reference to the band's hiatus, but to the death of Kevin Richardson's father in 2004.
- According to Guinness Book of World Records in 2001, "the biggest boyband in history" is the Backstreet Boys when they achieved record-breaking sales of 13 million copies of their album Millennium by March 2001.
- According to RIAA, the Backstreet Boys have sold over 30 million copies worldwide of their first two discs, Backstreet Boys (32 million) and Millennium (34 million).
- The Backstreet Boys are the only group in Canadian history to have three consecutive Diamond albums, commemorating sales of over one million units.
- The Backstreet Boys gave 8 performances at the 2000 Grammy awards.
- In August 1998, 50 fans were treated for various injuries including hyperventilation and fainting at a concert in Alberta.
- In 2000 the Backstreet Boys became the 2nd artist in history to dominate all three Canadian charts simultaneously when "Black & Blue" was on top of the Canadian's albums chart and "Shape Of My Heart" was at No. 1 on both The Hits and the SoundScan singles charts. The only other act in 2000 to achieve this was Madonna whose "Music" was No. 1 on the three charts in October. "Shape Of My Heart" also held the No. 1 on another national list, the Record's Adult Contemporary Top 75.
- The Backstreet Boys are the only artists to win a record four World Music Awards for three years in a row since 1999-2001.
- The Backstreet Boys' 2001 "Black & Blue World Tour" earned US$350 million in ticket sales, making the band among the world's highest-paid live entertainers. Comparing to their highly stage production and ticket prices it became the richest tour in history.
- According to Jive Records, the band is "the highest selling boy band of all time", selling over 90 million albums worldwide.
- US$14 million of merchandise was purchased by fans during the 1999 "Into The Millennium" tour.
- In 2000 60 concert-goers were hurt at a performance in Washington as the crowd was pushing forward to the stage.
- The Backstreet Boys have sold a total 200 million books worldwide.
- "I Want It That Way" has been ranked No. 10 on Rolling Stone & MTV's 100 Greatest Pop Songs list.
- The Backstreet Boys has been ranked #22 on the Top 500 Pop Artists of the Past 25 Years list in 2005.
- The band performed the American national anthem at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Florida in 2001.
- All 765,000 tickets for a 1999-2000 North American arena tour sold out on the first day they were made available.
- In 2001's Billboard.com poll, 30% of a staggering 16,863 votes, the Backstreet Boys' Jive/Zomba album "Black and Blue" was the top album of 2001. The Band total doubled the next closest challenger, the Beatles' "1" (Apple/Capitol), which pulled in 15% of the vote.
- In 2001 over one million tickets for the "2001 Black & Blue U.S. Tour" were sold during the first 24 hours of availability.
- The Backstreet Boys teamed with Stan Lee to produce a Web-based franchise chronicling the adventures of the Backstreet Boys as cyber-crusaders named The Backstreet Project. The project debuted as a limited-edition collector's comic book that was sold exclusively at Backstreet Boys concerts. The animated series was launched on the Web in the summer of 2000 using Macromedia Flash animation and was sold out on the first day.
- On the first episode of MTV's Total Request Live in 1998, the #1 video was "I'll Never Break Your Heart".
- In 1998 Orlando declared October 7 as the official "Backstreet Boys Day" in honor of the tornado relief concert the group headlined, raising about $250,000 for local victims of the devastation.
- In 2002 the Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, Martin O'Malley proclaims March 2, as the official "Backstreet Boys Day" in conjunction with their fan convention.
- Backstreet Boys Official Website
- Backstreet Boys Jive Website
- allmusic entry
- Backstreet Boys China Official Website
- Backstreet Boys Unlimited
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