The Backstreet Boys loom large in America’s pop culture pantheon, but what most people don’t remember is that the band truly got their start in Europe. Formed by Trans Continental Records founder (and Ponzi schemer) Lou Pearlman in 1993, the Backstreet Boys were brought over to Europe to record their album with Swedish producer Denniz PoP and then-rising star Max Martin, gaining the international popularity they needed to catapult themselves to fame back home. In 1997, they released the American version of Backstreet Boys a day after the release of their sophomore international album, Backstreet’s Back. Combining songs from European albums Backstreet Boys and Backstreet’s Back, the American version of Backstreet Boys became one of the most successful debut albums of all time, peaking at #4 on the Billboard chart and being certified fourteen times platinum. Furthermore, the album played an important role in the late ‘90s pop boom, opening the door for other boy bands like *NSYNC and 98 degrees and kicking off a more than twenty-years-long career for the band.
The album kicks off with their international debut single “We’ve Got it Goin’ On,” a song that namedrops the Boys in order to tease what you’ll find on the rest of the album. “We’ve been waiting so long/Just can’t hold it back no more…If you really want to see/What we can do for you/Sing the crazy wilding static/Sing it,” members Brian Littrell and AJ McLean sing, amping up the audience for the rest of the album. While this song is mainly performed by Littrell and McLean (Nick Carter couldn’t sing on this track since his voice was changing at the time), it does preview the vocal blending abilities of all five members.
Backstreet Boys is home to BSB staples “Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)” and “As Long As You Love Me,” a few of their most well-known tracks that are still in heavy setlist rotation today. The label had initially wanted to reintroduce the group to America with “If You Want It To Be Good Girl (Get Yourself a Bad Boy),” but the Backstreet Boys argued that it was one of their weakest songs and argued in favor of the more emotional “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” instead. Seems like the Boys made the right move–”Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” debuted at #2 on the Billboard chart, making it the band’s highest-charting single to date. While “As Long as You Love Me” wasn’t an official single, it quickly became a favorite of MTV and radio stations all over the country, cementing it as one of the band’s signature tracks.
The Backstreet Boys originally set out to be a vocal harmony group, which is absolutely evident from the content on this album. Songs like “Anywhere For You,” “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” and “Darlin’” lean heavily on their harmonic prowess to create slower love songs. While their lyrics of these tracks generally aren’t stunners, their harmonizing and arrangements are generally pretty impressive.
Of course, the album has its strengths and weaknesses. Arguably, one of the weakest songs is the closing “If You Want It to Be Good Girl (Get Yourself a Bad Boy),” the label’s original favorite for that debut single. While the song is just as catchy as other Backstreet Boys fare, the content is just slightly ridiculous, especially when the lyrics are being crooned by a fifteen-year-old Nick Carter.
Interestingly, the original printing of Backstreet Boys doesn’t include one of the group’s strongest, most recognizable tracks ever. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” didn’t make it onto the original pressing of the album for semantics reasons–the label thought it would be weird to say “Backstreet’s Back” when this was supposed to be their debut. However, after American radio started picking it up from Canadian radio, they included it on future album pressings. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” hit #4 on the Billboard chart, made for a fantastic horror-themed video, and earned itself platinum status.
Backstreet Boys served to introduce the harmonizing five-piece outfit to American audiences, kicking off over two decades’ worth of successful albums and tours that is still going on today. Without the popularity of Backstreet Boys blazing a trail for other boy bands, the ‘90s pop landscape would have looked wildly different. Most importantly, it provided the launchpad the Boys needed for their sophomore album Millennium to skyrocket them into another whole level of pop stardom.