When it comes to Backstreet Boys albums, you can’t get much more iconic than 1999’s Millennium. The music world had been primed for their sophomore album; having fixed their rocky U.S. start with a stint in Europe and the release of Backstreet Boys, the band already had an intensely devoted fanbase and the potential to be one of the biggest pop acts in the world. By the time Millennium was released, it was clear that the band had more than achieved their potential; the album became one of the best-selling albums of all time, capturing the pop zeitgeist and thrilling their dedicated fans and new listeners alike. Backstreet Boys may have been one of the most successful debut albums of all time, but Millennium is what launched the Backstreet Boys to pop superstardom and cemented their status as the most iconic boy band in America.
Millennium is home to the Backstreet Boys’s most commercially successful and arguably, most famous single, “I Want It That Way.” As the lead single from this album, “I Want It That Way” was originally a controversial selection; the band wanted to go with a slower song to demonstrate their more mature direction, but the label wanted to go with “Larger Than Life,” a faster number more in line with their debut album. “I Want It That Way” is a love song, but lyrics aren’t always clear; the opening line “Am I your fire?/Your one desire?” is iconic, yet doesn’t make sense in the context of the rest of the song. Regardless, the Backstreet Boys had made the right call; regardless of tempo and lyrics, the song was extremely popular for its catchiness and overall likeability. Rolling Stone gave it high praise when they called the song “a genre-transcending classic,” while others asserted that its release cemented the Backstreet Boys as the frontrunners of the ‘90s boy band race they had started. The single came to be known as the band’s signature song and earned three Grammy nominations. The song’s legacy endures; in addition to video parodies by the likes of Blink-182, Big Time Rush, and The Wanted, the track has found its way into Super Bowl commercials and even a perfect spot in Brooklyn 99, in which the song is used to help identify a suspect in a murder lineup.
In addition to “I Want It That Way,” Millennium also holds two other iconic Backstreet Boys tracks: the upbeat “Larger Than Life” and the emotional ballad “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely.” “Larger Than Life,” with its woefully dated video (brightly colored robots and ridiculous spaceships, a cornerstone of music videos on the cusp of the new millennium), served as a thank you to their fans for all the support. The sweeping, serious “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” explores the feeling of missing a loved one and what it means to continue on without them. While neither song hit #1 on the Billboard chart, they gained their iconic status regardless, taking the TRL world by storm and becoming BSB mainstays for the next twenty years.
Thankfully, the Backstreet Boys’s goal of easing towards a more mature sound didn’t alienate their fanbase. Undeniably catchy songs like “It’s Gotta Be You,” “The One,” and “Don’t Want You Back” asserted that they were staying firmly in the pop world as they grew. Some of the slower fare like “Spanish Eyes” and “No One Else Comes Close” is overshadowed by the more danceable tracks and the sheer ubiquity of the album’s singles. Unsurprisingly, Millennium was a runaway commercial success, selling over 30 million copies worldwide and widely expanding their fanbase. It’s still one of the best-selling albums of all time and holds the U.S. record for most shipments in a single year. Critics praised the album for its catchiness, its immediacy, and the vocal abilities of the Boys, noting that their musical talent set them apart from their competition. Besides helping the band’s sound mature, Millennium gave the Backstreet Boys a chance to grow as musicians, with it being the first time members of the band earned writing credits for any of their songs: Brian Littrell had three with “Larger Than Life,” “The One,” and “The Perfect Fan,” and Kevin Richardson worked on “Back to Your Heart.” Above all, Millennium took the Backstreet Boys’s already rising star and skyrocketed it even higher, cementing them as the biggest boy band in the world and crafting an important part of their pop legacy.