It’s been more than two decades now and still going strong: The Backstreet Boys, the poster-child of 90s boybands, continues dropping new music since forming in 1993 in Orlando, Florida. Formed by record producer Lou Perlman, who later would manage their boyband rivals ‘N Sync as well, they became the catapult of modern pop vocal groups and the base of groups who followed the fashion, like The Wanted or One Direction in the 2010s.
More than 25 years have passed, and even though the vocal group is since today mostly known for their 90s teen music, they actually never broken up since then. AJ McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, and Brian Littrell continue to perform in original line up since debut single ‘We’ve Got It Goin’ On’ was released in late 1995. Many noticeable hits followed, like ‘Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)’, ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’, ‘I Want It That Way’, ‘Larger Than Life’, ‘The Call’, and many in between. After a hiatus in 2001, four years later the band reunited with yet another hit – ‘Incomplete’ in 2005, and reminded fans and critics that they were ‘Never Gone’ (the title of their 5th album released that same year). As they indeed never went away, Kevin on the other hand, decided to take a step back of the pop business to pursue other interest and focusing on his family, with the remaining four members releasing albums ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘This Is Us’ in 2007 and 2009. While touring together with New Kids On The Block in the early 2010s, Kevin, who in between would perform as a surprise guest of BSB performances, decided to return with the group for good, and is a full member since their 2013 album ‘In a World Like This’, which was independently released by their own label K-BAHN after splitting with record label Jive. Their 2015 documentary ‘Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of’ underlines certain of their personal and professional struggles, their ups and downs of their career and the start of a new era for them, out of the teenage image and into adulthood. This is how their new album DNA feels like. A new era, fresh and revamped BSB with flavors of their signature sounds, mixed with modern influences. A more mature version of the Backstreet Boys. Let’s dig in.
Before releasing DNA on January 25, 2019, the album was preceded by four tracks before the album came out, starting with ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. The lead single was released 8 months before the album release, on May 17, 2018. A pop song with EDM influences, the five boys from the backstreet turn up dance-pop energy while showing off their classic moves in the music video, showing the audience that they still can dance as a five-piece since the 90s. Celebrated as their comeback single, the single hit number 63 on the Billboard Hot 100, their first entry since ‘Inconsolable’ in 2007, being the highest-charting single since 2005s ‘Incomplete’, and is even nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group in 2019.
‘Chances’, released as second single on November 9, 2018, is notable for each member having standout moments: Every five of them take turns and sing on different variations, which works perfectly as a whole. The lyrics, talking about finding love due to fate or coincidence, are co-penned by OneDirection member Ryan Tedder and Canadian singer Shawn Mendes: “What are the chances that we’d end up dancing? Like two in a million, like once in a life.”
The video was filmed in Union Station, Downtown Los Angeles: The Backstreet Boys suited up while professional dancers Jake Tribus and Madison Vomastek let loose on the empty hall of the station. The video is directed by Backstreet’s own AJ McLean in collaboration with René Elizondo, Jr., known for directing Janet Jackson’s ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’.
‘No Place’ and ‘Breathe’ followed right after before the official release of DNA. ‘No Place’, a great sing-along with acoustic guitar, is an ode for each of the member’s wives and kids, releasing a home video style music video where every individual member embraces family time with their loved ones.
‘Breathe’, on the other hand, is one of the most notable songs from DNA – an acapella piece with no instruments, only finger snaps and pure harmony. At first confusing for Backstreet-fans, as they already have the exact same title of a different song present in their last album ‘In a World Like This’. The ‘newer’ Breathe, however, gives a chilling feeling with perfect harmony and amazing vocals, reminiscent of acapella group Pentatonix, when one after another sings the word ‘Breathe’, with Howie starting and ending the song.
In comparison to the already four released tracks before the album, DNA has still some tricks up its sleeve. ‘New Love’ for example, stands out for the prominent bass guitar throughout the track, with feels of entering a dusky motorcycle bar. AJ’s “Oh yeah!” shouts in like little effects, while he starts off the lyrics with “Who are you, the sex police?” The track continues with deep sung vocals in the hook, offering an interesting turn for the album.
‘Passionate’ follows the fashion. Produced by The Stereotypes, known for producing Bruno Mars’ hits ‘24K Magic’, ‘That’s What I Like’ as well as ‘Finesse’. On top of that, the Motown flavored track is co-penned by ‘Honey, I’m Good’ singer Andy Grammer, who Nick befriended while being on Dancing with the Stars. The track indeed sounds like a Bruno Mars track, with Jackson 5 influences in a modern style of today’s music. The playful chorus remind of 70s soul bands, but perhaps the best part is the easy flow from chorus to bridge towards the second half of the song: “All I want is everything, too much adrenaline. All I do is anything, but like a gentleman.”
While DNA tries to blend different styles in pop music, a BSB album would not be a typical BSB album without their traditional signature pop songs reminiscent of their earlier work with Max Martin, who this time is not a contributor. ‘Nobody Else’ for example, has typical pop vibes but with a current sound of the 2010s, co-written by singer Lauv, while ‘Chateau’ carries 90s pop melodies and lyrics, as the hook goes “Baby, I want you back!” ‘Is It Just Me’, in a dreamy reflecting vibe, follows a modern teen pop style, while rhythmic ‘The Way It Was’ borrows some R&B vibes – with Nick providing some rhythmic songlines. Contrariwise, ‘Just Like You Like It’ takes influence from Country music, as the lyrics were co-written by country singer Dustin Lynch. The album then ends with a nice final track ‘OK’, supported with acoustic guitar, sounding like a happy campfire tune, to end the album at a good pace.
The album title could not be more fitting, as the mix of different musical styles and shared individuality of the five members bring out their music-DNA. While the album shows strength with vocal harmonies and originality, it stumbles upon typical pop songs here and there. This is not a bad thing. However, the experimental moments in DNA, like in ‘New Love’ for example, are fun and adventurous tunes. These are sometimes overruled by signature pop tracks and typical BSB-lyrics – their classic formula. But yet, why fix what’s not broken? Adding a few more extra funky and out-of-the-blue moments, however, would not have hurt. Vocal-wise the album is very well sung, smooth and believable, switching and cooperating perfectly as a quintet. This brings to realization that these five group members did not get enough credit for their voices and harmonies throughout the years.
While boy- and girl bands come and go, or maybe reunite with less or replaceable members without having the same impact, it’s amazing to see how these five boys from Orlando keep going on, keep singing, dancing and standing behind what they created. Five individuals who kept fighting after the teen craze faded. The energy stays, and, as DNA does feel like a fresh restart, will for sure stay for a long time.