MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 37: BACKSTREET BOYS

Up unto now with my blog series, I’ve written about a fair amount of artists that have influenced the scope of music today, and with the music I’ve been immersed in, I’m reminded that music comes in all shapes and sizes, and that music can touch the heart of people in many different ways. Artists like Delta Goodrem, Lifehouse, Switchfoot, Shania Twain, Ed Sheeran, Rascal Flatts, Phil Collins, Sara Bareilles and Train (to name a few of the many, many artists I’ve delved into last year), have all stretched me as a person, as I’m reminded that, to be blunt, God can speak through many different avenues, and that a song doesn’t have to utter the word ‘Jesus’ for it to be impactful in today’s generation. I’ve written pages and paragraphs, written about this song and that, written about what I believe the songs mean for the artist, written about what I believe the songs mean for me personally, written about why I believe this particular artist is influential for a certain generation in society…I’ve written about a lot of things. I’ve been reminded that different styles and genres and the fact that we have them is a tremendous gift, that one person can connect with a certain style of music, and someone else can be impacted by another, is the beauty of music itself.

But yet through all my posts I’ve written so far, there’s one thing that I wished I undertook sooner- I wished I wrote more succinctly, written in such a way that people could get what I was saying, maybe in half the words. Because I know that I write way more than I should, and by the time someone may finish reading a certain blog post, they may forget what was said in the beginning. So how am I going to approach this new blog post about this artist, and how am I going to delve into their importance, knowing full well that it’s not about how much I write, but what I write? Let’s just say that this upcoming artist I’m discussing actually makes it very easy for me to write a short blog post about them. Backstreet Boys…well, everyone knows them. Even if you don’t know boy bands…still, everyone knows them. They may not know all the songs, but they’ll know some. And for that reason, I don’t necessarily need to delve deep into the songs, if at all. Because just their name alone and the recognition they have had over their 20+ year career is enough for anyone who’s a fan of music, to know they are ultimately deserving to be placed here in this ‘top influential artists of all time’ list. They challenged the 1990s and really turned the word ‘boy-band’ on it’s head, and showed us what it was like to be 5 boys (now grown into men) singing songs with great harmonies, and showing us melodies that are catchy, upbeat, fun, even at times contemplative, as we witness arguably one of the most successful boy-bands in history, full stop. Just like how U2 was to modern rock, and how Josh Groban was to popular pop/opera, and how DC Talk was to Christian music, so too I reckon, is Backstreet Boys to not only boy bands, but to pop bands in general as well!

Boy bands in general, to be honest, haven’t really been my thing when I was growing up, even up until now I believe. Sure yes, I was indeed listening to Ronan Keating last year, but much of his songs weren’t the boy-band style that was part of his group Boyzone, and thus, his music was much more adult contemporary. But all in all, vocal harmonies of all-boys just wasn’t on my radar…till now of course. And my verdict? Well, still not my number 1 go-to music, but I can still appreciate the musical genre, and in the case of Backstreet Boys, understand and even admire the fact that their longevity in the business is as long as it has been. Backstreet Boys started in the mid-1990s with five teenage boys being scouted to form a group, and they’ve been together ever since. Now 9 full-length studio albums later, we see a group that has risen to the occasion and has filled the space in people’s hearts, with much of their songs alluding to love, hearts, the breaking of hearts, hope, healing and just plain fun sometimes. The songs aren’t necessarily deep in any aspect, and maybe that’s ok. Leave deep and meaningful to artists like Ed Sheeran and Andrew Peterson. But for Backstreet Boys, their music indeed is such where there is passion, fun, exuberance and enthusiasm oozing out of their music, and that by and large is just the tip of the iceberg. Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson have created a space where the boy-band style of music could grow and flourish. Everyone knows the band, even if they don’t, and their continued presence in an ever-growing and changing industry is a feat in and of itself, and makes me wonder that they all must be doing something right, in order for them to still be here in 2020!

You know when you know exactly what you want to say about an artist, or band, you have all the things in your mind of what you believe to be their influence over a certain generation of people, or even an influence in your own life…well, that’s not me with Backstreet Boys. Yes, I have listened to the songs, yes I have connected with a few along the way. But standing here today in 2020, I still can’t wrap my head entirely around the idea that this band is as popular as it is, and this band is as influential as it is. Not that I don’t believe it, I know it’s true- over their 26 years in the business so far, they’ve amassed more than 100 million claimed sales over their musical lifetime, which is a lot more than any other boy-band group. It’s just that the band for me seem to be in a genre that is well indeed not my forte, nor is it my go-to music. Which is fine and ok. Everyone has their styles of music they listen to, and everyone can get inspiration and enjoyment from whatever musical genre they see fit. Yes I was stretched enough for me to appreciate the boy-band genre for what it is, but at the end of the day, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I was going to. Nevertheless, Backstreet Boys, all these years, have given to us songs of hope, encouragement, and their number 1 sales-pitch in a song, love. A lot of their songs have been used by people for romantic implications (as a song sung to the other), and a lot of their songs are indeed inspirational as well. The band have continued to re-invent themselves from a boy-band bubble-gum pop mentality to one of more adult-contemporary pop sound, and for me, I found myself enjoying the material of recent times more so than their earlier hits, and that’s ok.

Everyone knows the songs, or at least, everyone knows a few. ‘As Long as You Love Me’ and ‘I Want It That Way’ are the two most popular songs out of any other Backstreet Boys song they’ve ever recorded, and both of them have stood the test of time all these years later. Coming from their second album Backstreet’s Back and their third Millennium respectively; Brian, Howie, AJ, Nick and Kevin have shown us the classic ways to create a song that reaches the masses for a long time (years), and remind us that you don’t always have to deliver the most fresh and unique sound for it to sound good. Both these two songs would be the two from Backstreet Boys that have been cherished in people’s hearts for a long time, and while these two may only be the only songs from the group that they remember, other songs from in and around that time- ‘Quit Playing Games With My Heart’, ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’, ‘We’ve Got it Goin’ On’, ‘Shape of My Heart’, ‘Larger than Life’ and ‘More Than That’, have all been instrumental in leading the group into stardom and into people’s homes and on people’s lips. The songs of the band’s early years are what have shaped them to who they are today, and even if people don’t necessarily remember their latest songs from albums like DNA or In A World Like This; the band still nevertheless has changed people’s hearts and given people a great deal of nostalgia of their own childhoods, hopefully for the better. While I didn’t grow up with Backstreet Boys (I did indeed grow up with Carman), it would be foolish, silly and full of folly for me not to acknowledge and understand their place in music, and maybe, just maybe, they were some of the boy-bands around that time that had been influential in the lives of other bands of the future, namely the now defunct One Direction and the currently active Anthem Lights.

Can I be honest with you? I mean, real honest with you? After a couple of weeks of listening to the band, their songs and their albums, I cannot argue their presence in the industry and how they have contributed massively to music as a whole. But for me, and how the artist impacts myself on a personal/deep level? Only a few songs have tugged my heart a little, the rest to be honest, sound the same as the rest…which I know isn’t really a good thing to say about a chart-topping band like BSB (Backstreet Boys), but I’m just saying what’s true for me. Yes there are songs that connect with me, like the chart-topping ‘As Long As You Love Me’ and ‘I Want it That Way’, the former being a track that says that the persona doesn’t care about anything as long as they are loved by this other person, and the latter, a song about a strained relationships and a the ups and downs that come from something long-distance; and a few other tracks. But all in all, to me, and this us just to me, the band didn’t grab me and bring me into this world of boy-band with wonder and anticipation as I thought it was going to. And that’s very much ok. Boy bands don’t always have to be everyone’s cup of tea, and just because for me the band wasn’t as hard-hitting, that still doesn’t change their place in society. Music is music is music, and Backstreet Boys have affected music culture like never before. And sure, the band may not have had a lasting impression on myself as other artists I’ve explored for my blog post, but what I will say is that some songs still resonate, even if the band as a whole doesn’t. Make sense?

‘Drowning’ released in 2001 as part of a greatest hits project, and though the song itself can at times feel sappy and cliché, the song nevertheless gives me a glimpse into what true love for another person means, that drowning in someone’s love doesn’t have to be a negative connotation (as if they are holding you down from what you want to be or accomplish) but rather, it is one of surrender and understanding that the love for each other is enough to keep hearts beating, again. The love that people give to each other is indeed the fuel for us to keep going, and ‘Drowning’ and its lyrics is evidence of this. The 5 piece-band then took a break from music and came back with a comeback album in 2005, and this time, featuring songs like ‘Incomplete’, ‘I Still’ and ‘Just Want You to Know’, all of which are hard-hitting and poignant, and feature more of an adult contemporary sound compared to the boy-band undertones 2000 and pre. ‘Incomplete’, co-written with songwriter-producer Dan Muckala (who also had a hand in many CCM artists’ careers, from Brandon Heath, Britt Nicole and Matt Maher, to The Afters, MercyMe and Chris Tomlin), is the comeback single for the band, and reminds me that often people break-up for whatever reason, and that this song is what people could feel as a result. Hopefully when I am with someone, there is no breaking up, but if that were to ever occur, I know that this song is a reminder that I’m never alone in what I’m feeling- ‘Incomplete’ is a song about feelings in the moment, and though I know that feelings alone shouldn’t dictate my own psyche and well-being, they are what we feel in the moment, and being real with our own feelings will inspire others with theirs. ‘I Still’, a lesser known song from Never Gone, speaks of a distancing of two people, and on the surface, it can be seen to be between a boy and a girl, in a relationship of sorts (or lack thereof). Yet for me, the song is so much more than just to be considered a romantic relationship that’s hit a snag. It’s about any connection that we’ve had with our friends or people when we’re younger that seems to be eroded now, for whatever reason. It is a song of lament, of declaring that we still need this person in our lives, but for reasons maybe even beyond our control, we can’t connect with them, and that is an unfortunate thing. ‘Just Want You to Know’ was in fact one of the brightest spots for the band for me, and though the song speaks about subject material that is indeed heavy for a boy-band to even cover, the song itself has given to me a lot of perspective and maybe even a realisation- the song itself is about a love and loss, quite literally. The persona in the song is contemplating the loss of their spouse, or partner, or boy/girlfriend, or even just a friend, just a death of someone close to them. It is a reminder to me to keep on cherishing the time we have with people close to us, because we never know when that will all change on a whim. ‘Just Want You To Know’ is a song sung to the person who’s died, after it’s too late. Maybe, just maybe, such a song like this can encourage us all to sing our own songs to the people that matter to us, before such a time as depicted in this song!

‘Inconsolable’ was one of the first singles released without band member Kevin Richardson (he came back in 2013 for their album In a World Like This), and shows us that the feelings that is expressed in the song can either be shown to be true love or stalker-ism, as we realise that to be inconsolable after someone leaves (either for a short period of time or an extended one) is a big, big claim. Nevertheless, for me it’s a reminder to never get to that state of being inconsolable, to have friends and family around me to console me if ever such a separation between myself and the other actually happens. ‘Helpless When She Smiles’ is indeed a love song in its purest form, and reminds us that even if your spouse, or your partner, does all the things in the book to infuriate you, you still love each other because of the simple things- like a smile, and then you’re reminded that what you have is so much bigger than all the things you think you dislike about the other. A song that I believe is indeed underrated, Backstreet Boys continue to deliver songs of meaning and purpose- ‘In a World Like This’ from their 2013 album of the same name, speaks of unity in a crazy time in the world where everything seems to be falling apart, and is a timely reminder that love that we have for each other is going to conquer even the deepest of hurts that we may have.

‘Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of’, in fact, is by far the most inspirational and life-affirming song I’ve heard from the band, and as the band themselves (both Kevin and AJ, because they did write the song) divulge about the song, we see that the song was written for their children and about them ‘…Kevin was like, ‘Why don’t we write something that’s about our kids or is a positive reinforcement-type song because there is so much negativity out there and bullying and all this crap that’s been going on? The world needs positivity,’ Not only was it my daughter and his son, but it was all of our kids that were influenced and even other people’s kids and just fathers, mothers, people that are the kind of people that encourage you to go out and to show ’em what you’re made of, give it your all and the song turned out beyond what I ever expected it to be…’ ‘Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of’ is a motivational song, through and through, and is a reminder of the fragility of life and we all need to be a positive light wherever we are, to show people our determination, resilience, where we believe our hope lies, and the unconditional love we have for our fellow man, those are the things we ought to show people when we live our lives. The song is an encouragement, for myself and hopefully for many others too. The band then recently unveiled to us their 2019 album DNA, featuring ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’, a song that harkens back to the days of ‘Quit Playing Games With My Heart’, ‘Shape of My Heart’, ‘I’ll Never Break Your Heart’ and ‘Straight To Your Heart’, songs that speak of love in the terms of the heart being the most important organ in the body, and that all feelings flow from it. ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ is classic BSB, but also with a bit of a modern dance-twist to it. In fact, most of DNA feels a little experimental from the band, which is ok. ‘Chances’ speaks of the chances that someone like him (the persona) can end up with someone like her (maybe quite slim!), and that all the events that align for such a thing to happen should in fact be more than just ‘chance’, while ‘OK’ tries the band’s hand at acapella (complete with hand-claps) as the band give us the message that it doesn’t matter what events happen in the lives of us, but as long as we’re with our family and friends, we’ll be ok. ‘Let it Be Me’, not attached to DNA but a collaboration between the band and singer-songwriter Steve Aoki. As the band said in a statement on Billboard.com; …our collaboration with Steve came about in a very organic way. We had the opportunity to spend some time with Steve at his house really getting to know each other, and the song developed naturally from there. The message behind it is one we think everyone can relate to. It’s about working through any challenges that life brings to be with the person you love. And the importance of that message is something we really tried to show with the music video by having real couples tell their stories…’

As storied and long the band’s career has been, they appear not to be slowing down in any case. Their new album DNA is ticking all the right boxes, and even if I may have a long way to go in listening to the band to the point where I can appreciate their music as a true fan would, at this point I can still be respectful of the band as a whole, despite my apprehensiveness of the boy-band genre, even now. Nevertheless, the band still has time left in their tank to deliver more. And even the band members themselves have taken time away to record solo albums over the years (while still connected to the band as well)- Nick Carter released a few albums in the early 2010s, while Brian Littrell released one (and one mildly successful) CCM album titled Welcome Home, featuring the chart-topping CCM single ‘Welcome Home (You)’, and his other lesser known song (but still great) ‘Over My Head’. Though the band members have indeed come and gone over the years (Kevin Richardson left in 2006 only to return in 2013), the band and their priorities have still stayed the same. BSB seek to deliver songs that can impact and influence in a variety of circumstances, discussing about the universal themes of love, heartbreak, camaraderie, and showing of true selves, as being some of the umbrella themes of their whole career thus far. And I know this blog post doesn’t even scratch the surface to what I believe I can write about the band (maybe not now when I’m not fully appreciative of the genre yet, maybe later on during the year!), but what I will say is this- the band has changed the lives of so many people around the world. The band will continue to do so. These songs are testament to such a fact. And even if I don’t necessarily like the genre, that doesn’t mean their impact in society is any less valid. I’ve learnt to love some songs by the band, and maybe I’ll enjoy more as time passes.

Does Backstreet Boys make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘I Want It That Way’ and ‘As Long As You Love Me’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

 

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