THROWBACK: Backstreet Boys Documentary Review & Top 5 Songs

Written by Jessica Klausing

Backstreet’s Back – Just in time for their 25th anniversary!  Alright! The band has just announced their 25th-anniversary world tour kicks off in 2018. No dates have been confirmed yet. Currently, you can catch their Las Vegas show, “Larger Than Life,” from November until February 2018.

With over 130 million records sold worldwide, record breaking tours and countless awards have earned Backstreet Boys the title of best selling boy band of all time. They have also managed to have all nine of their albums reach the top 10 on the Billboard 200. 25 years later and the boys show no signs of slowing down.  Here’s my review of their documentary.

"Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of" is more than just a film promoting their 2013 album, In A World Like This. This is a film that provides an honest look into the rise of their superstardom and its seductive dark side...

Director Stephen Kijack follows Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough, AJ McLean, and Nick Carter on a nostalgic journey to their hometowns. This journey prompts plenty of laughs, tears, and hugs as the band tries to reconnect with each other for the new tour. Fans are treated with never before seen archival footage of the group's early days. We learn interesting tidbits like the boys used to watch porn as teenagers at Lou Pearlman's mansion.

Despite the lightheartedness, we learn about each of the boys' struggle with their inner demons. Brian suffers from vocal tension dysphonia, AJ is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, Kevin has just returned to the band after his leave in 2006, Howie wants more lead vocals, and Nick deals with ongoing family drama. Beyond their cheery music was a career of corruption that surfaces in the film.

It's a bit frustrating that the dark side is not fully explored. The eerie trip to Lou Pearlman's abandoned mansion could have answered so many open ended questions. The former manager was jailed in 2007 for running the largest Ponzi scheme in the US. Pearlman died of cardiac arrest last year. He cheated Backstreet out of millions of dollars while they toured nonstop. Later allegations surfaced that Pearlman was a sexual predator to his boy bands. Jane Carter (Nick’s mom) made a statement to Vanity Fair which leads to believe that Nick might have been a victim. Nobody ever confirms or denies these allegations in the film. The guys even seem to forgive Pearlman for scamming them all those years. In the end, the film focuses more on their career rather than Hollywood gossip.

Below are my top 5 picks for the best BSB songs.

1.       “I Want It That Way” from Millennium (1999)

The band’s biggest pop hit to date. That classic Max Martin midtempo ballad, confusing lyrical interpretation, and heavenly harmonies were the magic ingredients for a pop masterpiece. This was also a Brian Littrell spotlight song.  Brian, effortlessly, nails the high notes towards the end. The real showstopper though is Kevin’s solo. Kevin mostly backs up the band with his rich, baritone sound. He rarely does solos. Hearing his soothing and sultry voice as the lead was a real treat.


2.       “As Long As You Love Me” from Backstreet Boys (1997)

This song was the megahit predecessor to “I Want It That Way.” In 1997 this single dominated Total Request Live (TRL) and the US radio airwaves. We were introduced into the Backstreet world of dreamy vocals and slick dance moves. The chair routine in the music video became their signature dance.  Nick Carter deserves a huge shout out here. I never thought preteen Nick was a strong vocalist. Sorry. I never disliked Nick. I just think the earlier Backstreet songs never showed off his vocals properly until this one.


3.       “Incomplete” from Never Gone (2005)

2003 was a tough year for Backstreet Boys. AJ struggled with an alcohol and drug addiction during the Black & Blue tour. Nick was suffering from alcohol abuse as well. The band soon disappeared on a two year hiatus. Never Gone was their comeback album with “Incomplete” as the last song to receive commercial success. This track shows off the mature side of Backstreet rather than yet another upbeat love ballad. This is a slower, dreary bittersweet tune baring vulnerability. Beautiful!


4.       “Unmistakable” from Unbreakable (2007)

“Unmistakable” is one of the Backstreet bests despite Kevin’s absence. The album, Unbreakable, stayed within the pop roots but with more technological enhancements. I appreciate that it still sounds like pop without the oversaturated EDM usage. Our “boys” have all grown up. We hear them break out of their boy band cookie cutter mold with more dynamic vocals. The two octave harmonies on the chorus give the song more power.


5.       “Show ‘Em (What You’re Made Of)” from In a World Like This (2013)

I love the inspirational message behind this song! The album, In a World Like This, shows the boys continuing to evolve with their pop sound.  Backstreet were more involved with the writing and producing on this album. As a result most of the songs reflect their own life experiences. “Show ‘Em (What You’re Made Of)” is more acoustic-driven than any of their other songs.  Of course, what Backstreet track would be complete without those smooth harmonies?