The Backstreet Boys 1993-1998: The Debut Album, and the Ascendancy of Max
So our story begins with five young prettyboys from Orlando, bound together by a casting call organized by teen mastermind/creep Lou Pearlman, thrown together in a Swedish recording studio to pound out youthful hits. Hits that would soon conquer Europe, then America, then the World and Beyond the Infinite. Hits that would, for better or for worse, define their career.
The Backstreet Boys saw release in the United States in 1997, but the hits therein had been huge in Europe as early as 1995. Here, we find the Boys in their embryonic stage: funky dancy jock jams, silly attempts at rapping, Boyz II Men ripoffs. These songs represent the Backstreets as cogs in the machine, standard anonymous boy-toys, no different than the likes of 5ive or Color Me Badd. Popular as these songs were, there was no indication that these fellas would soon ascend to Pop Royalty.
But of course, they had their ace in the hole, their ticket to glory: the songwriting genius of Mr. Max Martin.
Now, I trust that many OWOB readers are familiar with Mr. Martin’s work, but here’s a quick summary for anyone who is not: Max Martin may well be the most dominant and important pop songwriter of the past 20 years, a man responsible for a whopping 16 #1 Billboard hits and countless other top 40 charting singles. “Since U Been Gone”? “I Knew You Were Trouble”? “Baby One More Time”? Every Katy Perry hit you can name? All great, and all Max.
And it all started with the Backstreet Boys. Before Backstreet, Max was just some ex-hair metal singer co-producing songs for Rednex and Ace of Base. After Backstreet, he was Pop’s Supreme Chancellor.
It’s impossible to talk about early Backstreet without talking about Max. The two made some serious pop magic together. They just clicked. Max was to BSB what Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were to Janet, what Babyface was to Boyz II Men: a brilliant songwriting force that brought out the best in a promising young pop act. Max’s songs for Backstreet were huge, sexy, glamorous, powerful, hooky, pretty, heartwarming, soul-crushing. Even a lil scary, sometimes! And in the hands of our handsome Boys, these songs soared and conquered the charts. One of pop’s best and tightest collaborations.
Today, we’ll review a few of their biggest hits together (plus one that Max didn’t write but that I’m still gonna talk about anyway cuz I love it so much). Max wasn’t BSB’s only songwriter, but he was definitely their most important in the early days. Without him, the Backstreet Boys might have become the sad young New Kids ripoffs you can see in the above video.
Oh goodness. “Loverboy.” Not on any BSB albums. I wonder why??*
*because its not a very good song at all