During a lunch time at St. Patrick’s Primary School in 1997, a girl called Jess showed me a picture she’d cut out of a magazine. The only magazine we ever had in our house was TV Week, so already I was intrigued by the different thickness and gloss-level of the paper. The picture was a still from a music video called “All I Have To Give” by a group of nobodies called Backstreet Boys
Jess told me all about them, their names, their personalities, and she told me that she loved the little blonde one called Nick. That weekend I waited for Video Hits to finally play “All I Have To Give” and when it came on I decided then and there that I was going to dedicate my life to these men and their chair-dance routines. I decided that my favourite was AJ because, well, he was the ugly one, and since he was the ugly one there was less chance that he would be the first one to get a girlfriend and break my heart.
The following Monday I turned up to school with a whole new purpose in life, and Jess and I began a deep, disturbing obsession. We covered our school books, our bedroom walls, our dreams, in BSB images. We wrote fan fiction, in which Jess was a lawyer and I was a dancer or theatre maker, and the paparazzi followed us around because they didn’t think BSB should have “normal” girlfriends. I mapped by obsession with a Fortunecity website My Backstreet Boys Obsession (1999-2002 RIP), and named the kids AJ and I were to have based on subtle clues AJ was giving me in intervews (Davante James McLean, Alele Love McLean – try to even pronounce that!).
"I decided that my favourite was AJ because, well, he was the ugly one, and since he was the ugly one there was less chance that he would be the first one to get a girlfriend and break my heart."
In 2000, on a school day in October, Jess and I, and two other Year 8 friends piled into Jess’s dad’s car at 5am and drove to Sydney to catch BSB on their promotional tour where they borrowed some sultan’s plane and travelled to a billion countries in like 100 hours. They did a promo appearance at Bondi Beach. They appeared there, breathing the same air as me, and it was so crazy and emotional and overwhelming that I just cried and cried and I even got to touch Kevin.
There were a billion cameras there, and we ended up being interviewed by Sunrise, and also wound up on an official BSB DVD. Two years later, as adolescence continued, mine and Jess’s music tastes expanded, and we found less and less in common and eventually had a big falling out after I made out with her cousin. Our friendship was never the same.
With high school behind me, I felt free to be myself again, so I bought the albums I’d missed while I was being too cool for BSB. I completely fell in love with BSB’s 2007 album Unbreakable. This was the first of two albums made without Kevin because he left for a while. It’s really truly a marvel of pop music, and sits up there in my top albums with the likes of Live Through This by Hole and Pinkerton by Weezer.
So now, with my virtual PhD in BSB, I present to you, the top 12 best songs by Backstreet Boys, a list by someone who really knows her shit.
*(Click titles to listen to songs).
12) IF YOU STAY
I have no idea of the era of this song. It was some kind of bonus/b-side/never released/something. It’s probably pre-1999. I had it on my computer (a chunky desktop) from the age of about 13, amongst the illegally downloaded MP3s from Napster. Every night I searched for “Backstreet Boys rare” in case there was something I’d missed, and I got this cracker of a tune. I feel it has these dark undertones amongst the poppy tempo. I like singing it.
I’LL SHOWWWWW YOU. I’LL SHO-OHHHHHWWWW YOU.
11) NOT FOR ME
The only Black and Blue era song on this list! I’m starting to realise that my truly favourite BSB songs are the ones I can proper dance to. And not just dance to, but spend hours choreographing a dance to that will never see the light of day.
10) IN PIECES
A bonus track on Unbreakable; an almighty one at that.
WAKE ME UP WHEN IT’S OVER, AFTER THE ENDING, WHEN THE DAMAGE HAS ALL BEEN DONE. I like these heartbreakers/shin kickers.
9) UNSUSPECTING SUNDAY AFTERNOON
This lets me know that whoever produced the album Unbreakable had a fucking brain. This track lies at number 14 on the album, and is a call back to the Intro track. The Intro track ends with the boys crooning, “another unsuspecting Sunday af-ter-nooooooonnnnnnn” and then immediately launches into the fabulous Everything But Mine. The first time I heard this song my simple pop brain exploded. A CALL BACK?? A theme established in the first minute of the album that then summerises the album at track 14?! Are you SURE this is a Backstreet Boys album?? And for this reason, and so many more, this album is my absolute favourite BSB album.
8) POSTER GIRL
This was the song on Never Gone in which I thought, BSB are making music beyond their 11-year old tween audience… this is incredible. And when I heard it at age 20 I wanted Julie’s life… whoever this Julie protagonist was. And I wanted AJ to care as much about me as he did about Julie. Julie sounds like she’s really living her life. I thought, “I want to party on the backseat under the bridge on the Brooklyn side”. I hope I get to one day.
7) TREAT ME RIGHT
Give me a stage and five other woman and we will choreograph a kicker of a routine to this song. I already have half of it in my head. My only problem with this song is that I can’t imagine any woman who is dating a Backstreet Boy to ignore him when she’s with her friends. No no. Uh uh.
6) HEY MR. DJ (KEEP PLAYING THIS SONG)
Proper vintage 1997 BSB. This song is hypnotising and I remember as an 11-year old thinking that one day I will feel the things that the song describes. One day I’ll be on a dance floor, a sexy, smokey, sweaty dance floor, and the music will mesmorise me, and there will be some mysterious force bringing AJ McLean across the dance floor and over towards my lady parts. OH MAMMA. Also, you should watch the video from BSB’s Homecoming concert of this song. OH DOUBLE MAMMA.
5) SET ADRIFT ON MEMORY BLISS
This was my favourite BSB song for years and years. I still truly loved this song even when I was sixteen and having an anti-pop music phase (which lasted a good four years). The interwoven AJ/Brian lines from the second verse onwards through the rest of the song… and Brian’s heartbreak FOREVER’S GONE SO NOW I MUST PLACE YOU WITH ALL THE THINGS THAT I CAN NEVER HAVE. I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE. Urgh. It rips my heart right out.
4) THAT’S THE WAY I LIKE IT
Put this song on. Watch me smile. Watch my eyes glaze over and watch me thinking about the introduction to the Homecoming DVD and how incredibly perfect it is.
3) EVERYTHING BUT MINE
Let’s be honest, the opening to the album Unbreakable is phenomenal. The one-minute Intro track of AJ crooning and ooohing, straight into Everything But Mine is killer. It comes on and I am just instantly happy. This really is the best Backstreet Boys album, hands down. I feel like they made it how they wanted to… I feel like it was made and released in secret and they’re not really that hot for it, and that’s what makes it so special. I have literally never heard a single song from Unbreakable played on the radio EVER.
2) MY BEAUTIFUL WOMAN
This is a sexy song. And I love it. It makes me want to dance. The first time I heard it (2006) I remember thinking, “this doesn’t sound like a Backstreet Boys song… Oh, they are going to be some surprises in store, that’s for sure”. I probably didn’t rhyme at the time.
AND I KNOW – I’M SO – INN-NN LOVE – WITH YOU.
GET DOWN OH NONONONONO
Golly golly. I do believe my favourite BSB song is from possibly their least known album. Fuck me, I love this song. It has so much sass and total choreographical dance factor. If I could perform high energy choreography to this song every day on stage for a decent living, I think I would be occupationally satisfied. Walking awayyyyy!!!! THEN YOU’RE RUNNING BACK TO ME.
Go forth! I have provided you with a proper good playlist for your weekend party, or even your wedding. Thank me later.
Note: this list was compiled in 2013, and does not take into consideration BSB’s two latest releases, 2009’s This Is Us (which wasn’t very good), and 2013’s In A World Like This, which is actually incredible, and has Kevin back on board!!
Penelope (Nel) Kentish is a theatre maker who lives in Bathurst with her husband and misogynistic cat. You can see her other stuff at carrot-flowers.com.
Image: Edited from Instgram @backstreetboys