Backstreet Boys were, in many ways, a contradictory band. Comprised entirely of white, middle-class Americans, the group sang a hybrid of new jack balladry, hip-hop, R&B, and dance club pop that originally found its greatest success in Canada and Europe, with their 1996 debut album charting in the Top Ten in nearly every country on the continent; ironically, success in their native land did not follow until nearly two years later.
The core of Backstreet Boys is cousins Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell, who both hail from Lexington, KY. The two began singing while they were children, performing in local church choirs, as well as festivals, where they sang doo wop and new jack R&B in the style of Boyz II Men. Two of the other remaining members, Howie Dorough and A.J. McLean, were natives of Orlando, FL, who met each other -- as well as transplanted New Yorker and fifth Backstreeter Nick Carter -- through auditions for local commercials, theater, and television. At one audition, the three discovered
that they shared an affection for classic soul and could harmonize together. In no time, they were singing as a trio. Shortly after the trio had formed, Richardson moved to Orlando, where he became a tour guide at Disney World; at night, he concentrated on becoming a professional musician. Eventually, he met Dorough, Carter, and McLean through a co-worker, and the four decided to form a group, naming themselves after an Orlando flea market; Littrell was invited to join to make the band into a quintet.
Through a friend, record producer Louis J. Pearlman, the band secured management from Donna and Johnny Wright, who put the group out on the road and had several A&R reps come see the Boys perform live. Eventually, Jive Records became interested in the band, signing the group in 1994. Jive/Zomba set Backstreet Boys up with producers Veit Renn and Tim Allen and they labored over the album with the band for several months. The group's eponymous album was released throughout Europe in late 1995. The record was a success, spending several weeks in the Top Ten in most continental countries where it charted. In the U.K., Backstreet Boys were named Best Newcomers of 1995 at the Smash Hits Awards thanks to their international hit single "We've Got It Goin' On." After scoring another European hit with "I'll Never Break Your Heart," the group released their eponymous debut album in Europe and Canada in late 1996; it was a success, spending several weeks in the Top Ten in most of the countries where it charted. Despite their popularity in Europe and Canada, "We've Got It Goin' On" stalled in the lower reaches of the U.S. charts in 1995; this may have been due to the fact that the American version of Backstreet Boys was not released until 1997. Combining their international singles with new tracks (which also formed the centerpiece of that year's European-only album Backstreet's Back), the American Backstreet Boys finally began their rise to U.S. success, scoring hits with the singles "Quit Playin' Games (With My Heart)" and "As Long as You Love Me" (the former of which went platinum). The album continued to spin off hits into 1999, with "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," "I'll Never Break Your Heart," and "All I Have to Give" all landing on the charts; both the former and the latter were platinum Top Five hits, and the album ended up with sales of over 13 million copies. In the meantime, the group saw its share of turmoil; Littrell underwent surgery in early 1998 to correct a congenital heart defect, and the Boys became embroiled in lawsuits against Pearlman and the rest of their management over royalties for most of the rest of the year. When the dust settled, Pearlman remained the group's manager (though the rest of the team was fired), and the Boys began work on their follow-up album.
Millennium was released in the summer of 1999, and debuted at number one with first-week sales of over a million copies. Despite the fact that no singles were officially released from the album in the U.S., "I Want It That Way," "Larger Than Life," "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely," and "The One" all hit the charts based on airplay alone. The group released its Christmas Album before the end of the year, by which time Millennium was well on its way to sales of 12 million copies in the U.S. alone. Once again striking immediately after their previous album stopped producing hits, Backstreet Boys issued Black & Blue in fall 2000.
A tour supported the album, but after 7 years of non-stop touring and recording, the band agreed it was time for a break. Brian Littrell became a father while Kevin Richardson tried his hand at Broadway and took a starring role in the musical Chicago. Nick Carter released his solo album Now or Never in 2002, Howie Dorough did charity work for the Dorough Lupus Foundation in honor of the sister he had lost to the disease, and A.J. McLean made headlines with his stint in rehab. In 2004 the band rejoined and began work on a new album. The result, Never Gone, was released in June of 2005. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide