It’s almost hard to believe that the Backstreet Boys are coming up on 28 years together. I can still remember when I first discovered them back in 1997, and my first BSB concert just following that.
Hardly seems like almost 3 decades ago. BSB has been so versatile and long-standing that they’ve brought in fans of all ages, with many stories being shared of multiple generations within the family enjoying the Backstreet catalogue together. It has been exciting to see the large following of new fans who are even younger than the group themselves that have joined the fandom and are experiencing the amazing joy that BSB can bring.
On the opposite side of that are the OG fans. Those of us that have been lucky enough to have been around and following the boys since the ’90s.
When considering what the world of music looks like now, it’s almost wild to consider some of the things we had to do back in the day. Nowadays, we sit at our computers, tablets, or phones refreshing the website waiting for those tickets to go on sale for whatever event we are trying to get into with the boys.
We are rooted to a seat, from anywhere we may be, which works well since many of us are likely at work at 10AM in our respective time zones and have to sneak away to snag those coveted VIP spots.
Contrast that from the sidewalk sleeping pre-teen screaming at the counter clerk yelling “do it faster!” as we anxiously await our fate which is in the hands of some random adult working at the Ticketmaster window. When the first big Backstreet Boys tour hit the US, they were popular, but not so popular that we had to claw at the counter for our seats. The good seats were gone quick, but just being in the venue at that point felt like a success.
But Millenium? Now that was a whole ‘nother experience.
I was 13 and absolutely ready to spend every dime of my allowance (and all the money I had begged my parents for to supplement) for the best seats in the house. I had one shot to get as close to the stage as I could, and unlike the digital world we live in now, that one shot was dependent on how many people were physically standing in line in front of me at one of many stores across the region selling those seats, and some random person working hard and fast to type my order into a computer. I’ll never forget the experience.
We gathered a group of friends, all 12-15 years old, and strategized for a few days ahead of the ticket sales opening. There were 7 of us; too many to try to get seats together unless we wanted to sit in the back of the arena, which was unacceptable in our young minds. We would split up into 3 groups of 2 and 1 single seat.
We would get to the store the evening before and “camp out” on the sidewalk outside. A couple of the girls were not allowed to go because their parents were not comfortable with their young teenager sitting on a street all night just waiting for the store the open in the morning. But a few of us, myself included, found ways to make it happen, likely by lying to our parents and telling them we’d be sleeping over at a friend’s house instead of on the street, although no sleep actually occurred.
The 5 teenagers that made it to that sidewalk did have some supervision when an older sibling, around age 19 or 20, dropped by for a few hours to make sure we were ok. Otherwise, we were left to fend for ourselves, and our anticipation, anxiety, and obsession for the boys drove us through the whole night.
There were 3 groups ahead of us, which certainly added to our anxiety and frustration. We had arrived around 7PM. Even though we had asked to be dropped off earlier, we were chained to the adult’s schedule for a ride and because of that, ended up behind a few other diligent groups.
We chatted with them, made signs with materials we had brought so we could proudly display our love of BSB to cars passing by, and sang Backstreet Songs as loud as we could because we did not have devices like phones or even iPods to play the music out loud.
Our cassette and CD players could only be used with attached headphones rather than speakers that would carry, so we used our loud voices instead. When the store opened early the next morning, we took turns wandering inside for snacks, returning to our spot in line and sending the next twosome out.
We desperately tried to find things to pass the time as we inched closer to 10AM. That part hasn’t changed. And neither has the presence of sweaty palms and the anxiety about “what if the seats are all taken?” And the heart palpitations as the time gets closer to the purchase or as you watch the line get shorter (nowadays a number on the screen rather than the physical line in front of you).
But when that 10AM deadline hit, there was no refreshing of screens or preparing to hastily type in credit card information. There was no group text thread asking your friends who had seats up, which seats they got, or which one of us should move forward with the purchase. Instead, we stood, and waited. And cried. We watched the time tick away as the one person at the counter set tickets up for the people ahead of us.
Once we reached the front of the line, we were literally bawling. I remember approaching the counter for my seats, “2 tickets, the best you can get!” I yelled and stood in front of the woman working the counter. She looked almost as stressed as I was, clearly seeing how important her job was in that moment.
Those Ticketmaster agents had to stare at the whites of our tear-stricken eyes as we begged and pleaded with them to just GO FASTER so we would get the best seats we could. She was clearly working as fast as she could and when the tickets came up and she announced my seats, my simultaneous relief and grief for getting seats, but not close enough, took over. I finished my payment process as quickly as I could so the next person in line could have their turn.
And then we cried more, because we got seats and were excited to be able to see the show. Stressful as it was, this experience still resonates with me in a positive way.
The memories of flagging down cars as they drove by, shoving our signs at them and singing Everybody Backstreet’s Back in the street at 2AM with friends and strangers, sharing a common love of BSB, will always stick with me.
And then there was the hunt for the boys. Back then, we had no social media announcing a boy was online or tweeting fans. There were no VIP meet and greets or After Parties, at least none that the general public could access.
There certainly were no fan events or sound check parties fans could attend. Some of us have been fortunate enough to go to a variety of events in the last several years like After Parties, Meet and Greets, soundcheck parties, cruises, boys’ birthday parties, but these things were beyond a dream in the Millennium and Black and Blue days.
We had no alerts to tell us where to access them and no way to get to them aside from in person, unless we were extremely lucky contest winners. If we wanted contact or access, we had to go hunting. Sure there were message boards that sometimes gave information like where they were spotted, but you still had to physically go searching.
You would have to drive around town trying to find a big tour bus…which we might have done. I still remember searching for the boys’ after a show.
We had no idea where they would be, so we drove the city, hotel to hotel, hoping we might get lucky, assuming we wouldn’t. We did. Somehow word had gotten out on a message board about what hotel they were staying at and fans who had not gone to the show and had immediate access to their computers to check these boards had shown up in front of their hotel.
The boys’ bus was stuck directly in front of the hotel entrance, and could not go forward because of the people crowding the road. Our car pulled up and 4 of us literally shoved each other out to get a glimpse.
Brian, Kevin, and Nick were holed up on that bus, hiding because they knew we would pounce on them with our teenage hormones if they moved from the safety of that tourbus. Occasionally, we would catch Brian peeking out, making a funny face at us and waving or Nick’s blonde hair running from the window. Not sure what they were waiting for…as if the Backstreet fans would actually disperse before they got off the bus (this must’ve been before they learned the strength and power of the Backstreet Army).
Eventually each of them made their way out, security sticking close to them ushering them into their hotel as quickly as possible. But not before we caught a glimpse of them in person and right in front of us. The first time I had ever had that opportunity. You better believe I had all the tears and screams. But what I do not have are pictures.
Clearly this was long before the time of smartphones where one could pull out their camera phone and rapidly point it at whatever interesting thing they saw in front of them. You had to be prepared with an actual camera, and all of our cameras were out of film from the show we had just attended. I have no proof, evidence, or photographic memory of this time other than what has been burned into my memory.
Since then, we’ve been so fortunate as fans to have been given in person and even virtual events to actually take pictures with them, talk to them, and hug them.
They follow some of us on social media (still waiting for my follow boys!) and we can actually send messages to them, and sometimes get them back. But the thrill of the hunt back then, when that was all we had, was something to remember.
And then all the appearances! And there were many, especially during the Millenium days. The boys were all over MTV and the talk show circuit and we lived for those appearances! But you had to be in the right place at the right time to watch them.
There was no logging in from your phone or watching on Instagram Live or whatever digital platforms we have access to now. I had to haul my butt out of school and run down the street, heavy backpack full of middle school textbooks bouncing along with me, as I ran home to catch TRL.
And I had to make sure I found my way to a house phone line to call in my votes, because the only person with a cell phone at that point was Zack Morris. But being home or in front of a TV that had cable access was not always an option, especially when they did those morning talk shows or random appearances.
And YouTube didn’t exist until 2005 so there was no way to search for those pre Never Gone appearances after the fact. And those were the sad days…the days when I sat in English class knowing BSB were on whatever morning show and that I would have to wait to be able to hear what they talked about, what songs they sang, or if anything big happened. I would go home and check the message boards to see who had caught it and what they had to say. Because there was no YouTube or digital sharing of files like video clips, the only way to actually watch these after they were over was to snail mail video tapes to each other.
There were some amazing fans, (probably some of the same ones that maintain the awesome fan sites we all frequent) that would splice these clips together and mail them out. Of course if my parents knew I was sharing my home address with random fans online, they’d never allow it (rightfully so!), so I hid that from them, intercepting the mail for several days until that coveted videotape arrived.
At some point, I convinced my parents to get a VCR and then I started setting the VCR to tape record these appearances myself. And I still have these and I have no idea why because most of these appearances have made their way to YouTube by now. And who has a working VCR these days to watch the video tapes anyway?
Now, we can throw out a tweet or a message in a Facebook group asking if anyone happens to remember that one time Nick said “Doc-u-men-taries” and someone will have it linked to the post in seconds. But I will always remember the struggle of having to be in the exact right place at the right time to see these appearances.
This was similar to the album release dates. Of course there were no digital downloads.
You had to physically be in the record store to buy the album or to pick up your pre-purchased copy. And this was always on Tuesdays at 10AM when most of us were sitting in middle or high school classes. If you couldn’t preorder, you were screwed because there was no way they were going to have a copy left on the shelf by the time school was over.
I had a friend who took album release dates of her favorite artists off of school with her older sister. She would make her way to the record store early to stand in line and buy however many albums covered all of our friends and a couple extra for good measure. She would listen to the album as soon as they made it home because there was no CD player in the car, and the rest of us would anxiously wait until we could get our grubby hands on our copies to listen too.
Contrast that from the DNA album release, or even Nick’s recent drop of 80’s Movie, when I just held my phone and kept refreshing from my bed at 9PM Pacific time and could immediately listen from the comfort of my home. And I can listen anywhere, anytime. When the physical CDs were all we had, there were so many questions surrounding your purchase of the album.
How many should I buy? One for the car, one for the house, and one just in case they break?
Of course we also got that physical CD book that had the best pictures and those adorable thank yous that we could read (and in some cases, spend hours trying to decode…Thanks Nick). Although I love having easy access to my favorite songs at the drop of a dime, I do miss the CD cases and books that came along with them.
As OG fans, we may have had to climb through hoops and crawl through mud to get to the boys in the early days, but we also got a whole lot from that time. We got to experience the absolute height of the Backstreet Boys success (although this is arguable because they are certainly doing some things now too).
The extreme OG fans saw them play tiny high school multi-purpose rooms when all they did were covers and some interesting dance moves and Nick’s voice still hadn’t dropped.
Many of us got to see firsthand the innovation that was the Millenium tour, watch the record-breaking release in Times Square on TRL for that album, then another record breaking release when Black and Blue came out. We literally grew up with these guys, experiencing some of the same things, (and some not so same), as they were going through them.
We related to them as they went through those issues because we also went through those things right along side them. We were with them during their downfall and then eventual rise back to the top of the music world. We’ve gotten to see them through it all.
And of course, with all of the differences from back in the day, there are a lot of things that have stayed the same. The screaming! Oh the screaming! The tears, maybe not as many anymore, but they are definitely there at times.
The jitters when they are sharing my breathing space. The anticipation as it gets closer to the show, or when those house lights first go down and you know they are right behind that screen waiting to pop out, or pop up, or come down from the ceiling, or whatever new and interesting entrance they’ve cooked up.
The feeling we get when we come face to face with a Backstreet Boy, whether it be randomly on the street, during a show, or during an event…we still get those heart palpitations. And the immense love and adoration we have for these boys who have been a part of many of our lives for years.
Whether a baby backstreet fan or an OG fan, or somewhere in between, we all have a love that we share. We are all fortunate to have these boys who have shaped parts of our lives, memories, friendships, travel, and even new passions. Some things never change, and I hope they never will!