One of the best parts of the summer (for me) is that with my TV schedule being greatly reduced, (Even if it is clogged with teen super hero cartoons and revisits to Westeros), I have time to explore some of the more obscure and less on the Comic Con beaten path pop culture elements that have obsessed me over my life.
I’ve talked about my deep and abiding love of boy bands many times. And I’ve noted that I consider The Backstreet Boys and in particular the vocal stylings of AJ McLean to be in the upper echelon of pop music, and that they’re consistently passed over as the late 90’s and early 2000s fade into nostalgia.
I often feel like I’m alone in this, and then I talk to other women my age about it, for whom listening to Millennium on bedroom floors and voting for “The One” on TRL were also seminal moments of tween-dom, and it’s certainly what the documentary Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of is predicated on.
While I’d hardly call the two hour in depth documentary a “warts and all” look at the guys, it’s definitely not as vain and golden colored as it could be. Exploring both the group’s rise to fame and their prep of a new album and 2014 20th anniversary world tour I was reminded of all the reasons I always preferred BSB to their glossy, perfectly choreographed doppelgangers NSYNC.
Not surprisingly to anyone who’s followed the band for 20 years…ie me and a small army of other 20 something women, the movie pretty much hinges on Kevin Richardson’s choice to leave and then return to the group and Nick Carter’s penchant for hissy fit throwing, but other elements shouldn’t be ignored. AJ’s sobriety is mostly taken for granted, and Nick’s not explored at all. Brian Littrell’s vocal problems could have been compelling all on their own, but instead lead to a confrontation between him and Nick, who feels no one is talking about how Brian isn’t up to snuff anymore. Howie Durough initially intended to be the group’s lead singer is sidelined almost entirely, except when he talks about how he was supposed to be the lead singer…it’s not a terribly compelling narrative.
But in the end the movie illustrates two points that are made in it’s first few minutes, “What do you do when you’re a man in a boy band?” which AJ asks the camera, and “We had some great pop songs and we sang the shit out of them.” Which is Kevin just perfectly encapsulating the thing that’s great about The Backstreet Boys.