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Backstreet Boys: Show ’em what you’re made of

February 20, 2015

Film + EntertainmentInterviewMusicReview | by Francesco Cerniglia

BSB Recorded Landscape Quad Poster

AJ, Howie, Nick, Kevin & Brian *cue screams* jumped onto the scene in the mid-90’s as the cultural phenomenon that are the Backstreet Boys, causing a surge of manufactured boybands and sweeter than bubblegum female singers for the rest of the decade all the way through to the early 00’s. Many passed us by without much of an impact but the few that left a mark became icons of a unique era of pop.

Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, named after one of their more recent songs packs a lot into its 105 minute running time – the band in London recording their latest album (‘In A World Like This’, the first since the return of original member Kevin), preparing for their 20th anniversary world tour and visiting each member’s home town, all alongside a look back at their early days and the bands rise to fame.

It’s an honest and genuine look into their lives and story, with perhaps one of the most interesting aspects being their original manager Lou Pearlman (also responsible for *NSync), who is currently in prison for running a massive Ponzi scheme and a catalogue of bad business, which seems to have been a somewhat ‘elephant in the room’ until now.

It would have been great to have had a scene with the band confronting Lou in prison and Backstreet Boys member Howie D (who managed to be friendly and charming with me even over a tinny hard to hear phone call), revealed: “Well, believe it or not that was part of our agenda and we actually had word taken to Lou Pearlman, in his jail, and ask if he’d have wanted to do an interview with us. He was actually willing to do it and we were all gung-ho about letting him say his side of the story and our side of the story but the head of the prison, unfortunately changed his mind last minute as he felt that was just a little too much Hollywood coming into the prison. There’s still a lot of footage that shines a light and educates people on what we went through with him but we weren’t trying to focus this just on Lou but more on the five of us, our bond and our childhood.

When I asked Howie how the film came about, he explained: “For so many years we’d talked about how it would be great to document our story and we noticed there were several pieces around, like VH1 would put out stuff in the past that had only shown a glimpse of our life but we thought there’s always been a bigger story that a TV special can’t fully cover. It was always just a matter of timing, trying to figure out what made the most sense, when was the right time and coincidentally I think, with Kevin coming back now, our 20th anniversary and the making of this new record, it just felt like all the stars aligned.

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The project started as a ‘making of’ DVD extra for their last album and the response from the production team was “we’re filming this, we feel like there’s way more to this than just the making of a record, there’s so much more in-depth with you guys, you’re really open, honest and real, this should be something bigger“. The band’s reaction was “let’s go for it” and then all the creative ideas started flowing like “maybe go to our home towns and show our fans where we all grew up.

Looking back on the making of the film, Howie noticed: “That was even for ourselves a very educational process, I got to understand how each of us ticks in a way, understanding what we went through, when we were younger and in our childhood, where we came from and everything, I think it was very very emotional, educational, uplifting, almost kind of therapeutic for us.

As someone that will be the first to admit their appreciation of 90’s pop, I absolutely loved the look back to their early days and the whole nostalgia aspect of the film. Thankfully this isn’t your standard sugarcoated popstar film nor the over-produced forced drama you’d see on ITV2’s The Big Reunion, the documentary as a whole feels pretty real.

I asked Howie if it took any adjusting to let the cameras in and allow the film to be an honest portrait: “it did actually become very natural, even to a point where they caught an argument that happened very naturally between Brian, Nick and our management in the process of deciding what songs should make the cut in the new album – the cameras were right there and they kept on filming. And we always knew that, we’ve always been very honest with our fans and always said we’re just gonna be real. As producers we could always edit it, if it didn’t feel right but as we started looking at the footage, everything felt like it needed to be there, the film wouldn’t be complete without the ying and the yang.

When asked what moments of the film personally stood out to him, Howie points out: “I think the home town trips to me were the most therapeutic for us to understand each other and very emotional, to see the trials and tribulations that some of the guys had gone through, you know just growing up, from Nick’s destructive family to the opposite end where Kevin’s father unfortunately passed away at an earlier age than he should’ve been.

I spoke to Howie about the amount of footage there must have come out from the shoot: “The film that’s out there now, is probably about the sixth or seventh edit, the first one was like 3 hours and they kept on editing it, going from one extreme to another extreme, little by little chipping at it and making it into the mould of what it is right now which I’m very pleased about. Director Stephen Kijak (‘Stones in Exile’, ‘Scott Walker: 30 Century Man’) and the editors (Ben Stark & Cinzia Baldessari) did an absolutely amazing job, being able to accomplish telling five different lives and different stories all in one.

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I completely agree, some moments could have gone a bit more in depth but the documentary probably works better without them as it’s a general celebration of their 20 plus years as the worlds most successful boy band, selling over 130 million albums worldwide with a honest look into their lives and story. On looking back at their first 20 years as a band Howie comments “I think everything probably happens for a reason, our trials and tribulations, our everything was very public, there are a lot of people that know about it and even if we wanted to be quiet which we never really tried to, it was always out there. I think the bond we have is probably because of all that we went through together and all those things made us who we are but looking back on it, it’s kind of hard to say I would change anything. Sometimes you’ve gotta fall down to become stronger.

My inevitable final question is about what the band has in store for the next 20 years and Howie has some wise words: “Just to keep on sustaining at a good healthy pace for us now that we’ve gotten older and lives are changing, all five of us are married, four of us have kids. Now that we have our own label we’re in the driver’s seat. We fulfilled our contract with our previous record label Jive Records. We put our new record out now through a distribution deal with BMG but we produced and wrote most of it ourselves. It’s about being able to keep the car moving forward at a good pace, it’s not about getting to the finish line as fast as possible.

There’s no denying this film is definitely for fans of the illustrious group but I do think it stands on its own as a great documentary. Take this as a warning though: if you weren’t already, you’ll probably leave the cinema as a Backstreet Boys fan and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the meantime, listen to some of Backstreet Boys’ greatest hits on this wonderful playlist that includes other songs from the late 90’s/early 00’s to take you back to the simpler and more innocent era of mainstream pop.

Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of is released in UK cinemas on February 26th as a one night only event, followed by a special performance by the band broadcast live by satellite.

Find all information on screenings and tickets on the official website

Joel Babbington