May 2, 2021 9:59 p.m.
AJ McLean will never forget the day his teammate Brian Littrell’s son, Baylee, started wearing nail polish.
“Years ago, [Littrell’s wife] Leighanne came up to me and said, ‘See that? It’s because of you, ’cause Baylee used to paint her nails black,” the Backstreet Boys singer recalled. “I was like, ‘Yeah!’ And Kevin’s sons, Mason and Max, both do their nails, which is awesome.
Seeing the younger generation embrace what was once commonly considered a feminine beauty habit brings joy to McLean, given the resistance he often faced in the late ’90s.
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Today, he’s thrilled to be one of the few male celebrities with a nail polish line, Ava Dean Beauty, and proud to be raising his children (Ava, eight, and Lyric, four) in a home where gender has no boundaries when it comes to style, fashion or anything else.
“It’s funny because Ava was very tomboyish when she was younger and now she’s full of princess – although she also likes crop tops and baggy pants because she loves hip hop,” says McLean, 43 years old. “And Lyric has always been a girly girl, but she just wants to be like her big sister. If one gets their nails done, the other has to do it…and I usually do it!
While manicures have become one of the musician’s favorite ways to bond with his daughters, his love for painted nails dates back to his youth and symbolizes his lifelong efforts to express himself freely.
That’s exactly what McLean, a longtime ally of the LGBTQ community, does in the music video for his new single, “Love Song Love.” The video aims to support the trans community amid the struggles it continues to face, including proposed US legislation that would allow discriminatory acts such as the banning of trans girls from women’s sports teams.
In the video, which McLean co-directed with Rene Elizondo, the musician enjoys dressing up, manicures and bubble baths with trans models Nahla Wyld and Carmen Carrera.
The fun and freedom portrayed in the video came naturally to McLean, who grew up surrounded by the LGBTQ community and was never fazed by gender or sexuality preferences.
“My first acting teacher when I was 6 or 7, Nona Lloyd, was gay. I saw my first pair of boobs when I was a model at four years old. I was in love, but at the same time, he there was this unity, so I never saw gender as a division. Even early in Backstreet’s career, there were transgender people, gay people, lesbian people. It never bothered me.”
“I don’t understand when people think it’s sacrilegious or disgusting. It is ignorance and people are afraid. It’s like, ‘Do you really have a problem with this gay couple or is this your own shit you’re uncomfortable with? If you never have to take care of this couple, why do you care?
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Thanks to his best friend Mark, McLean has seen how heartbreaking it can be to face such resistance. “He knew he was gay when he was 8. His first crush was Harrison Ford as Han Solo! He was accepted on one side of the family and not the other. It was really hard for him.”
Today, Mark is married, and Ava and Lyric don’t think their beloved “Guncle Mark” and “Guncle Tom” are “husband and husband.”
They also aren’t agitated when McLean wears skirts or dresses. “I wore a dress to my wedding!” says McLean, who takes his Instagram to transgender and non-binary personalities once a week, with “Grey’s Anatomy” star Alex Blue Davis taking over last Thursday. “My wife’s hard-core Greek Orthodox side didn’t like it, but that’s okay. They all love me now and understand that this is my artistic expression. People ask, ‘And your wife?’ but she is 100,000,000% behind me. She’s like, ‘You’re comfortable with that, so I’m supporting it.'”
Meanwhile, McLean’s bandmates rarely raise an eyebrow. “Guys have always known that I’m on my own path. Nothing shocks them anymore. It’s more shocking when I go the other way and I’m more moderate or “normal”. If I am not wearing nail polish, they say, ‘Are you okay?’ “
These days, McLean doesn’t feel without painted nails, recalling how weird it was to have unpainted nails (to avoid distracting the judges) on “Dancing with the Stars.”. “The day after the start, I had my nails done. God, it felt good!
So good that McLean teamed up with his friend Josh Naranjo to launch Ava Dean Beauty. The vegan, cruelty-free and 10 Cruelty-Free range includes four colors – ‘Ro Ro Red’, named after his wife Rochelle, ‘Lyric Dean’ purple pink, ‘Ava Jaymes’ periwinkle blue and ‘Alexander James’ black.
Starting a business isn’t the only way McLean has kept busy since the pandemic hit the Backstreet Boys DNA World Tour stopped. He started a podcast, “Pretty Messed Up”, is working on a clothing line and will follow “Love Song Love” with two EPs.
And, while it’s unclear if the Backstreet Boys’ scheduled Canadian concerts will take place, the quintet is releasing their first Christmas album in May. There is also talk of returning to Las Vegas for another residency. “I suggested our 30th anniversary, which would allow time for life to return to normal – or the new normal.”
Every time the band hits the stage, McLean plans to be in killer shape — the effort he puts into his body is evident during the shirtless scenes in the “Love Song Love” video.
“The lockdown has been great, firstly, for my sobriety. I started AA Zoom meetings and haven’t missed a day. I’ve also discovered a new passion for mountain biking. And I’m grain-free, grain-free. gluten and sugar free for six months We are planning our first vacation in July and I want to be ready for the beach When Backstreet is back on the road I will be in the most ridiculous shape of my life!