The past few weeks have been action-packed for the Backstreet Boys – from the group’s relaunch of DNA World Tour, which included a special engagement in Las Vegas and a duet with Drake on “I Want It That Way” in Toronto, to their arc Hollywood Bowl, where the five guys – Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson – were joined by their children on stage, to officially announce BSB’s first Christmas album.
Always one to turn up the volume, McLean adds a new solo song, “Smoke,” to the slate, coupled with a provocative video, premiering below. (Note: May not be suitable for work.) The funky track is the lead single from McLean’s first solo album in 12 years, “Sex and Bodies,” which is due out in late October.
“I was doing the country thing and it was fun, but COVID hit, I had time to reflect and I don’t want to try to be something that I’m not,” McLean said. Variety. “Can I play country? Absolutely. But it’s not a true representation of who I am. This album is 100% what people expected me to do. It’s soul, R&B and funk. I played it for the boys and they said, “Man, we’re so proud.” That’s some good shit!”
For McLean, projecting authenticity also means expressing oneself visually freely. He daringly danced in drag to celebrate the LGBTQ community with his 2021 single, “Love Song Love,” and “Smoke” sees him rocking vintage designer womenswear while jiggling with booty-shaking topless dancers .
Inspired by Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and George Michael’s “Freedom” videos, McLean and director René Elizondo Jr. also turned to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, but decided to “let the imagination” with nudity – meaning one scene involved 11 takes of meticulous choreography to conceal the dancers’ breasts. While such risque content may come as a shock to some, McLean says the female body is gorgeous and the shots were tastefully filmed.
Ivan Koumaev, who danced for Justin Timberlake, choreographed the skillful moves, while McLean raided the wardrobe of a crew member’s grandmother, who worked with fashion designers in the 70s and 80s, for treasures like a Dolce & Gabbana floral jacket.
“Smoke,” officially released on July 15, came after McLean’s manager, Johnny Wright, took him out for a birthday dinner and inquired about “Fire,” a memorable song McLean wrote for the Backstreet Boys in 2018. Intending to revisit the unreleased track with co-writer Killa B, the two headed to Los Angeles recording studio Westlake, then found themselves on a roll creating new music, including the “Prince meets George Michael” sound from “Smoke”.
McLean says, “We got to the chorus and I was like, ‘It’s as easy as blowing smoke. Let’s not think too much about this. We cut it and we were like, ‘Damn, this is good!’ This launched the rest of the album.
McLean co-wrote every track on “Sex and Bodies,” working with Brandon Arreaga and Edwin Honoret of boy band PrettyMuch and Canadian songwriter Emma Rosen. The album features upbeat records like “Hot Damn,” ballads like “You” and “For the Night,” and a Weeknd-influenced song that Kevin Richardson has his eye — and ear — on in hopes. to have Backstreet Boys record it.
The Weeknd isn’t the only Canadian to influence the band. The quintet recently made headlines when Drake showed up at their concert in Toronto and joined in on vocals for the 1999 hit, “I Want It That Way.” The song had a major impact on the artist in his youth, he acknowledged from the stage.
How did it happen? The guys were in Toronto for two DNA dates when Richardson asked his hotel for the best local Italian restaurant. McLean says the recommendation turned out to be Drake’s “one major problem”.
McLean recounts, “Kevin is texting at midnight in our group text and I’m trying to sleep and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what is this? I finally opened it and he told us he went to dinner with his family and Drake came up to his table, said he was a huge fan, told this story about his Bar Mitzvah and asked if he could play with us.
“Then it escalated to just telling him the song, but we told him to stay on stage,” McLean continued. “It makes me smile that he sang half of everyone’s verses but mine. I asked him why and he said, ‘I can’t touch gold, man!’
While the 35-year-old Toronto native left immediately afterwards (“I don’t blame him – he beat the traffic,” cracks McLean), this may not be the last time fans see the numbers in topping the charts together.
“We didn’t have a real conversation that night, but there are conversations going on now,” McLean teases. “Who knows, if for our 30th anniversary we might do something with Drake. That would be pretty iconic.
And since there’s no cooler kid than Drake, the singer would fit right in with McLean’s side project ATCK (All the Cool Kids), which he leads alongside DJ Lux (Brandon Mashburn). The EDM act features rotating musicians including 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons, *NSYNC’s Chris Kirkpatrick and Canadian drummer and “Can We Go Back” vocalist Ryan Stevenson.
At Friday’s ATCK show at Patchogue, New York’s Stereo Garden, DJ Lux will perform his catchy summer single “Little Heartbreaker,” featuring Aaron Space, while McLean debuts “Smoke” and other tracks by ” Sex and Bodies”. A second single, “Electric”, featuring Bruno Mars collaborator Mr. TalkBox, will tentatively be released in September.
Meanwhile, the Backstreet Boys will release their first Christmas album on October 14. “A Very Backstreet Christmas,” includes covers of classics like “Last Christmas” and “Silent Night,” as well as original tracks the band co-wrote.
The group has worked with musicians such as Tommy Brown, Darius Coleman, Tommy Parker, Travis Sayles, Taylor Hill and Yng Josh and David Campbell (Beck’s father).
“Beck’s dad is a world famous bandleader who did all the string arrangements and they’re beautiful,” said McLean, who will celebrate the record by adding Christmas-themed releases to his brand of polish. nail polish, Ava Dean Beauty. “Kevin and I were in the room with 30 live strings and it was the most surreal thing. I got chills and almost cried during ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. It was an experience out of the body.
Noting that the vocals are just as impressive, McLean hopes “A Very Backstreet Christmas” will get the recognition fans have wanted for the band for 29 years: a Grammy win, after eight nominations.
“I didn’t know a Christmas album could be nominated in a specialized category,” he said. “Brien [Littrell] and I was just joking about it on the golf course, like, ‘Look. We’re finally going to have a Grammy and it’s going to be for a Christmas album – a bunch of covers. But we will take it!