Backstreet boys

Backstreet Boys DNA Tour in North Carolina: Interview with AJ McLean

When a band has been around for nearly 30 years and a big anniversary is approaching, it’s reasonable to start thinking about the legacy.

But when you’re part of the Backstreet Boys, whose peak years were a frenetic blur of flash, you can’t blame AJ McLean for needing a little help refreshing his memory of what this inheritance might look like.

“I haven’t done it lately, but I used to be on the road every night, going back to YouTube and watching old videos,” McLean, 44, told The News & Observe. “And just going back in time and remembering things that I forgot, whether it was a TV performance or a live performance.”

He’s referring to those performances in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Backstreet Boys were one of the biggest bands on the planet.

Every song release was A Moment. Each album release was an event. Every tour was A Sellout.

Take part in the Into the Millennium Tour, which culminated in the gathering of more than 73,300 people in the Georgia Dome in February 2000.

Or take the “Black & Blue” album. In November 2000, the Backstreet Boys traveled six continents for more than 100 hours to catapult their new album to the top of the charts and into the hands of raving fans. Such a stunt would be unheard of now. But it helped the album break all sorts of sales records – 5 million albums sold worldwide in one week – which would also be unheard of now.

“You know, if the band disbanded after our 30th anniversary,” McLean reflects, “God forbid, but after 30 years in the business, what have we left behind that is our legacy? We’ve left behind us 10 amazing albums, a plethora of music videos, live shows and the amazing memories we’ve made with our fans.

The boy band, who have done their part to cement themselves in music history, will celebrate their 30th anniversary on April 20, 2023, and McLean expects that to be another time.

But first, McLean, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter and Brian Littrell will resume the DNA World Tour which was interrupted by a pandemic. The tour is named after their No. 1 album of 2019, “DNA”, which spawned a Grammy nomination.

After performing four shows in Las Vegas in April, the Backstreet Boys will hit the road, bringing their tour to the PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte on June 24 and Coastal Credit Union Music Park in Walnut Creek on June 25.

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The Backstreet Boys hit the road with the DNA World Tour. The group consists of, from left, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, AJ McLean, Nick Carter and Brian Littrell. Denis Leupold

McLean, like the rest of the band members, is married and has children. He spoke with The News & Observer from his back porch in California about the band’s heyday, hugely loyal fans and how “I Want it That Way” is a “perfectly flawed” song.

Q: You just got back on stage in Las Vegas after a pandemic hiatus. What was that moment like when you were back in front of all the fans?

A: You know, honestly, right before the first show, I was backstage talking to our production manager. And I said, ‘Man, why does this look like the very first show? As not only the first show on the DNA tour, but just as the first show ever. Period. Like in our career? …

It was great to be back on stage to see the fans and see people’s faces, not stuck behind a mask, and see their expressions… It was priceless, honestly.

Q: And make them sing to you. I imagine that there are quite a few backing vocals in your concerts.

A: There are many songs to sing. And again, I think there was a different emotional feeling. I think just among the five of us, as well as the feeling we got from the audience as well. It was very moving. Even though concerts started coming back last summer, it was still limited. And there are also quite a few tours that started and then stopped. Because people weren’t ready to go out for live gigs yet.

Now you have festivals. Coachella has just arrived. It’s as if the world has finally moved on. And thank God, because people need live gigs, man. People need to get away from their 9 to 5 and have fun.

The Backstreet Boys perform their “DNA World Tour” at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina on Tuesday night, August 20, 2019. Scott Sharpe [email protected]

Q: You’ve been together for 30 years and have a lot of material. When you prepare a show like this, how do you decide what you are going to put in your setlist?

A: (laughs) That’s the fun part. It took forever. At the end of the day, we have 32 songs in this show. At some point in the beginning, when we were still in Vegas doing our residency, that’s when we started going through the setlist. The original setlist had 67 songs. And it’s like, ‘No, it’s going to be a four-hour show.’

We joked, and who knows, maybe for our 30th we’ll do something like that. But we joked about potentially doing a three-hour show where there’s an hour and a half, then there’s a 30-minute break, then there’s an hour at the end. As long as the pace is good, I think we can do it. And I think the fans would really appreciate it.

But next year is our 30th anniversary and that’s huge. We’re planning a lot of pretty crazy (expletive) things, that if most come to fruition, fans are going to lose their ever-loving spirit.

Q: I’ve been asking social media for questions they would ask The Backstreet Boys, and many fans want to know what your 30th anniversary plans are. Is there anything you can hint at that?

A: We really want to do something on our 30th anniversary – on the day itself, April 20… We really want to do something big. Shortly after our 30th, we’ll be finishing the DNA World Tour, and then hopefully having some conversations about getting back to Vegas.

So there are a lot of things on the table right now, but nothing is set in stone yet. But rest assured, there will be something big. You can’t have a dirty 30 and not do something great.

Q: Do you all talk, at this stage of your career, about the legacy and impact of your band?

A: We do. I mean, it’s been talked about a lot, actually, especially in the last few years. What can we do to solidify our legacy? …

There is so much in our heritage that we could leave behind, and for our children. You know, as our kids grow up, looking back at their dads, like what we’ve accomplished in 30 years, I mean, it’s pretty remarkable. And we’re super lucky and super blessed that we’ve been able to last this long, and that we’re still relevant and still leaning on.

Our current album (“DNA”), the first single (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”) was nominated for a Grammy. It’s just mind-boggling, but it’s also extremely heartwarming.

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AJ McLean, from left, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter and Howie Dorough of the Backstreet Boys appear at the 61st annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019. The pioneering boy group was nominated for their song , “Won’t break my heart. Jordan Strauss Vision/AP

Q: Looking back on those 30 years, what would you say to your younger self about what it might encounter in the future, especially with fame? There’s a lot of throwback to that period and time for you and some of your contemporaries, when the fame was really huge.

A: I was just like, enjoy the ride and don’t sweat the small stuff. And really try to understand everything. Probably from 1999 to 2005 it was a whirlwind, and I don’t think any of us really had time to figure it out. “Millennium”, “Black and Blue” and “Never Gone”, for me, were our greatest albums, and to really take that into account. …

It’s just so I can look back and share these stories with my kids and show them videos of dad’s not-so-good style back in the day, or hairstyles, or whatever I was thinking of.

You know we made great memories together. I would just tell myself to try not to miss anything. Because it’s going to go fast, and it went fast.

Now things have slowed down, but they have only slowed down because we are now in control of our schedule. And we go at our own pace and we have a balance, because we have families. But our program did not stop. We always go non-stop. We like that. We do.

Q: The song “I Want it That Way”? What does “it” mean to you, and what is one of the most absurd or funniest assumptions you’ve heard about what “it” is?

A: Well, first of all, the song makes no sense. (Laughs). That’s why we re-recorded the song and changed the lyrics to make perfect sense. And that’s right doesn’t feel good. So we ended up using our label and our management to go back to the original version, the version that everyone knows and loves. And I think we made the right decision.

But “I want it like that”. I guess any way is the right way. Whichever way I feel best, I’ll take it. We even asked Max Martin, who wrote the song. He was like, ‘I don’t know, those are the lyrics that came out. It’s the melody. I don’t know what that means. OK cool.

Q: What would the lyrics have said that would make sense?

A: The remake read, “No goodbye, no more lies. I love it when I hear you say, I want it like that. Which is completely logical. But our version? Not really.

But you know what? It’s perfectly imperfect. (Laughs)

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Jessica Banov is the editor-in-chief of news and features. She is the Midday Breaking News Editor for the Southeast McClatchy region. She oversees entertainment, arts, food and restaurant coverage for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. She is News & Observer’s internal program coordinator.