The Backstreet Boys have had a lot to celebrate in the first week of March. To kick off the month, the group launched their highly anticipated Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood's AXIS Theater on March 1. Then just days later, the BSB guys landed on the Billboard Hot 100 with their Florida Georgia Line collaboration, "God, Your Mama, and Me" (No. 92, chart dated March 18) -- their first song on the chart in nearly 10 years.
Despite being a group for 24 years already, the Backstreet Boys' recent successes make it clear that there's no stopping the world-famous boy band anytime soon.
So, how has BSB managed to stay in the game? Following their first Vegas performance, Billboard sat down with the band's Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell to dig a little deeper into that question, also touching on the FGL collaboration -- which isn't their only new music coming this year. Yes, BSB fanatics, there is a new album on the way.
On the Florida Georgia Line collaboration:
Richardson: It's really cool that those guys reached out to us.
Littrell: It's organic, it was natural. Kevin and I are from Kentucky, we listen to country music.
Richardson: This whole album [Florida Georgia Line's Dig Your Roots] was about FGL kind of going back to their roots and paying homage to the artists and songs that inspired them, and the fact that they reached out to us -- we are a group that inspired them to do what they do, and that's really cool. And those guys are great guys. We're blessed.
How they've managed to mature as a group while staying true to the BSB brand:
Richardson: The thing about it is, no matter what type of song it is -- when the five of our voices come together, it's the Backstreet Boys. Whether it's a country song, an uptempo, a ballad... we want to make music that we're proud of, that we believe in, that we can relate to, and that's what we've always tried to do. We've tried not to chase after a certain sound that might be popular at the time. We try to do us, whatever it is in that moment, whatever moment we're in when we're making that record. And our catalog of our music throughout the years has kept us in the game and sustained us, and we're very grateful for that.
Littrell: The word that comes to mind for me is acceptance. You accept each other in the good and the bad and grow together -- we talk about it all the time, it's just like a marriage. And it's not easy, but being accepting and open to other band members, and as we grow, we accept those growth spurts. Nick was 12 [when BSB formed], he just turned 37 -- that's a huge span of your life. And with that, it's that testament to the music, to each other personally to the growth and the evolution of what happens in life. And a lot of times people lose that connection because they get lost in the lights and the glamour and their heads get really big. It takes sitting down, communication, thinking. It takes being proud of our product. It is a brand, it's become this sustained stamp of approval, and that's the bar that we set. Nobody set that for us, we set it for ourselves, and we continue to do that.
Everybody's got bags, and you know, the bags get a little worn. But we have to work together to smooth out so that the stage goes the way people want it to go. There's a lot of growing pains that we've been through, that now the acceptance is more natural and easier to come by because we're grown men and we can just talk about what irks us, what pisses us off, what makes us happy.
Why they've wanted to keep going for 24 years (and counting):
Littrell: I think it's bits and pieces of everything. That rush on stage -- it's hard to go without it.
Richardson: Like a professional athlete.
Littrell: It's like a drug, a happy drug. And also, when you look across and you see what we've built together -- it's monumental, it's a moment. That's also fulfilling in a way where you do have that thankful nature toward each other for getting there. There was a time when I was like, "Man, I don't know if I want to keep doing this." It was almost too big -- it was like, I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything. And I'm a normal homebody -- I like to work hard, but I like to go away for a while. But it's that taste, it's that drive, it's that athlete competitor in all of us that really keeps it going and it translates in our music, in the show, in the fan's enjoyment. It's a lot of thought process that people don't think about.
Kevin was talking in the dressing room before we went on stage [opening night of Vegas], "We've been working, working, working. Now, let's go out there and connect with each other." You're so worried about hitting that dance move that you forget that there's this feeling, this camaraderie. It kind of puts you at ease to let your body do it and stop thinking. That's a good place to be, especially for your first show in Vegas. [Laughs] That's why we work so hard to get to that point.
Whether they're where they want to be as a band nowadays
Richardson: When we first started, when we first got our record deal, we had trouble getting a deal. We went to several labels and sang a cappella in their lobbies. And they were like, "Wow you guys are talented," but they wouldn't necessarily sign us because at the time it was right after New Kids on the Block had been huge and there was a bit of a backlash. So the record labels weren't very willing to take a risk on a new group [that was] like New Kids. But from the beginning, the five of us and even our very first manager at the time, we were like "We want people to focus on your voices." That's been something that we have taken pride in, that maybe the average Joe on the street doesn't know about us -- they look at us as some dudes that have some pop songs. But we're vocalists, number one, first and foremost. And that's always what I've wanted to be the through line. The band stops playing, turn the lights off, give us five mics and we'll sing for you in harmony. And that is what I've wanted the world to know.
Earlier in the career I had a chip on my shoulder and I was like, "Man, I want some respect." Now that I'm older, I don't have that chip on my shoulder. Everyone would ask us if we're worried about our shelf life, and I would always say that our goal is to have a career -- and we've manifested it. But that fact that during Millennium and our first album, they're playing our songs on Adult Contemporary stations was a good sign to me that we had some longevity. As far as musically, are we where we're at? We're constantly evolving. Do people respect us? I don't know. I think people respect the fact that we're still here and we're still performing at a high level and we're still in the game. But I don't care, I don't need that validation from anybody. I've got these guys and I'm proud of what I'm doing.
Littrell: But on that note, we're back in the studio working on our 10th album, and we're excited about where it's going to take us. We get tired of some of the same stuff over and over and over, we love singing our songs, but we like to keep it exciting for us. We listen to everything, so that's what I think what makes our sound so special -- we throw it all in a pot and mix it up and see what comes out.