"Leaving Neverland" Made Me Second Guess the Intentions of the Backstreet Boys
I was driving to work this morning and listening to the Backstreet Boys.
I never really cared for their music, but every now and then I will revisit some old music to reexamine it and see if it is has aged well. During these deep dives and second chances, I have found several artists that I initially overlooked or underappreciated.
I have also found some absolute shit.
Here are some examples of "music" that has not aged well:
Circa 1997, the Backstreet Boys were everywhere and their simple harmonizing vocals over stock electronic beats made most teenage girls go bananas. Couple their “talent” for sultrily singing the word “yeeeeeeaaaaa” with their boyish good looks and they became a genuine pop phenomenon.
Their songs are so formulaic and designed to feed into the fantasies of young girls that I found myself wondering if this was a form of sexual or mental manipulation aimed at children. I mean, let’s face it, their vague lyrics about an unnamed girl whom they often refer to as "baby" or more vaguely with “you” are kinda creepy and obsessive.
If you do the math, (which I did) by the time they hit legitimate super-stardom in 1999, the average age of the group was 24.
Anecdotally, their targeted demographic seemed to be comprised of young girls aged 11-16. During these developmental years, girls are often struggling with the transition into adulthood and feeling pretty insecure and vulnerable while trying to fit into the rigid social structures of middle-school.
Then along comes some handsome 24 year old millionaire and his posse of young fresh-faced studs wearing fedoras or sporting a bowl cut that puts Jonathan Talyor Thomas to shame. This guy tells you, through his smooth harmonies, that you are the most special and wonderful thing ever.
I can hear people now saying “but they portrayed a positive message to young girls” and their songs were all just fun pop tunes. But just listen to their lyrics…
Almost every one of their songs is directed at “You” as if they are having a private conversation with their swooning impressionable young female fans. In fact, between their first two albums, Backstreet Boys and Backstreet’s Back, I counted over 600 uses of forms of the word “you”. Their song “As Long As You Love Me” has 61 uses of the word “you” within its lyrics alone...
So I am willing to admit that maybe it’s because I recently watched the HBO Documentary “Leaving Neverland” and have been thinking a lot about child predators and some of Michael Jackson’s songs like “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Things)” and “Keep it in the Closet”. Now knowing about his alleged sexual encounters with young boys... those songs seem super disturbing to me.
As a father of two young boys, this documentary left me feeling very hyper-vigilant about protecting my kids from online predators, sex offenders, and the whole NAMBLA crowd. Like Chris Hansen with a Vendetta.
But, in my defense, think about this… if a 24 year-old sent the following BSB lyrics as a text message to your middle school aged son or daughter, wouldn’t you be a little hesitant to allow the relationship to continue?
I'm not saying that the Backstreet Boys are guilty of sex crimes or manipulating minors... I'm just making a case that these dudes are creepy af.