It’s been six years since the Backstreet Boys last released an album. But it’s been nearly 20 since the iconic boy band (man band?) last topped the charts at the peak of its popularity.
Now, suprisingly, these five guys have soared back to the pinnacle of pop. The band’s ninth studio album, DNA, debuted at No. 1, its success driven by bundling album sales with tickets for the band’s upcoming summer tour (a sales-buffing tactic that Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, Bon Jovi and Dave Matthews have all used in the last few years).
Fans accustomed to old-school Backstreet Boys harmonies may be surprised to hear that the group’s new “genetic material” incorporates some fresh new styles. DNA mixes synth-pop sounds with an EDM vibe at times, demonstrating that this aging quintet is serious about reaching a contemporary audience.
But even as the guys flit between vocal styles similar to Maroon 5, Pentatonix and Charlie Puth, they also preserve remnants of their trademark vocals as they focus on love, heartbreak and intimate times with lovers. The 2019 version of the band may not sound exactly like the one you grew up with. But they’re definitely still the Backstreet Boys—in some good ways and some not so good.
In “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” a man who has been hurt in the past asks his beloved to commit or leave, because he wants the real thing: “So if you’re gonna love me, love me right, yeah/But if you’re gonna be someone that hurts/Somebody just for fun/Then do it to a heart that isn’t mine.”
Songs such as “Breathe (DNA),” “Is It Just Me” and “Chateau” find a man recovering from heartbreak and wishing he could turn back time to better days with a long-lost love. In “Is It Just Me” he says, “We used to talk about growing old, now I don’t know.” And in “Chateau,” a lovelorn guy pines for one more chance: “Would you come back around?/’Cause I need you right now.”
A lasting love is also the focus of “Chances,” “Nobody Else,” “No Place” and “OK.” Travelling the world doesn’t hold a candle to being with the woman you love in “No Place” (“I’ve been all around the world, done all there is to do/But you’ll always be the home I wanna come home to”). And a guy has finally found the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with in “OK” (“We fit together, you make me better/Whatever it takes, I’m here forever”).
Sex, physical intimacy and infidelity are frequent topics on this album. “Breathe (DNA),” “New Love,” “Passionate,” “Just Like You Like It,” “Is It Just Me,” “No Place,” “OK,” “Chances,” “Chateau” and “The Way It Was” all either talk openly about a sexual encounter or hint at what happens between the sheets.
“New Love” is about a man who yearns for casual sex with no strings attached (“Who are you, the sex police?/My sex ain’t got no rules/Got a million options next to me, yeah/Let me do what I do”), while “Breathe (DNA)” features a guy who looks back longingly on a past sexual encounter (“Secrets sleeping all over this bed/Memories of what we did/Got mixed with you”). And on “Is It Just Me,” a man wonders if his lover is sleeping with someone else: “Never forget, night that we met, you had another one/You did it then, you’d do it again, now I’m the other one.”
We hear references to drinking (including drinking to forget) on “Nobody Else” (“And just last night I had some red wine and it/Brought me back”), “The Way It Was” (“Drinking it away, pretending I don’t need ya”) and “Chateau.”
“No Place” includes a single use of “h—.”
Love is a tricky thing. It’s not merely a word or a feeling, but an action, a choice. And when you don’t understand that love is also a verb—an actual commitment—things can get really messy. That mess is evident on the Backstreet Boys’ comeback album.
Songs here often shift between voicing a desire for true commitment and wanting nothing more than casual sex. Yes, we hear some moving lyrics about empathy and fidelity. But there are just as many lines that focus on fickle factors and lustful longings.
When those themes are combined, it results in a strand of musical DNA that’s genuine and honest, but confused and shallow. And even though these guys are hypothetically old enough now to know the difference, their latest effort too often suggests they’d still rather behave like boys.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).