RCA Records · January 25, 2019
(A lightbulb for each decade since they were last relevant)
In an attempt to reclaim some degree of relevance, the Backstreet Boys released DNA, an album that is all too similar to their 1999 sensation Millennium. As the digital streaming age becomes more profitable for artists, many musicians are coming out of retirement. The successful returners are the ones who show personal and musical growth; however, the backstreet boys show neither.
“We used to be better… Is it just me?” – “Is It Just Me”
One of the biggest traps for returning artists is the tendency to rewrite old songs. The Backstreet Boys walk straight into that trap with a rotating combination of heavy-synth pop, middle school slow dance, and love songs that reeks of horoscope-level generality. Twenty years ago, when all the members were fresh out of their teens, their music was perfect for the boy-band pop music culture of the late-’90s/early ’00s. But now they fall between the ages of 39-47 and they should have never tried to put up a fight with Shawn Mendes and Sam Smith. The Backstreet Boys are trying to appeal to teenage girls of both the past & present, but neither is interested.
“People change and memories fade, but could you stay the same if nothing else.” – “Nobody Else”
The album itself struggles when walking the thin line between boy-band and a cappella. On the fourth song of the album, “New Love,” they fall victim to proximity. The song is okay, but it is one that I would expect to hear in Blackman Hall, not TD Garden. Every line in the chorus is repeated by dueling pitches, harmonizing with a little extra help from autotune. Acapella can be good if done right, but their use of autotune is accompanied by superficial lyrics that don’t leave the listener with anything to remember.
“Don’t say it’s the wrong thing (Don’t say it’s the wrong thing)/ ‘Cause it don’t feel like the wrong thing (Don’t feel like the wrong thing, oh yeah).” – “New Love”
They struggle with voice, message, and perspective. Yet, the Backstreet Boys still managed to get a song nominated for a Grammy: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is up for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at this year’s awards. The group is thriving on shock-factor right now — their last Grammy nomination was in 2003, and the lyrics in that song were godawful. But, the good news is that they will get squashed — if not by “The Middle,” then certainly by “Girls Like You.”
“I’m not that kind of person who can fall in and out of love with you/ That’s not what love is supposed to do.” – “Don’t Go Breakin My Heart”
DNA isn’t a good album, but it does serve as an excellent conversation starter. Next time you don’t know what to say to someone, please do ask them: “Did you hear the Backstreet Boys dropped an album?” and watch shock smack them in the face. Over the past week, I’ve tested this out on my aunt, some friends, my boss, and strangers I met at the Boston Public Library with results consistent across the board. The music gives people a chance to think about what they were doing in 1999— I was one-year-old and could still touch my toes — but it is not capable of giving them a reason to stay there.