By: Viet Doan
Way before they begged us not to break their hearts, the Backstreet Boys were promoting a message of peace and goodwill the likes of which had not been heard of since the days of Socrates. Their songs were about inclusion and acceptance. They didn’t care who you were, where you were from, or what you’ve done. Everybody got to rock their bodies.
But while BSB was doing their best to steer humanity in the right direction, we often ignored their music’s message, as illustrated with their hit album Millennium. In order to really appreciate this, we are going to have travel back in time…
…to the year 1999. Y2K was scary, being termed “millennial” was trendy(?!), and you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing the (seemingly) narcissistic “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. What does “that” refer to, anyways? Which way did we want it, philosophically speaking? It seemed to be one of the most lyrically ambiguous/confusing songs of all time. Or is it? More on that later.
Every station was riding the teenager’s coattails into profit-land, and if you stood outside in the carpool line long enough, at some point you’d probably catch ol’ Nick crooning “tell me why?!” Most kids these days probably don’t know what a radio is. Back in the day, that’s how people listened to music.
Quick BBYK science lesson in radios:
So, music leaves a device called a “transmitter” in the form of waves. Ever been surfing? Basically, waves just like that. These waves move like, hella fast. Like speed of light fast, my dudes! So these waves are moving around all Usain-Bolt-fast and sh** until they reach what is called a “receiver.” This makes all the electrons inside the receiver super happy because they just love a good tune. So they start freak’n and vibe’n around a tiny dance floor. All of this commotion produces a ton of energy that forms an electrical current. Imagine like, when Thor smashes down on a bunch of bi***-a** baddies. This electrical current, like a movie reboot, mirrors the original source. Think more a frame for frame recreation like Psycho — and not bullsh***y, like Total Recall. That is 100% how radios work… more or less.
Seriously, read a book you guys. The reason you don’t listen to a radio now for music is that thanks to one of these dudes:
radio is now on the mother-f’n INTERNET!!!
So that was 1999. Let’s jump ahead to the early 2000’s.
America’s angry, and definitely a touch insecure. Oh the angst… and our music reflected it. 3 Doors Down lamented about us being “Losers,” while Creed took the opportunity to poach the edgy Christian crowd with “Arms Wide Open.” We were all a bit Disturbed living in a “Land of Confusion.” We felt trapped, Trapt felt “Headstrong,” and Chevelle told us to send “All of the Pain Below.” Puddle of Mudd reminded us that our girlfriends hated us…
Nickelback said “Never Again,” but failed to listen to there own advice. You are probably feeling angry just reading that, desperately waiting to tell me in the comments that I used the wrong “their” there. Just to feel some control.
I feel you, yo. Even the Black Eye Peas added to the message of anger and despair with their hyper violent and highly controversial “BOOM BOOM POW!” It’s no surprise that when something with a positive message broke through on the radio, we all stopped and listened.
Here were the Backstreet Boys, back, and feeling black and blue. They looked back on the things they had done, and they had to admit they were pretending to be someone. Just playing their part (for Illuminati, look into it), while keeping everyone else in the dark. While the world was focused on hate and anger, the Boys were now anatomically focused. This, they boldly proclaimed, was the shape of their heart.
Let humanity know this heart shape. Link is born with three hearts. Most of us are born with one. Each heart capable of infinite love. The Boys were sorry it took so long for them to reach back out to a world desperately in need of a hug. It had been a full 18 months since their last album at that point. Learning their lesson, they released their next album less than a year later.
Even when they talked about dark subject matters, there was a message of hope. I mean, “Drowning?” They are going to harmonize about the straight up 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death?! The fact of the matter was, they were drowning… in love. Not drowning while in love, but rather they were drowning in the substance of love. Every time they tried to rise above the surface, they got swept up in a wave of love. Remember radio waves from earlier? Exactly like that. Every time they breathe in love, their heart started to beat again. Their message to the world: love literally (figuratively) saves lives.
If you take the time to really listen, the Backstreet Boys have been fixated on the human heart for quite some time. In case you don’t know, the heart is a pretty dope organ. It works tirelessly, continuously pumping love and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body to sustain life. Your heart beats like 100,000 times per day, pumping five or six quarts of blood each minute, about 2,000 freaking gallons per day!
Without blood, we die. Without love, we die(-ish). And while the world was out for blood, the Boys have been out for love. It was in their music all along. Going back to the Millennium album, they warned us of a world without love in their hit song “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely.”
On the surface, it seems like a ballad for people that play Magic the Gathering. It was so much more. It was a cry for introspection. “How can it be,” they asked, that we would ask them to “feel the things (we) never showed.” Love can’t just come from one direction. These weren’t the One Way Street Boys. Again, they demanded that we, the world, “tell (them) why!” Looking back, Millennium may just be the most inquisitive album of all time. Of. All. Time.
Like a lighthouse to a foggy world, the Backstreet Boys took our collective hands and did their best to guide us in the direction of good. Like the Brothers who warned us about losing that love and feeling, the Boys wanted us to be Righteous. They were a musical Django, their melodies unchained.
When we were afraid that they had left us again, they reminded us on their Never Gone album that they were never gone from our lives. “(They) Just Want(ed) Us To Know,” that they still had our backs. When we thought our bond could break, they reminded us that our bond was “Unbreakable.” When we forgot who we were, they held up a mirror and reminded us that “This is Us.”
Despite their best efforts, the world was still a scary place filled with dictators and Kardashians. How could we survive “In a World like This?” The Backstreet Boys knew how. They knew some of us may back down. That we may fall apart during a time where nothing comes from the heart. In a world like that? They got us. But we needed to figure some stuff out on our own too. They gave us our space and left us for a good while. Said that they would be back in the distant future to check on us.
And now they have come back to the future, which is the present to the past them. So if you haven’t listened to the radio since the 00’s, it might come as a surprise to tune in and hear a band you might have assumed disappeared like all of those other bands that vanished after the 00’s. Remember when you had a hard time getting up that one day, and when you finally woke up, Evanescence* was no longer around.
Well not so fast. Like the Dark Knight in Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie, the Boys rose. When we last saw them, they were merely men. Now they have triumphantly returned as slightly older MEN. Yeah boy … the Boys are back!
And they are here to remind the world of the Golden Rule: Be excellent to one another. That was the “that” in “I Want it That Way.” That’s why they danced around an airport, because this issue went beyond any one country. This was an international call to excellence. They wanted us to treat each other with dignity and respect. Not to lose ourselves in our worst traits. No longer should we be defined by a receding hairline or a pair of khakis. We will praise each other when we demonstrate great foresight in fantasy football or when we stop by the store to get milk, not because we were reminded, but because we were out of milk! This was their vision all along. We can go all the way back to one of their original hits “Quit Playing Games” to see this.
What was the object to these games? Their heart. For years we kept playing around and we didn’t take them seriously. How they wished they could have turned back time, but time is a flat circle, as we all know. So instead they were stuck doing their best to warn us through beautiful harmonies and choreographed dance moves. When we told them back then that we didn’t want to buckle down and accept responsibilities, that we wanted to play games… they answered in unison:
Na na na na na na, Na na na na na baby, Na na na na naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
It could not have been any more clear. Now they are back, perhaps for the final time (but probably not). Now they are serious. Like Al-Gore-level -super-duper serial! The Boys have done their part, we needed to do our’s. And now they look out at all of us as if to say, “don’t let us down. Don’t let yourself down. We believe in you…
…don’t go breaking our hearts.”
*Apparently Evanescence is still around and making music. Small miracles my friends.