The Backstreet Boys

A Theoretical Perspective

The world of music produces legends that put their stamp on particular moments of time. As we all know, music started in 1957. Baseball had just moved to California, and man had recently evolved from what has now come to be known as the Era of Really Bad Crap. This time period includes such musical disasters as early swing, the Big Bands (which really weren’t as big as the name implies), Doo-wop, and Pat Boone. As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, which is what decades tend to do when they end, rock and/or roll began to emerge. The Beatles burst upon the scene sometime around 1964, possibly on a Wednesday. The Rolling Stones, who had sailed to the United States on a make-shift raft to avoid political persecution, recorded their first song “La Cucaracha” soon thereafter.

No one is quite certain what happened between 1967 and 1978, but it is assumed that Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac, and Jimi Hendrix were involved. With the dawn of the 1980s, legendary bands such as Asia touched our hearts with the beautiful and touching “The Heat of the Moment,” while Scandal demonstrated the emerging sexuality of women with “The Warrior” and it’s legendary line: “Shooting down the walls of heartache/Bang Bang/I am The Warrior.” Now, as the millennium draws to a close, a brave and courageous group has stepped forward to lead our musical culture forward into a new age: the Backstreet Boys.

It is easy to dismiss BSB as merely another boy band cut in the image of New Kids on the Block. It is very, very, very easy. It is also just as easy to make jokes to the effect of the alleged thinly veiled homoerotic themes the band seems to emit through actions, looks, and song titles (for example, claiming that the original titles of two of their big hits should have been “As Long as You Love Me and You Are a Man”, and “I Take It That Way”). We must, as a civilized, enlightened society, suppress these urges no matter how obvious it is to us that all five of the Boys would prefer the company of men. Rather than being a silly, worthless, not-long-forthis- world pop band, the Backstreet Boys are the philosophers of the present. Just as impossible to understand as noted thinker Michel Foucault but much more attractive, the band deals with concepts so shocking and complex that until now it was thought such areas of thought were restricted only to Protists and Fungi. Nothing better demonstrates this than their hit single “I Want It That Way.”

The listener is left to his or her own devices to decide which is the way that “it” is truly wanted, whatever “it” happens to be. The Boys, true to form, never say. Some have concluded that they are proposing a threesome, others suggest that they are asking for animals to be included in a sexual act of some sort. What we do know is that there is a definite double standard at work: while BSB does indeed “want it that way,” they do NOT want to hear that “you” (who or whatever that may be) “want it that way.” Furthermore, to call someone “[their] fire” is reminiscent of Bananarama’s remake of “Venus,” where they claim to be someone’s “fire.” Are the Backstreet Boys proposing a love of Bananarama? Would anyone ever in their right mind do such a thing?

In the most haunting section of the song, BSB asks of its intended audience to tell them why it “…ain’t nothing but a heartache.” What kind of unfeeling bastards minimize the pain of spurned love? Paying homage to the Socratic/Jewish mother method, they quickly follow their first question with another, asking to know why it “…ain’t nothing but a mistake.” Thus they have equated the “heartache” with being a “mistake,” a clever rhetorical trick as well as a nifty rhyme. Something or someone has performed an action that has severely hurt the writer of the song who, based on the Boys’ collective intelligence, is probably not a part of the band proper. Are the Backstreet Boys your fire?

Are they your one desire? If the answer is no, then I personally would rather not hear you say that you want it that way. So you can have your “Genie in a Bottle,” and your “Livin’ la Vida Loca.” Me? I’ll just take my Boys, because love is all I have to give.