Published on September 3rd, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Millennium’ – Backstreet Boys 
Summary: The third album by the Backstreet Boys was bigger than the millennium itself. Although it’s as formulaic as it gets, BSB manages to hit on can’t-fake-it soul once or twice.
Released: May 18, 1999
Producers include: Max Martin, Rami Yacoub, Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 1
Top 40 U.S. Singles: 4
Like it or not, we lived through musical history the summer of 1999.
I know what you’re thinking. The Titanic made history too, right? But 1999 was really the recording industry’s last marquee year before a (de-)evolution that probably began with Napster. Ten years later, the fallout was undeniable. CNN reported in 2009 that total revenue from U.S. music sales was at $6.3 billion. A decade earlier, that figure topped $14.6 billion.
But in 1999 several blockbuster debuts went unscathed. Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time was released that year. So was Christina Aguilera’s maiden disc. The debut English-language record from Ricky Martin dropped as well. Beyond that, Santana’s Supernatural sold tens of millions of copies and won nine Grammys. Shania Twain’s Come on Over, released that November, also did dynamite business.
But nothing, and I mean nothing, was as big as the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium. Released in May, Milennium has sold more than 30 million copies, putting it on par with milestone albums like U2’s The Joshua Tree, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual.
But let me stop there. I want to reiterate the point of the work at Overdue Review is to look back – with the wisdom of years – and re-evaluate classics and non-classics alike. The point is objectivism. But to this day, when I think of the Backstreet Boys, I think of Hell.
By Hell, I mean Mary Goldsmith (name changed). She loved all the Backstreet Boys – A.J. McLean, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson and Howie Dorough. But it was Howie that she liked the most. I would have given my left arm to skate a couple laps around the roller rink with her, but she was stuck on another man. She was stuck on Howie. And it seemed like there were a hundred Mary Goldsmiths in my town. They all had T-shirts, Trapper Keepers, key chains, folders, books, stickers, pins, posters and magazines. It was all BSB all the time.
BSB play the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, to an audience of teen worshippers.
This may not shock you, but I’ve always been slightly outside of the mainstream. When BSB was popular, I thought it was sappy and generic. Prior to this post, I told two people I had decided to review the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium. “Oh, Jesus,” said Overdue creator and editor-at-large Clint Davis. When I told my fiancé, she exclaimed, “I LOVED that album. Is that the one with the mom song on it?” Yes, it is. So let’s start there. At the end.
The last track on the album is called “The Perfect Fan.” It follows in the footsteps of *NSYNC’s “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You.” I can only assume the ode to mom shifted the melting of hearts into hyper speed. I mean, look at my own lovely lady. I mention Millennium and it’s the first tune she asked about. “The Perfect Fan” pops with blue-eyed soul as gospel-tinged harmonies end the album in a hushed fashion, which is much different than the way the record begins.
Millennium opens with an up-tempo tribute to their fans. “Larger Than Life” brings boom-bap drum loops and faux rock guitars. Sonically, it’s a wannabe “Beat It.” Throughout the song – and the rest of the album, really – the Boys are flirting with their fans.
The video for “Larger Than Life,” a U.S. Top 25 hit for the group.
From “Larger Than Life:”
Looking at the crowd
And I see your body sway
Wishin’ I could thank you in a different way
I guess I understand how a preteen could have gotten swept up in Backstreet mania. They had probably outgrown Disney but hadn’t grown into hip hop. Rock music was for the boys. Theater tunes were off limits with most of their friends. Most importantly, these were girls who were probably thinking they were ready to date and the Backstreet Boys were marketed as five Prince Charmings. They could even be compartmentalized. A.J. was the “wild” one, Brian was the “boy next door,” Nick was the “heartthrob.”
You get the picture.
It was all just corporate white-boy funk. Uptempo tunes were kind of Prince-ish, if you remove Prince’s edge, musicianship, sex, versatility, vulgarity, legal prowess and mystique. But don’t get me wrong, the album has its likable moments.
“Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” was a Top 10 hit thanks to can’t-fake-it soul and an emotional music video. Spanish guitar flourishes bring some worldliness to BSB’s palette and I have to say this is the song I listened to the most while rediscovering Millennium. The other highlight, of course, is the signature tune “I Want It That Way.” Immediately identifiable and hummable, it’s now hard to believe the song wasn’t even a Number One hit. In fact, it didn’t crack the Top Five – it peaked at Number Six.
But if someone would have set “I Want It That Way” down in front of Michael Jackson, he would have recorded it. It was immediately accessible.
The video for “I Want It That Way” spent 47 days at #1 on MTV’s Total Request Live.
Unfortunately much of the rest of the album is made up of songs reminiscent of Disney ballads. They tend to go for sweeping and romantic but end up sounding like a rushed love letter. Take “Back to Your Heart,” for example. It falls right in between of Barry Manilow and Boyz II Men.
From “Back to Your Heart:”
I don’t know how it got so crazy
But I’ll do anything to set things right
Cuz your love is so amazing
Baby you’re the best thing in my life
“Don’t Wanna Lose You Now” treads along similar lines but it’s “Spanish Eyes” that really induces eye rolls.
From “Spanish Eyes:”
Here we are
In the arms of one another
And we still go on searching for each other
Knowing that hate is wrong
And love is right
The Backstreet Boys themselves didn’t do much writing, although Littrell receives a co-writing credit on “Larger Than Life,” “The One” and “The Perfect Fan.” Richardson gets a co-writing credit on “Back to Your Heart.” Producer Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Shania Twain) gets a co-writing credit on “It’s Gotta Be You.”
The star writer is Swedish producer and songwriter Max Martin, who literally wrote all of the hits on Millennium. Martin, who was once in a metal band in the mid-80s called It’s Alive, is one of the most accomplished songwriters in the history of pop music. He’s written or has had a hand in writing 51 Top 10 hits. Around the time he was writing for the Backstreet Boys, he also penned “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops!… I Did It Again” for Britney Spears.
Later he would write Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love,” Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat.” Katy Perry may be Martin’s favorite though. For her he’s written “Hot N Cold,” “I Kissed A Girl,” “Teenage Dream,” California Gurls,” “Part of Me,” “Roar,” “Dark Horse” and “Wide Awake.” Martin is currently represented on the charts. He produced Ariana Grande’s “Problem.” He once said he has “public music education to thank for everything.” Think about that next time your local board of education starts mulling cuts to the music department.
The Backstreet Boys have sold more than 130 million albums and are the best selling boy band in the history of music. Millennium found a mass audience because the group and the tunes were fun to root for. The legions of fans who bought the album weren’t thinking about Lou Pearlman’s formula, but it worked because it fit a theme that would hold them over until the next TRL airing.
*NSYNC may have hung ‘em up in 2002, but BSB still tours with all of its original members. It’s largely a “remember when” affair, but BSB seems at ease with their legacy. They even made a cameo in the 2013 Seth Rogen comedy This is the End.
Millennium’s collection of non-threatening pop and soul is still their crowning achievement. It’s what they’ll be remembered for, and I mean that in more ways than one.
Millennium represented the end of an era. For better or worse.