Backstreet Boys: We never said we were cool

Story highlights

  • Backstreet Boys are celebrating their 20th anniversary
  • They are the best-selling boy band of all time
  • Their new album is in stores now, and a tour starts today
On a cooler-than-usual summer evening in Los Angeles, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, A.J. McClean and Kevin Richardson -- aka the Backstreet Boys -- got back to what made them famous: singing and dancing in front of hoards of screaming (mostly female) pop music fans.
The free concert closed out The Grove's 2013 Summer Concert Series, a month-long promotion that included performances by Sara Evans and Capital Cities in previous weeks. The Boys' 35-minute set attracted 17,500 fans.
The performance comes just one day after the release of the band's latest studio album, "In A World Like This" -- they released two additional albums without Kevin Richardson -- and continues their 20th anniversary celebration, which includes receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an upcoming documentary film and a world tour that kicks off Friday, August 2 in Chicago.
With more than 130-million album sales worldwide, the Backstreet Boys know they are the best-selling boy band of all time, but they also know this one-time golden statistic has, to a degree, lost its sheen amid the music's industry's new measures of success: ticket sales, sponsorships, downloads, clicks, tweets and Likes. By this standard, the Boys are not quite back.
With ages ranging from 33 (Carter) to 41 (Richardson), any one of the Backstreet Boys could have been Justin Bieber's much older brother, if not his father -- and it's not missed on the guys just how big a difference one generation can make.
In a candid and revealing turn, the men of the Backstreet Boys offer their take on music in the age of YouTube, react to the "haters" and explain why starting their careers in schools, malls and pet stores was just right for them.
CNN: Describe your new album in a word.
Brian Littrell: Growth.
Howie Dorough: Timeless.
A.J. McLean: Truth.
Nick Carter: Comfortable.
Kevin Richardson: Inspired.
CNN: You have a lot of fans -- and a lot of haters out there. What do you say to those that question your cool factor, relevance and place in the music industry?
Carter: We never thought we were cool.
Richardson: We never claimed to be cool.
McLean: We never said that.
Carter: We're just guys that love music.
Richardson: We love music. We do what we love and have fun and enjoy it, and put out positive vibes and energy. Yeah man, just create!
Carter: We worked hard to get where we are now. We busted our asses. It's been 20 years, you know? The grassroots approach starting overseas. Starting in Germany when America didn't want to have any association with us.
Littrell: There was no Internet, you know? You couldn't just toss your music up in the air and let it stick somewhere.
CNN: Things were very different in the music business 20 years ago. What's been the biggest challenge?
Richardson: If you want to have a long career in this industry, it's a given that there will be waves -- highs and lows -- like a boat rocking on the ocean. It goes up and down and up and down. Knowing that and working through it and riding through it is what sustains you. As well as your fans.
McLean: We don't ever settle. We always try to set new goals for every album cycle. From the music to the producers to what we actually want to sing about, write about. And keep trying to push the limits of who we are and who we want to keep being and grow into. Backstreet Boys will never settle.
CNN: Your first album came out in 1996, but you're calling this your 20-year anniversary. What happened in '93?
Richardson: That's when we formed. We got signed in '94, beginning of '95, but the five of us got together in '93. Between when we got together and when we got signed, we went on the road and did a school tour in a van. There are still people who come up to us on the street and say, "You performed at my elementary school in Pennsylvania when I was 7 years old!" We didn't play in bars to build our fan base, we played high schools, middle schools, elementary schools.
McLean: Grand opening of pet stores! You name it!
Richardson: The parking lot of a car dealership. We did it. Wherever we could play and get exposure. Wherever we could sing a cappella and show people that we're not just pretty faces, we actually have talent, we can sing. We sing with passion, we sing with soul and we love to sing. That's what we did.
CNN: That was your YouTube back then.
Richardson: Yeah, we got discovered via a VHS tape to a record label. Now people are uploading videos on the Internet and that's how they get discovered.
CNN: Do you have an opinion about which way is harder?
Carter: It's all relative. We're not taking away from people's hard work nowadays, it's just a different world. I can't relate necessarily. I can only say what we've gone through. But, the social media with YouTube and everything, it does give people an opportunity to expose yourself and if you have talent it will come out. I think that's a great thing. If we had had that back then, who knows?
Dorough: But it was during that time that we were developing.
Richardson: We were growing. We were learning who we are.
Carter: I think the fact that we took our time getting around the world, that's one of the other reasons why we're able to be here and have this staying power. Because sometimes the social media, it's so fast, that people get it, but to hold on to it, it isn't there.
CNN: Any last words?
Richardson: Ultimately, we just want to say that our fans -- number one -- is why we're still here.