Being one of The Backstreet Boys, according to members Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough, and AJ McLean, is like living in a five-way marriage. Twenty-eight years on, their union is stronger than ever: The guys are back in the studio, working on their new Christmas album and first-ever Las Vegas holiday show. They’re planning to resurrect their DNA tour, which has been postponed twice amid the pandemic. And they’re still finding time to rag on each other.
In the decades they’ve known each other, the trio — plus members Nick Carter and Brian Littrell — have been through a lot: superstardom in the late 1990s followed by a hiatus in the early 2000s, Richardson leaving rejoining the group, and now, a recent resurgence. In that time, they’ve developed an easy companionship — and embraced their group’s appeal.
The goal nowadays, Howie says, is to have the audience leave a show “never feeling like they ever missed anything.” And while the group will always strive to be “trendsetters and trailblazers,” AJ says, “I think we’re now just trying to have more fun than maybe take ourselves too seriously. You know? You gotta loosen up the reins a little bit.”
Where better to loosen up than Vegas? The Boys’ newest endeavor, “A Very Backstreet Christmas Party,” will take them back to Sin City after their hit 2017-2019 residency. “Come see your boys in Vegas!” Kevin says, promising the shows in November and December will feature a mix of classic holiday tunes, “Christmas-ized” Backstreet hits, and new original songs.
According to Kevin, this is all part of the bigger plan to be “the Rolling Stones of pop music.” The Backstreet Boys are shooting for longevity, building a legacy by giving longtime fans exactly what they love — with a little novelty thrown in for good measure.
Below, Kevin, Howie, and AJ talk to Bustle about their decades-long collaboration, what fans can expect from their new show, and how they’re bringing Christmas to their summertime recording sessions.
While writing your new songs, where did you look for inspiration?
Kevin: For our Christmas album, we’re also writing and recording new original Christmas songs. So our goal was, Hey, let’s see if we can create a new classic Christmas song, to try and do something like Mariah Carey’s album, All I Want For Christmas. We’re gonna shoot for the moon, see if we can hit it. At least the stars.
What is it like being back in the studio together?
AJ: It’s been great. Doing a Christmas album in the summertime is a little backwards. But we have a Christmas tree up in the vocal booth, and we’ve got stockings on the wall, and a fire on the Apple TV going, to get us in the whole holiday spirit. Getting back in there and singing songs that we all sang growing up during the holidays and then putting our classic Backstreet Boys harmony on there … it’s been awesome.
What should fans expect from the show?
Howie: Kevin said it before, it’s going to be like you’re going to an office Christmas party that feels at first kind of stuffy, but by the end of the night — with enough eggnog and adult beverages — the boss is on the table screaming and singing his lungs off. So everyone’s going to have fun by the end of the night and feel like they walked away in the Christmas spirit.
Which songs from your first album do you think about the most, and why? Or is it all about the future?
Kevin: I think a little of both. I think we’re always looking ahead to the future. We always want to be inspired. We’re inspired by what we read, what we see, other artists. We want to try to evolve our sound [while] at the same time honoring our sound — which is, when the five of us come together, our vocals together make one unique instrument that no one else can duplicate. So we try to celebrate and stay true to that.
You’ve said you want to be the “the Rolling Stones of pop music.” What do you mean by that?
Kevin: When we first started this journey together, everybody was like, “Oh, it’s your second album, are you worried about the sophomore slump?” That worked out pretty well. And then our third album, “Oh, how are you gonna top [it]?”
Basically, we’ve just been trying to create music that we love. And our goal has always been to have longevity and have a career. So to set a goal of where we want to be in the future: Well, who’s still doing it? Who’s out there killing it right now? You’ve got the Rolling Stones, you’ve got the Eagles, you’ve got Bon Jovi out there. [Musicians] that have a legacy and a catalogue that has affected people so much. U2, Coldplay. So yeah, the Rolling Stones of pop — I like it. Thirty years from now, be rocking in rocking chairs onstage. Rocking your body right!
How has your relationship to each other evolved?
Howie: It’s funny because we all say — we’re all now married — but this was actually our first marriage. We’ve all known each other more than half of our lives. We’ve seen the best of each other, we’ve seen the worst of each other. We’ve had to be there for each other. We have a lot of love for each other. We’ve also had a lot of pain that we’ve caused each other. But that’s helped us all grow to be the group that we are now, to be able to understand each other, to be able to support each other, to have things to write and sing about, to know that we’re on this journey. We’re all learning even to this day, after being together almost 30 years … I think now we probably have more of a respect for each other and understanding [of] what we can do, what we want to do, and what we don’t want to do. I think it’s at a better place now than ever.
What was the biggest challenge you faced early on, and how does it compare to what new artists go through now?
AJ: I think now … everything is instant, and it’s out to the masses. Everyone has opinions, and a lot of people comment on things, sometimes not the best comments, and deter people from following their dreams. But I’ve said it before: Don’t listen to the haters, do what you love to do. Stay on your own path, and follow your dreams. We’ve done the same thing. We’ve had shows where we’ve been booed off the stage. That’s part of growing up in this business is that you’re going to have highs and lows, but you’ve got to just stay in your own path and stay true to yourself.
Who are some of the new artists you’re into?
AJ: I mean, not new, per se, I do love Dua Lipa —
AJ: H.E.R. is amazing. And even though he’s not that new, Ed Sheeran is beyond talented. Bruno [Mars], you know. Silk Sonic…
Kevin: Silk Sonic is killing it! I love me some Silk Sonic, mmhm. Make sure you play that one.
Favorite Christmas movie and favorite Christmas song. Go!
AJ: Favorite Christmas movie is Christmas Vacation, it’s kind of tied with Christmas Story but that’s two.
Howie: That’s two, AJ!
AJ: Ok, fine. I’ll say Elf, ok?
Kevin: Oh, my God!
Howie: God, AJ, God!
AJ: These are obviously great Christmas movies because we’re all thinking the same thing.
Kevin: Yeah, these could be all three of ours…
AJ: Favorite Christmas song? Wow. I would have to say the Christmas song. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”
Howie: That’s my favorite, too. You know it’s my favorite too. I’m gonna give you a sack of coal for Christmas.
AJ: That’s what you’ve been giving me every year!
Howie: I know, you don’t know any different.
This article has been edited and condensed.