Deciding between Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC was probably the largest life-or-death situation in which a girl growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s could possibly find herself.
At my most basic level, I am simply a lover of music so I tended to enjoy both groups. However, it was made clear by many of my friends that liking both was not an option — in a boy band war, nothing is more critical than choosing sides. Under the pressure, I went for Justin Timberlake’s ramen noodle hair and called it a day.
When I heard that Backstreet Boys were returning to Minneapolis for a nostalgic night at Xcel Energy Center, I knew I couldn’t miss it. It was then I realized my loyalties to *NSYNC may not have been quite what I had made them out to be.
Had I chosen the wrong side all along? I’d have to see what the Backstreet Boys were capable of doing live before deciding if I could be swayed into believing eight-year-old me had made some dire mistake.
Baby Brian is Country Cool
The Backstreet Boys followed only one opening act, who happened to be BSB member Brian Littrell‘s own son. Baylee Littrell has recently launched a career in creating his own music. Instead of following in his father’s exact footsteps, he takes things in a slightly different direction by making country music.
Baylee Littrell’s set started off with a reel showing the Backstreet Boys members giving their best live performance advice, including where to hold your arms out while singing and how to make the best peanut butter sandwich.
The clip was sincerely adorable and I loved seeing how much of a support system Littrell was able to find within the legendary boy band. During his set, he even referred to BSB as “My dad and four uncles,” which was heartwarming.
Littrell’s voice sounded much more refined and mature than I was anticipating, and his backup vocalist added a perfected blend as the two harmonized.
If you want music that captures the “cruising down the backroads with the windows down in the summer while on the way to meet up with your friends and your crush at a bonfire” kind of vibe, Baylee Littrell is your guy. I particularly enjoyed his song “Don’t Knock It“ for embodying that feeling alone.
He made a great first impression on those in the stands. I could have (and should have) made a drinking game out of how many times the other girls around me said, “Oh my gosh, he’s SO cute!”
I can see Baylee Littrell making a successful career for himself, ignoring the fact that he is the son of a Backstreet Boy – to be honest, he doesn’t need that extra boost.
Backstreet’s Back, Alright!
After what felt like an excruciatingly long set up period (I think excitement slows things down by 30%) Backstreet was finally back! An intro played on the screen above the center stage and soon enough it lifted to reveal the five-piece boy band. Dressed in black and red and busting a move, they began singing “Everyone.”
The DNA tour is clearly set to be in support of their newest album, released on January 25th of this year. So I was pleasantly surprised that they opened with a song that came out in 2000 on their Black & Blue album.
As the night continued, I found the 33 song setlist (yes, you read that correctly) held plenty of room for both new album promotion and old favorites.
26 Years? Of Course, I Want it That Way!
After about their third or fourth song, BSB disappeared from the stage except for Brian Littrell. He stood in the center and thanked those in the audience for coming to the show and supporting Backstreet Boys throughout 26 years.
Hold up. Let’s take a minute to unpack that.
Backstreet Boys have been a band longer than a quarter of a century. They have been together one more year than I’ve even been alive. Throughout all of my growing, schooling, and college major changes, Backstreet Boys have been there making music and bringing joy all along.
Hearing that definitely made me put the choice I made at eight years old into perspective – where is *NSYNC now? Not together.
Though coming to that realization was mind-boggling, I didn’t have much time to dwell on it because before I knew it, the Backstreet Boys were back on stage.
This time, they ventured out into the aisles that surrounded a few lucky fans in the middle, holding hands and sharing intimate moments with them as they sang “Nobody Else,” the second track off their newest album.
Baby, I Want You Back
A few songs later, fans found Howie Dorough alone at center stage as Littrell had stood before. Spotlighting members for solo interaction with the crowd to introduce songs they like became a theme throughout the night.
Dorough teased the audience by asking if they remembered him – they, of course, did. He smiled as he thanked everyone for coming and introduced “Chateau” as his favorite song off the new record before flowing into his opening solo.
Just checking, do you remember which one I am?– Howie Dorough
One of my favorite moments during this section of the show occurred in the middle of their song “Incomplete,” where the guys all turned around and threw their hands up as a giant waterfall “splashed” down on them from the screen. The timing was perfect and added so much emotion to the moment.
Backstreet Never Left
It isn’t every day I get to see a boy band live, and it feels like the older I get, the less interested I become in discovering new ones. As someone who has experience with show choir and performance, I was interested in seeing how Backstreet Boys would compare at the professional level after all these years.
I was incredibly impressed. Their moves were clean-cut and intricate, their microphone technique was in check, and to top it all off, they sounded phenomenal – without ever sounding out of tune or out of breath.
Believe me – pulling that off is not easy. I can’t imagine how many hours of rehearsal goes into a Backstreet Boys performance – not to mention one with 33 songs. Wow!
Dressed for Success?
When it came time for AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson to have their private moment with the fans on stage, things got especially intimate. They joked about how the other guys were backstage changing and that they were taking too long which made them come to the conclusion that they obviously had to do their wardrobe change on stage.
There was a tiny dressing room set up in the middle that was just tall enough that they weren’t exposed but short enough that they could stick their heads out and still crack jokes during the process.
Richardson took things one step further by mimicking the “bra tossing” tradition fans usually partake in. He reversed the gesture by throwing a pair of boxers out into the audience. I speak on behalf of the sane people in Xcel Energy Center that night when I say, I hope they were clean!
The gimmick was lighthearted and humorous and a great way to kill a few minutes as the others prepared for the remainder of the show.
Remembering Their Roots
As an older fan who hasn’t been entirely diligent in keeping up with their current music, the second half of the show was definitely my favorite. It was during this time the guys paid tribute to their roots and really built on the nostalgia.
This was made clear when the first two songs they played in the second half were “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” and “As Long As You Love Me.” To be truthful, I probably could have made an even better drinking game out of how many times my hands cupped my head as I stared gape-mouthed in amazement.
One of the cooler parts of the performance was their frequent utilization of the raising stage. Throughout most of the show, they mainly used it to disappear down underneath for a quick outfit change.
One moment that stood out, in particular, was when they all stood on the platform and were lifted up above the audience as they sang “Breathe” a cappella.
It was yet another reference to their beginning as they started out singing a cappella covers together all those years ago. The choir nerd in me was astonished. The fangirl in me was truly soaking up every moment – see a conversation with my boyfriend below for proof.
I couldn’t believe I was seeing the Backstreet Boys.
I had a great view, I was surrounded by others in the crowd who were also feeling that same thankfulness and admiration, and on top of that, I had just professed my love for Nick Carter to my significant other, only for him to completely understand and support me. I really didn’t think things could get any better.
And then, they did.
Something “Everybody” Can Love
The band gathered together center stage onto the moving platform and were slowly lowered down as Littrell exclaimed, “We’re going to take you twenty years back!”
Soon, they reappeared on stage dressed in the iconic all-white outfits and recreated the “hat dance.” If you don’t know what I’m referencing, I’ve included a video of it below:
Immediately after this, they broke into everybody’s favorite song, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” (get it?). This exact moment is what I had anticipated that a Backstreet Boys concert would look like.
The audience danced freely and recklessly with nothing but smiles – almost as if to pay their own tribute to the same moves we used as children when we made up dances to BSB songs to show to our parents.
It was really easy to forget everything that was happening outside of the venue and zone in on the small joys of childhood and the purity of the moment.
Backstreet Boys closed out the night with “Larger Than Life.” Fun fact: my mom used to yell at me for playing this song because the laugh at the beginning scared my little sister.
There I stood, 25 years old without my mother in sight, screaming this song at the top of my lungs and laughing at the idea of my sister crying over it now. (Lex, if you’re reading this, they TOTALLY did the laugh when they played it live and it was awesome).
When it comes to uniting complete strangers, marrying old and new material, dancing with zest, and singing with charisma, Backstreet Boys are unmatched.
You’re probably wondering if I ended up changing my mind in the great boy band debate. I’ll put it this way: as you grow older, you often grow wiser.
I’ll “quit playing games” with the fans on both sides of the argument – you’ll definitely find me at the next local Backstreet Boys concert! #TeamBSB.
Backstreet Boys Setlist:
- I Wanna Be With You
- The Call
- Don’t Want You Back
- Nobody Else
- New Love
- Get Down (You’re the One for Me)
- Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely
- More Than That
- The Way It Was
- Shape of My Heart
- Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)
- As Long as You Love Me
- No Place
- Don’t Wanna Lose You Now
- I’ll Never Break Your Heart
- All I Have to Give
- Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
- We’ve Got It Goin’ On
- It’s Gotta Be You
- That’s the Way I Like It
- Get Another Boyfriend
- The One
- I Want It That Way
32. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
33. Larger Than Life