Thursday, October 31, 2019

Backstreet Boys in Paris

“I’ve been to Paris…”

Cue the screaming of thousands of Backstreet Boys fans that drowned out the next line of their new song, No Place. I think it’s something about Rome but who cares? The Boys were singing about Paris, our city. And there they were IN PARIS! Singing to US!

Among those screaming fans, shamelessly reliving their youth and singing their hearts out at the AccorHotel Arena, fitting in perfectly with the early to mid-30s demographic, was me. I even wore the same leather jacket I bought when I was 16, because something that classic never goes out of style.

As another boy band would say, oh what a night.

The late 90s/early 2000s nostalgia was super thick; the pre-show music may as well have been lifted from the VHS tape I’d once made of all my favorite music videos: Brandy and Monica’s The Boy is Mine, Jennifer Paige’s Crush, TLC’s Waterfalls, and Aqua’s Barbie Girl, etc. etc. Then those three unforgettable notes dropped – Da Da-Da – and everyone was chanting Oh Baby Baby right along with Britney Spears.

Wait – didn’t her loyalties lie more with NSYNC, than BSB? Whatever. It was a fitting musical choice regardless that got the crowd going.

As my friends and I bopped along to this high school soundtrack and offered the occasional guess as to what song they’d play next, we had the all-important discussion of which BSB member was our favorite. I had two: Brian, who always felt like the lead singer, and Nick, because he bore a striking resemblance to the guy who lived across the street when I was in high school and who I – surprise! – had a crush on. Brian was a favorite among my crew but most of my friends expressed more of an interest AJ, the one with all the tattoos and the bad boy reputation, than Nick. I neither liked nor disliked AJ, but since he didn’t have Brian’s voice or Nick’s hair, 16 year-old Erin just wasn’t that interested.

Then the lights dimmed and The Boys finally danced their way out and back into our teen/middle-aged hearts.

The DNA Tour doesn’t have the spectacle of their arena shows from the early 2000s heyday: no band, no backup dancers, no pyrotechnics or flying from the rafters – think their video for The One. But what it lacked in glitz, it made up for in grit as they performed for two straight hours. That’s 33 songs, a mix of their old classics like Get Down and Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely, and new hits like Chances and No Place from the DNA album.
And boy, do they still have the moves.

Anyone who remembers all the words to their mega-hits will also recall the choreography and they gave us exactly what we wanted: ‘hat dance’ from All I Have to Give, and the Thiller-esque sequence from Everybody (Backstreet’s Back). But one notable sequence was missing from their dance greatest hits: the ‘chair dance’ from As Long as You Love Me. Oh well; I wasn’t the only one doing the arm movements in its absence.

Speaking of As Long as You Love Me, I have to hold that one up as a prime example of lyrics that have not aged well:

I don’t care who you are,
Where you’re from,
What you did,
As long as you love me.

I know my teenaged self was all “aw, that’s so sweet and unconditional and accepting!” but my 35 year old self thinks “I do care what you did and about who you are and since those things are influenced by where you’re from, I actually do care about that too”.

There’s also this gem:

Doesn’t really matter if you’re on the run,
Seems like we’re meant to be.

Um, what?! It DOES matter if you’reon the run”. It matters a great deal. Why are you “on the run?” On the run seems like it would earn a very big checkmark in the ‘Not Meant to Be’ column, if I were to make a list of such things.

But who thinks of that when there are cute boys singing and dancing with hats?

Their voices held up almost as well as their moves throughout the show. They took turns having solo chats with the crowd where they apologized for having limited French and spoke slowly as though they wanted to make sure everyone could understand their English. There was a particularly funny entr’acte where Kevin and AJ bantered with the fans while changing their clothes onstage, tastefully, behind a set of folding screens and even tossed their (sweaty) underwear into the crowd.

They got a warm reception from their new fans but that paled in comparison to the cheers of the fans “who’ve been there with us on this journey for the past 26 years”; a very nice way of saying ‘the old fans’. Thank you, Brian!

Then I thought about it – 26 years of the Backstreet Boys. Which puts me at age 11 when they came on the scene in 1995. Jeez, Brian, way to make me feel old. But I got over it when they sang their acapella song Breathe, followed by the new hit, No Place.

No Place is a grown-up ballad where instead of making the grand, sweeping promise I’ll Never Break Your Heart (which they also performed), it celebrates coming home to love, family and everyday life. The music video mirrors this perfectly with scenes of the Boys spending time with their wives and kids; the Mom-Porn equivalent of getting drenched in the rain circa Quit Playing Games with my Heart. They did that one too, with the entire arena singing backup on the ‘na-na-nas’.

When they took their final group bow at the end of I Want it That Way, it was euphoric.

“It’s everything, isn’t it? They sang it all,” I yelled to my friend beside me. I was all screamed out and exhausted, for me and for them. “What’s left to encore?”

“Larger than Life, baby!” she yelled back. She was right and we scream-welcomed them back for their encore.

And did my two favorites stand the test of time and a two-hour performance? I have to say, I get it now: I am Team AJ.

It’s not because he’s the best looking – outside of his best, first outfit of leather jacket, sunglasses and hat, he wore weird combinations of floral prints and plaid, which made him look like he let his kids dress him – it’s because he’s the most talented. He's got the voice. He sang lead on most of the hits and he was incredible. Team AJ!  That’s the way I like it.

I never thought I’d get to see the Backstreet Boys in concert; much less in Paris. It was the perfect mix of classics, new stuff and old-school dancing, shared with a great group of friends.

The whole night had it going on. My inner-16 year old wanted it that way.

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