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Frank in all directions

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Simply cannot go back to them

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Entries in backstreet boys (2)


In Which We Contemplate Hierarchies In The Mid 90s

Popular Fantasies


One of the primary benefits of growing up a full-time though, at times, rebellious apparatchik of my sister, was that she tried to steer me clear of all the atrocious music on offer in 1990s Germany. Eurodance formations, boybands, girlbands those were not acceptable choices in our household cassette player. I am grateful for that.

Unfortunately, though, those songs were omnipresent at the time, and not liking them didn’t mean one could block them out. When MTV first showed up on our TV in 1995, I watched every video that came on and studied it closely (I was addicted to watching television). One issue that preoccupied me greatly was the hierarchical structure of boy and girl-bands. Some members sang a part of every song, others only sometimes. The camera seemed to discriminate between them also, showing some faces and torsos more frequently than others. Who was making these unjust decisions?

Why, for instance, was Michael McCary restricted to doing the “bum bum bum” and spoken apology bits in Boyz II Men songs? Surely he was as capable a whiner as the other three members of the group. Why did only one of the four singles released off CrazySexyCool feature a verse by quirky midget Left Eye? T-Boz sang "Creep" all by herself, and only left the bridges of "Red Light Special" and "Diggin' on You" to her foxy, Native American bandmate Chili. Who forced the one fat member of 'N Sync to carry his burden in his name? Was Mel B considered scary because of her ethnicity?

My younger self, of course, had no idea that he would one day grow up into hack writer with the resources necessary to demystify these oblique organizations. I recently figured out why TLC’s hierarchy was reshuffled around the turn of the millennium, and Chilli and T-Boz henceforth shared front-woman duties. Their management preferred Chilli’s dating choices. She had dated up (Usher, who allegedly cheated on her), while T-Boz had married down (The Westside Connection’s Mack 10, who allegedly beat her). Apparently Left Eye’s decision to burn her boyfriend’s house down didn’t affect her standing in the group.

I’d always sensed a strange tension between the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, two similar variations on a format. Turns out they were managed by the same pervo. Lou Pearlman, so his name, urged the bands to compete with each other. He even organized basketball games between them (hence the five members). And yet 'N Sync were intended for a slightly different, a slightly higher, market than BSB. They were constructed to suggest artistic integrity — the ugly members, the many acapella performances — they were sold as the boy band that could actually sing. In other words, while both 'N Sync and BSB were both compiled to appeal to pre-teen girls, 'N Sync’s image was aimed at slightly smarter ones. But BSB were tougher. Hence the backstreet.

In Germany of the mid-90s, such arranged bands were referred to as "acts." Unlike most English words misappropriated for colloquial German use, that term was instructive. But the implication failed to register with their pious fans. They ran away from home to attend their idols’ playback concerts. They waved homemade signs, wept through their make-up, hyperventilated, and threw their undergarments at poor Lance Bass. At home, they memorized lyrics they didn’t understand. And that is where the farce turned tragic. With songs like "Wannabe" and "Everybody", acts like the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys significantly degraded the ESL-capabilities of their overseas fans. To many Germans of a certain generation, the words "crazy" and "blue" denote lovesickness and not much else.

Leon Dische Becker is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. He last wrote in these pages about Hurricane Irene.

"Waterfalls (Darp remix)" - TLC (mp3)

"Waterfalls (Onp remix)" - TLC (mp3)

"Waterfalls (album instrumental)" - TLC (mp3)


In Which The Only Response To The Question Am I Sexual? Is Yeah

Guys Who Just Want To Kiss Girls


The first concert I ever went to was a Backstreet Boys concert. Why am I freely admitting this? Well, friends, it could have been worse. The first concert I could have ever gone too could have been a Tal Bachman concert. Remember that dude? He whined about how a girl was so "high above me." Also, she was "lovely. Like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, or Aphrodite." The inner all-girls school graduate within me is screaming over his use of historic examples. Really, Tal? Joan of Arc? She got you going? She hit your “lovely” meter?

I hate only because I kind of love that song. It’s got a great melody, and I have fond memories associated with it. Like one time, I busted out singing it and Tom Hanks walked into the room and stared at me and just kind of backed out. I could provide more details as to why I was singing this and why Tom Hanks was there but that would take away the humor and mystery to this story and if anything, I’m all about "building a mystery." Remember that great 90s hit by perpetual throat-voice Sarah McLachlan? But that’s not important right now.

I went to this Backstreet Boys concert because my friend Gavin invited me. Gavin lived in a huge house in Brentwood and had an endless stream of tickets to the most coveted concerts of the 90s- early 2000s. Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Madonna (before she wore Britney Spears t-shirts in one of her first of many desperate attempts to stay relevant) – Gavin was hooked up and my best friend in middle school.

So when she asked me to go with her to a Backstreet Boys concert (with limo) what was I supposed to say? “No thanks, that’s lame as hell, I'm an unpopular loser who listens to The Beatles?" No, I said, "Like, oh my God, thanks! I love…Kevin!" To be honest, Kevin was a fucking crapshoot. I couldn’t remember if I knew the name Kevin from ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, or Backstreet Boys, but I guessed right. Later when I went to the concert and saw who Kevin was, I couldn’t help but feel the pangs of disappointment that I would if I was set up with an undesirable blind date.

But the concert was fucking fun and fucking exciting. When the Boys appeared in a burst of flames, hanging from wires, screaming, "BACKSTREET’S BACK, ALL RIGHT!" I fucking believed them. I didn’t know much about them, I didn’t have any of their albums, but goddamn it, Backstreet was back, and it was all right. Never mind that their "zombie dance" from their Halloween themed video was a poor rip-off of the Thriller dance – the point is, it was our Thriller, and we couldn’t see the lame forest from the lame-ass trees.

When Kevin got stuck in his wires, and hung helplessly in mid-air, I fucking felt for him. When he then did somersaults for his fans, I fucking fell in love with him a little bit. I didn’t notice that he was in his early thirties and had un-ironic facial hair. I went to an all-girls school and this was it. Before we left I bought a concert tee – a baseball style-shirt, white with red sleeves, that had the BSB logo front and center on my sad little breasts, complete with the whole band sitting down, smiling, as if to say, "We’re non-threatening, but not like those pussies Hanson. We may be 'boys' but we’re men – just look at our facial hair!"

For my birthday my dad bought me a copy of the Boys latest album – Millennium. I have since sold this album. Yes, I regret this decision. Who knew that at a certain point in time, Backstreet would be back and it would be all right and not even in an ironic way? I didn’t.

This was the early 2000s. J. Lo was a music star and I had to pretend to care. I could never have predicted this world of Internet downloads and Kanye and blogging. I was lame, I was scared, I had braces, and I thought "I Want It That Way" was a great pop song. Was it really any worse than "I Want To Hold Your Hand"? It sounds like blasphemy, I know, but really listen to The Beatles’ earlier songs. Their songs are about guys who just want to kiss girls. They’re really no different from any other pop songs. And the Backstreet Boys had that strange music video where they’re in LAX Airport and their bodies shift and disappear and everything is white and bright and you feel like the millennium really is here, and pop music really isn’t bad, it’s fun and it’s dumb and it’s something you can dance to and use to relate to your peers, and really, what’s so bad about that?

Gavin invited me to a second Backstreet Boys concert. The day of, I didn’t go to school. I wasn't that sick, I just didn’t feel like going. I was going through that awkward phase where, to quote another 90s pop icon, I wasn’t "a girl, yet not a woman." I was scared of boys, I couldn’t tell cool from tragic, and my body clung to babyfat like Stallone clung to cliffs in his action movies.

Gavin’s mother called my mom, worried that if I was too sick to attend school, how on earth could I attend a concert with her daughter without getting her sick with my disease? My mom did my dirty work for me, explaining that while I had a sore throat I was feeling "much better" and "wasn’t contagious" and was just "taking precautions" and "would be devastated" to miss the concert. Another limo, another show, but this time my enchantment wore off. I wasn’t alone; the Backstreet Boys faded away, 'N Sync soared, Britney ruled, then Beck came in and ruined everything and pop music wasn’t cool and anyone who liked it should kill themselves.

Before we left this concert I bought another tee. This one was dark blue with sparkles, with the same BSB logo and similar photo of the guys; it was like my shirt was the night sky. Look at it, find the North Star, and make a wish. I have no idea what happened to these t-shirts. I guess when I became "cool" I gave them away. I wish I didn’t, but at least I have my Britney concert tee. When I went to her concert I pretended it was only because my parents scored the tickets for me, not admitting that I casually begged them for it ("I mean, if you guys are going to that silent auction and you see tickets to a Britney concert I mean I guess it would be fun to go, but only if the tickets come in like a basket of other stuff or something, I mean I don’t know, whatever supports the school, you know? PLEASE GET THEM, PLEASE!").

Christina Aguilera may have told me what a girl wants and what a girl needs but I was fucking clueless and looked nothing like Alicia Silverstone. I did the best I could and I had a great time. And the best thing is, is that I wanted it that way.

Almie Rose is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find her website here. She last wrote in these pages on your guide for summer. You can find the full archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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"On Without You" - Backstreet Boys (mp3)

"I Want It That Way" - Backstreet Boys (mp3)

"Don't Try This At Home" - Backstreet Boys (mp3)