The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 19)

Offering up the sights and sounds from the turn of the Millennium hit parade, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. And ladies, you may want to steady yourselves, for this week we have one of the world’s biggest boybands of all time…

It’s only when I come to write a new one of these in this series each week that I’m reminded in a second of why 1999 is one of my favourite years for the UK pop charts. Call it turn of the millennium fever, but literally anything and everything went in this period in terms of styles of music, melody and songwriting, and the way it was presented, resulting in some era defining classics in the process. And this week’s entry is unarguably one of them.

After finally scoring big with their second album ‘Backstreet’s Back’ in 1997, Nick Carter, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Brian Litrell – some little group of guys called Backstreet Boys to everyone else – it was clear that they were on the verge of being the world’s biggest boyband bar none. And for their third album, aptly called ‘Millennium’, they were duly given the theme tune to match. Although it almost didn’t happen that way.

Their previous album had kicked off with the barnstorming title track ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ as the first single, with the more sensitive ‘As Long As You Love Me’ following as the second single after the album’s release. Similarly, the bombastic fan anthem ‘Larger Than Life’, mit expensive futuristic video and all, was initially touted as the first single from the album. But only once executives at their label Jive/Zomba heard an early demo of ‘I Want It That Way’ did they know it had to be the first single.

Written, as was common with a lot of their biggest hits by Swedish pop giant Max Martin and his team at the Cheiron studios, this soaring acoustic led midtempo ballad hits numerous peaks and no troughs in the pursuit of pop excellence. To put it simply, this was the record that, like ‘Back For Good’ did for Take That, turned them from just another boyband into serious global prospects.

Complete with a video that is now almost as much of a gold standard for boybands to aspire to as the song was, shot in and around Los Angeles International Airport, it was clear that the BSBs were onto something big with this song. Upon its release ahead of the ‘Millennium’ album in the late spring of 1999, it promptly went stellar in a way that few of their other singles had done in the past.

The UK was one of those twelve countries that made it a number one hit – as of 2019 it’s still their only chart topper to date here, but it’s also their biggest seller here by far. Want some more chart facts? The week it debuted at the top twenty years ago this week, it led a Top 3 consisting entirely of boyband singles, with Westlife at #2 and 911 at #3, a first in chart history. Backstreet was back and the world was theirs for the taking – alright?

Don’t forget to follow our playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1999. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1999.

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