The Backstreet Boys drop their record breaking pop opus exactly 20 years ago.
Millennium debuts May 18, 1999
Over two decades since their debut, the Backstreet Boys are thriving. They might not have hits ruling the Billboard Hot 100, but the business behind the pop collective still works just fine. Courtesy of a successful Las Vegas residency, which has raked in nearly $1 million per night, their catchy hits of yesteryears are the ultimate essence of nostalgia. For our latest installment of This Day In Pop, BreatheHeavy took a look at the band’s 1999 blockbuster release, Millennium, the 12-song set that scored five Grammy Award nominations, becoming one of the biggest selling albums of all-time and cemented their legacy in the boy band hall of fame.
At just 46 minutes, the Stateside sophomore release included some of the band’s biggest hits like “I Want It That Way,” “Larger Than Life,” and “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely.” On paper, the album and its accompanying rollout read like a bulletproof campaign for success, at least in the late 90s. Production credits from Max Martin? Check. Rabid backing from MTV’s TRL? Double check. The competitive marketing to best *NSYNC? No questions asked.
Still, the bar was set high for Millennium and the expectations were nothing short of just. Nick Carter, Brian Littrell, Kevin Richardson, A. J. McLean and Howie Dorough had released their self-titled debut album internationally in 1996 and their follow-up international album, Backstreet’s Back, in 1997, (which served as their U.S debut) so the frenetic clusters of adoring teenage fans were spreading and spreading fast. Mass hysteria from Europe had officially made its way to America and Millennium had to pull through like a bonafide success. Otherwise, they easily could’ve joined the ranks of LFO and 98 Degrees.
Record executives knew that they had to hit while the iron was hot and wanted to default to a formula used with the group’s first two albums. They wanted an upbeat song to lead the campaign, particularly “Larger Than Life,” but the Backstreet Boys disagreed. And for the Orlando-teenagers, who were still relatively new to the game, they were right to trust their instincts. Despite dealing with business mishaps with their first manager, Lou Pearlman, as well as Littrell’s open-heart surgery in 1998, their redeeming moment arrived with the set’s lead single, “I Want It That Way,” which was released in April 1999, a month before Millennium dropped. They might have butted heads with execs about the rollout, but the machine behind the band was in full-effect and ready to utilize even the most shameless marketing strategies. Cue a teenage Britney Spears offering fans a sneak peak at three Millennium tracks at the end of the first 200,000 copies of …Baby One More Time, and it worked.
“I Want It That Way” quickly dominated in the very way that it deserved to dominate. The lyrics didn’t (and still don’t) make much sense, but hearing these five sing an oozy love song with all the shiny tricks and mechanics from the Max Martin machine of the ‘90s was all we needed. On the day of their scheduled appearance on TRL for the release, it was clear the Backstreet Boys had elevated. This was superstardom. Millennium would go on to become the best-selling album of the year and, more notably, one of the best-selling albums of all time with over 30 million copies sold worldwide. Now, fans of the era can capitalize off the milestone release with a new limited-edition vinyl of the album.
“That was an amazing time in our lives,” Richardson reflects to ET. “I think it’s safe to say, we can all agree that it’s probably our biggest album to date, as far as successful album sales around the world.”
He added: “It was just an incredible time in our lives. Things were moving fast. It was insane how much we were recognized, how many records that sold, how popular our music was, how popular the tour was, and continues to bless us to this day.”
Littrell said it was the group’s Thriller (Michael Jackson’s 1982 album), and he’s not wrong.
Andreas Carlsson, who co-wrote “I Want It That Way,” recently summed it all up to Billboard, saying, “This album was another level. The floodgates opened, and they became a phenomenon.” We can’t say we disagree. There’s a reason why we’re still singing those nonsensical lyrics 20 years later.