Backstreet Boys on Finding Their Chemistry Again, Catapulting Forward With ‘DNA’


On April 20, 1993, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell joined forces to create what would become one of the most popular boy bands ever. Twenty-five years later, the Backstreet Boys are about to embark on their biggest arena tour in 18 years — and just landed their eighth Grammy nom for the single “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

In December, Us Weekly sat down with the group backstage at the band’s Mohegan Sun show. While one week had passed since the Grammy announcement, the guys were still in awe.

What are the chances?” Richardson, 47, said, quoting their hit song, when asked if he had ever imagined that 25 years in, they’d land another honor like this. “We were pleasantly surprised,” Carter, 38, chimed in. “We’ve always been fighters. Nothing has ever been given to us. We’ve had to work for everything we’ve got to this day. Being from a boy band, there’s some label and we were put in a bubble. Every now and then, these miraculous things happen!”

Backstreet Boys on Finding Their Chemistry Again, Catapulting Forward With ‘DNA’
Backstreet Boys. Dennis Leupold

So, how does it still work today? Hard work and dedicated fans, the band agreed. “We’ve always tried to plan ahead and set goals to aspire toward. We don’t settle, and I think that’s what’s kept us going,” McLean, 41, added.

With their 10th album, DNA, dropping on Friday, January 25, BSB prove they’re not only still in the game – they’re at the top of theirs. When they cut “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” the first single off their new album – which became their first top 10 single in 13 years – they all agreed it was the right one to kick off their next chapter with.

“It set the bar for the album to take shape. Everything had to be as good, if not better,” McLean said. DNA, which took nearly three years to make, may sound different to some fans; it includes multiple genres, combining what each artist likes but keeping to what the group does best. “We’re staying in our lane,” Littrell, 43, added. “We’ve accepted what we are, and we stick to that — that’s what caused all the success from the past.”

Backstreet Boys on Finding Their Chemistry Again, Catapulting Forward With ‘DNA’
Backstreet Boys, circa 1995. Tim Roney/Getty Images

However, the album “was definitely a departure,” McLean said, as it was also their first without producer Max Martin. Instead, DNA features tracks written by Ryan Tedder, Shawn Mendes and Andy Grammer, who Carter met while competing on Dancing With the Stars. “I was like, ‘OK, the season’s been over a couple years, I think I can text him.’ I knew he was an incredible writer,” the youngest member of the band said.

Overall, the guys knows that they’re competing against younger, up-and-coming artists – and if anything, that just pushes them harder.

“The industry has changed. There’s so much content out there and the cycles are much faster; people have much shorter attention spans and we’re aware of that. I think the new generation of artists are keenly aware of that and they create content, create content, create content,” Richardson said, with Carter chiming in: “And we’re thinking of that too. Just because we’ve been here 25 years and they’re the younger generation, doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them and learn from the industry itself. We’re definitely paying attention.”

BSB will wrap their Las Vegas Larger Than Life residency in April and head on a new tour filled with “Backstreetness,” as Richardson described it. While the 70-stop show will include old favorites, Littrell’s hoping it “catapults fans forward” instead of taking them back.

“I’m kind of over the nostalgia, to be honest,” he admitted. “We want to take a new generation – or an existing generation who already likes our music – and take them to the next step. I love singing ‘I Want It That Way’ and what it’s done for our career; I love singing ‘Backstreet’s Back,’ but at the same time, with ‘Chances’ and ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,’ there are new memories to create. That’s what the DNA tour is going to do.”

One thing will always remain part of their act: the band’s vibe with each other, which Carter thinks is stronger than ever. “I like to say our chemistry is coming back again,” he shared. “This will be our second album together since Kevin left and came back and it’s getting back to that point like we were right before [1999 album] Millennium.”

While Richardson joked that the guys are “trying to be the rat pack,” Dorough, 45, added that after all these years, they’re all in. “When we really put ourselves in to the mode of rehearsing for a tour, it can create a lot of stress because we want it to be the best it can be. But the fans just want to see us be ourselves and now we’re finally comfortable just being ourselves; we’re not worried about every move.”

One things fans can expect from the DNA tour? At least one set of matching outfits. Carter admitted that the oversized suits they wore in the early 2000s still makes him laugh, but now they’re leaning into it: “We’ve embraced it! On DNA, we’re pulling out all the stops.”

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