In the trailer for this documentary, A.J. McLean poses the question of what happens to grown men after they’ve spent their lives a boy band. Twenty years after the group’s inception, they have rejoined forces for a new album and a reunion tour, and fans are given a glimpse into the preparation along with a journey into the past. This should be a dream come true for millennials, but the result is little more than a promotional film with a look back that’s thickly coated in sugar and a look forward that seems awfully familiar.

The original five members of Backstreet Boys spend the majority of Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of traveling together to each member’s home town, reminiscing over their childhoods, visiting their schools and homes, recording their new music and rehearsing for their tour. Each member spends the time in his hometown shedding tears over some sort of superficial emotional memory, aside from Kevin Richardson, who shares a truly moving story about his father’s illness, which is further evidence that he’s not only the oldest bust most mature part of the group. His presence  eels disjointed and out of place throughout the documentary, maybe because he hasn’t spent the last two decades trying to hold on to teenage fame.

More time is spent cataloging the band’s overseas catapult to fame than their rise in the United States, and the details of their most popular years are glazed over, the focus primarily placed on the here and now. Every conflict this film attempts dip its toes into is immediately abandoned, as if director Stephen Kijak and the rest of the “boys” are afraid to taint their pristine boy band image. We see Howe Dorough shout out of a window during one of their current rehearsal sessions that he’s finally going to get the lead vocals he deserves, but his outburst means nothing to the viewers when they don’t take the time to peel the layers back on the origination of the tension that existed over leadership in the group. The fall of Lou Pearlman, the ‘N Sync rivalry, Kevin’s lengthy absence from the group, and Nick and A.J.’s spiral into drug an alcohol abuse are all skeletons this documentary is determined to only allow viewers to peek at, but the door largely remains closed.

As a millennial who spent her prime tween years belting “Quit Playin’ Games With My Heart” into my hairbrush and plastering Nick Carter posters all over my bedroom walls, I think I can speak for fans everywhere when I say that I wish the Backstreet Boys knew that we don’t necessarily want it that way.  Their fanbase isn’t comprised of millions of teen girls anymore; it’s largely 20 something adults that want to get together with their girlfriends and jam out to our old school favorites, but I emphasize the word adult here, because that’s what we are. We are capable of preserving the fond memories of our favorite boy band while learning about their lives and flaws as actual human beings. Actually, we’d love them even more for it.

However, instead of growing and maturing along with their fanbase, revealing the scars they’ve earned along the way, the Backstreet Boys have chosen to cater to the demographic they made their music for twenty years ago, expending nostalgia to be enough to maintain the interest of their original fans. They teach a young ballet class how to do the “Backstreet’s Back” dance after being shocked none of them knew the song until they realized the year is no longer 1997. At one point when Nick Carter and Brian Littrell are in the middle of a heated argument, Nick interrupts the most emotionally raw and compelling scene in this whole film to compare himself and Brian to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. It was at this very moment that these boys (men?) really lost me. In many ways, the Backstreet Boys are still living in their glory days, refusing to let go of the dynamic and reputation they upheld when they were at their most popular.

Some musicians are able to reinvent themselves over the years, adapting to the changes of times to maintain a lasting, solid music career (U2, Garth Brooks, and Paul McCartney for example), and a few will forever be timeless (Michael Jackson, Queen, Fleetwood Mac), but most ride that wave of success while they can and proceed to move on with their lives. The Backstreet Boys are struggling to straddle that line between future and past, between boyhood and manhood, and the only thing that’s clear in Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of is that they’re trying to have the best of both worlds, which is nearly impossible for a music group who (even though they used to be “Larger than Life”) doesn’t fall into either one of the categories.

So, what happens to a boy band once its members grow into men? In the case of the Backstreet Boys, they cling to their boyhood as long as they can.


Featured Image:  Backstreet Boys: Show'em What You're Made Of, Gravitas Ventures