“We’re the Rolling Stones of pop”: Backstreet Boys talk 25 years in music – plus, listen to their new single

‘Backstreet’s still…still here!’

OhmaGod, they’re back again! Fresh from celebrating 25 years in music last month, Backstreet Boys are forging ahead with a new album and tour. Their new single, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ – which dropped yesterday – retools the dancepop of their ‘90s/early-noughties golden era for 2018 – right down to an aorta-themed title, following in the line of ‘I’ll Never Break Your Heart’, ‘Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)’ and ‘Shape Of My Heart’. You can listen to it below.

Riding high on a Las Vegas residency, the five-piece remain the bestselling boyband in history. NME caught up with Backstreet-Man Brian Littrell about their latest comeback, Trump, and possible Cardi B and Ed Sheeran collaborations.

Hello Brian! How are you feeling about releasing your first new music in five years?

“I’m excited. Backstreet Boys, we don’t stop. We just keep going. We’ve got a new album coming out in September/October-ish and we’ve got a brand new world tour starting out in spring 2019, with dates in the UK and Ireland. We just celebrated 25 years together last month and still kickin’! [Singing to the tune of ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’] ‘Backstreet’s still….still here!

And back… alright! Who have you been working with on the new material?

“We try to keep those things quiet. We worked with Stephen Wrabel, Stuart Crichton and Jamie Hartman on the brand new single ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. There are talks about us maybe working with Max [Martin] next month and the old camp we’ve always worked with. But we’ll see. We’re still in the process of picking the songs and going through the vetting process of making sure the music is what it needs to be as a representation of us.”

How would you describe the character of the forthcoming album?

“I think it’s just Backstreet Boys doing what we do best. We’re known as a vocal band first so when you hear those signature sounds of us singing together, you know what it is. The production is obviously ever-changing, being that music evolves and goes through different fads, but it’s just good, timeless music. We like using both real instruments and sampled sounds, so it’s a mixture of both. It’s a well-rounded sound. When you hear us singing together, fortunately you just know it’s the Backstreet Boys.”

Did any of the mooted album sessions with Diplo, The Chainsmokers and Timbaland come off?

“Well…you know what? I am not at liberty to say. But we’re excited about some of the collaborations that are going to happen or that have happened as well, so we will have to wait and see. I can’t divulge that information as of right now.”

Can we expect anything as experimental as Howie D’s sampled farting on ‘The Call’?

“(Laughs) How did that story even get out there? Has anybody even confirmed it to be real? It’s taken on a life of its own! You know, I don’t know if any bodily functions are on the record. I don’t think so anyway. We’re still finalising the songs and getting the mixes together, so who knows? There might be a little surprise here and there but as of right now, we don’t have any bodily sounds on the album.”

Ryan Gosling missed out on the chance to be in the Backstreet Boys 25 years ago. Would you be up for him joining you onstage?

“We would welcome Ryan if he wants to. He’s got to do his homework and he’s gotta learn the dance moves and vocals, but if he’s willing to do the work, of course he can get up onstage with us. It’d be funny.”

When Trump played ‘I Want It That Way’ at one of his campaign rallies, Backstreet Boys issued a statement distancing yourselves from it. How did you feel about him using your song?

“It wasn’t bizarre to me. ‘I Want It That Way’ is a feelgood song. It’s happy, easy to sing along with and everybody knows it. Just because you use it in the political world, it doesn’t make it a political statement. It’s a song. It’s the press that want to make a big deal out of it, asking: are Backstreet Boys Trump supporters? Or are we not? Or is there a divide in the band because of individual feelings? We’re not politicians – we don’t play politics. We believe in what we believe in. And we agree to disagree in what we disagree in. But when you use our song in a political realm, it really doesn’t make us part of the conversation. I’m sure somebody on the Democratic side must have played a Backstreet Boys song once.”

How do you feel Trump’s presidency is going?

“My personal opinion? I don’t like to talk politics but I believe our country is moving in the right direction. I will say that. When you look at every government, they’re our elected officials and you have to have some form of respect for them. So I’ll keep it at that.”

Who’s the most surprising person you’ve discovered is a fan of Backstreet Boys?

“Cardi B. She’s a huge Backstreet Boys fan. We did a radio show with her at the end of last year and saw her backstage and she was like, ‘Oh my God, I love you guys! We’ve got to get a picture’. That was funny to me because she’s such an urban rapper.”

Any chance of a collaboration then?

“I don’t know. [Laughs] I guess I might be able to text her or Snapchat her and see if we could hook up. We’ll have to see. I mean, we’ve collaborated with the likes of Elton John, Sting, Lionel Richie, Tony Bennett and Shania Twain. Some of the greats of greats. I think it would be cool to maybe do something with Ed Sheeran. That would be awesome and interesting. He writes amazing songs and I could easily hear Backstreet Boys sing ‘Shape Of You’. [Starts singing] ‘I’m in love with the shape of you…’”

Nailed it! *NSync recently reunited on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and member Chris Kirkpatrick admitted he wanted to “punch [Backstreet Boy] AJ’s lights out for a little while.” How do you look back on the rivalry between the two bands?

“I laugh at the fact we were pitted against each other. I think whenever you have a McDonalds, you’ve got a Burger King. If you’ve got a Starbucks, you’ve got a Coffee Bean. If you’ve got a Backstreet Boys, you’ve got an *Nsync. We were like The Beatles and The Monkees. There’s a always going to be that opposite or same thing depending on how you look at it. There was never any rivalry – it was just made up by the press.”

What have been your most memorable moments from your 25 years in pop?

“When we were doing the ‘Black & Blue’ album promotion, we did 100 hours around the world where we flew from Sweden to Japan to Australia to South Africa to South America then back to New York. There were 60 thousand people at the hotel in Brazil when we landed. We were there for two hours to do a press conference announcing the record – but ended up having to do an impromptu performance because of the number of people. When we dropped the ‘Millennium’ album in New York in 1999, half a million people turned up and we shut down Times Square. Hopefully we’ll have another 25 years to go. We’re the Rolling Stones of pop! That’s the Backstreet Boys.”