They’re baaack! The two acts most responsible for our current kiddie pop craze — the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls — have just released the first singles from their forthcoming albums due in late November. And there’s a whole lot riding on these singles since they’re the launching pads for the critical album of each group’s career.
The Boys are looking to win back the pop spotlight from their arch rivals ‘N Sync, who toted home three MTV video music awards and set a first week sales record of 2.4 million for their latest album, ”No Strings Attached.” Plus, after last week’s dismal debut by 98 Degrees’ ”Revelation” (just 276,000 copies sold), the Boys are hoping to prove that boy bands aren’t a fading fad. As for the sans Ginger Spice Girls, they need to show that there’s still a market for their aging brand of ”girl power” now that some actual teen lasses (Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears) are ruling the charts.
So far, the Backstreeters are off to the better start. Their mid tempo single, ”Shape of My Heart,” debuts at an impressive No. 39 on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week based on airplay alone. ”They’re still a very hot band,” says John Ivey, music director of Boston’s WXKS-FM. ”And this is pretty much their same hit formula.” In fact, early reports suggest that the guys are sticking fairly close to their trademark sound on their album in progress (titled ”Black & Blue”). Swedish hit maker Max Martin, who wrote and produced some of the group’s biggest hits (”As Long as You Love Me,” ”I Want It That Way”), as well as smashes for Britney and ‘N Sync, returns for the new effort.
The Spice Girls, however, are shaking things up on their wishfully titled set ”Forever.” To add an R&B edge to their pop sound, they’re working with the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey) and with Rodney Jerkins, who recently helmed Destiny’s Child’s No. 1 tune ”Say My Name.” But the strategy isn’t paying off yet. Their Jerkins produced single ”Holler” hasn’t debuted on the Hot 100. Still, there’s hope. ”It’s a pretty good record considering that I had zero expectations,” says Ivey, who hasn’t decided whether or not to add the song to his station’s playlist. ”It’s real contemporary and polished, not the screamy, chanty Spice Girls sound.” But whether this is what current music buyers really, really want remains to be seen.