PLUS EW's second-annual roll call of loathe-to-admit-it pop-culture passions.

If there were any dogs in the auditorium, they’d be dead by now.

No, we’re not talking about one of those fabled Ozzy Osbourne destroy-these-puppies-or-I-won’t-play edicts. This canine killer is the five-alarm shrieking in Seattle’s Key Arena as the Backstreet Boys close a live show with their top five bump-and-grinder ”Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” When Nick Carter — the youngest, blondest, and most yelp-inducing Boy — blurts out the ludicrous line ”Am I sexual?” hordes of 8- to 15-year-old girls clutch their throwaway cameras and scream their braces off.

Another night, another 10,000 sexual awakenings.

To be a 12-year-old female Backstreet Boys fan is to say it loud and proud with BSB signs, pinups, and silk-screened pillowcases of your favorite Backstreet crush: Carter, 18; AJ McLean, 20; Brian Littrell, 23; Howie Dorough, 25; or Kevin Richardson, 26. The rest of us, however, must lead more clandestine existences. ”Oh, that’s the one who looks like Marky Mark,” we shrug when Brian appears, even though we know that he likes to be called B-Rok or just Rok for short, since Rok is what you call a basketball and B-Rok really really loves to play hoops except for when he had to take two months off this spring to have surgery to fix a hole in his heart. We shield their CD sleeve and mutter, ”Uh, the Pumpkins” if someone asks what’s in the Discman. And we never admit that we’ve watched their 78-minute behind-the-scenes Backstreet Boys All Access Video. Twice.

Granted, it’s reasonable to blush. After all, the Boys, who formed in 1993 in Orlando, Fla., didn’t write any songs or play instruments on Backstreet Boys, their American debut; their manager is the same guy who put New Kids on the Block in teenage bedrooms (and on critics’ worst lists) worldwide; and from the looks of their videos, they’ve never met a full-body shave they didn’t like. In other words, you won’t be partying to Backstreet Boys music unless you’re at Chuck E. Cheese.

Yet for a group easily dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan teen act, the Backstreet Boys have managed some impressive feats: 22 million records sold worldwide and 4.4 million in domestic sales make Backstreet Boys 1998’s third-best-selling album so far, behind the Titanic soundtrack and the unofficial Titanic soundtrack, Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love. Their breakthrough U.S. pop singles — ”Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” and ”As Long as You Love Me” — were even bigger hits on the older-skewing adult contemporary chart. Their North American summer tour should draw a half-million fans and gross $10 million plus. Even the cranky Village Voice gave the Boys a thumbs-up. Behind these fresh-scrubbed faces and slippery torsos are five surprisingly capable vocalists.

Fittingly, Euro-kids, out-of-the-gate advocates for prefab pop ventures like the Spice Girls, were the first to take to the Boys. ”We’d have tons of fans at the airport when we’d leave Europe, and back in America, there’d be, like, nobody,” says Howie, backstage before the Aug. 14 Seattle gig. ”It was humblizing.”

Backstreet Boys
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