Who will win the pop presidency? -- As the Backstreet Boys release their third album, they go head to head with 'N Sync

By David Browne
Updated November 24, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Who will win the pop presidency?

Get ready to cast your vote again. On Tuesday, Nov. 21, the Backstreet Boys unleash their third U.S. album, Black & Blue, and the pollsters want to know: Will fans help them win the pop presidency? In May of ’99, BSB claimed a sales record with Millennium, which scanned 1.13 million copies in its first week. But rival ‘N Sync’s No Strings Attached beat the Boys last March, selling 2.4 million copies in week 1, and raising the stakes in an increasingly sticky bubblegum battle.

”Even if they’re only a little bit over ‘N Sync’s [record],” says Tom Calderone, MTV’s senior VP of music and talent programming, ”the Backstreet Boys are put on a platform where people are expecting them to double [‘N Sync’s sales].” The Boys’ chart prowess may no longer be larger than life: Their first single, the six-week-old ”Shape of My Heart,” had yet to enter the top 10 at press time. Still, Frankie Blue, VP of operations and programming for New York’s WKTU, calls Backstreet ”the General Motors of boy bands,” and Dan Bowen, program director of Atlanta’s Star 94, says, ”They have a good shot at breaking [the record]. I’m sure the pressure’s on at the label.” If it is, Jive Records isn’t saying; the label offered no comment about Black & Blue except to say it shipped ”north of 5 million copies” — topping Strings‘ initial 4.2 million shipment. ”We don’t hype our albums,” states a label spokesperson. Riiiight. At least the Boys are doing their part, embarking on a 100-hour, six-continent publicity tour that ends in New York City on the 21st. ”It’s going to be hit-or-miss with this record,” says Nelson Gomez, a CD buyer at a Manhattan Tower Records outlet. ”I have a little sister, and she’s not raving about the Backstreet Boys.”

Until the final returns are tallied, this race may just be too close to call. ”It’s up in the air,” says Gomez. Here’s hoping nobody asks for a recount.

With additional reporting by Rob Brunner