Their first song on the Hot 100 in 11 years. Their first Grammy nomination in 17 years. Their biggest arena tour in 18 years. We’re not going to say Backstreet’s back (all right!), but as the group enters their 25th year together, it’s safe to say they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
It started in May 2018 with the release of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” the first single off their 10th studio album, DNA (out Jan. 25). Suddenly the boy band — which found stardom in the late ’90s with hits like “I Want It That Way” and “Larger Than Life” — had returned to the radio with the kind of catchy, upbeat dance tune made for summertime drives with the windows down. “That was the first song that really got us all excited,” Kevin Richardson says. Six months later, they dropped the record’s second single, “Chances,” co-written by songwriter Ryan Tedder and pop star Shawn Mendes.
“Both songs are completely different,” Brian Littrell tells EW. “Backstreet Boys are either known for dance songs or something that tugs on your heartstrings. ‘Chances’ is a love song.”
The singles are just two of the 12 new tracks from DNA — or, put another way, one-sixth of what fans can expect from the current Backstreet sound. “We’re influenced by rap, R&B, country, rock, pop, gospel, everything,” adds Richardson. “DNA will feature tracks that are acoustically driven, piano-driven, songs that have an R&B vibe, and some that are influenced heavily by the EDM movement. But we did it all in a Backstreet way with our harmonies.”
Because if there’s one central element — or is it molecule? — to the Backstreet DNA, it’s that patented five-member blend. That’s why the new album — their first since 2013’s In a World Like This — felt like the perfect time for the band to return to their roots through a new a cappella song titled “Breathe,” for which they worked with the vocal arranger for Pentatonix. (BSB’s last a cappella track was “Just to Be Close to You” in 1997.) “It’s fitting after 25 years to go back to who we are,” Littrell says.
The quintet’s return to form will really kick off in the spring as they wrap up a successful two-year Las Vegas residency at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in April and launch their world tour on May 11. “This is a pivotal moment in our career where I do see a shift,” Littrell says. “What are the chances that we would still be here talking about Backstreet Boys’ new music?”
A version of this article appears in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now or buy it here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.