I never forgot October 22, 1999. Every year, I kind of commemorate it in my head. I was 11 years old with huge glasses and crooked teeth, dressed in a too-tight tank top and ugly jeans, sitting somewhere in upper level section 208 of the San Jose Arena (Before it became Compaq Center/HP Pavilion/SAP Center) with my mom, my brother, my sister, and my Auntie Jenny. I screamed too loud and sang and danced a lot. I was the happiest dork alive, because I was breathing the same air as the Backstreet Boys, who I thought were the five greatest people in the world. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, but I saw and heard them everywhere and back then, not much else in the universe mattered to me more than the life they somehow breathed into me with their presence and their music.
So funny to think how much in my life and in the world has changed since then. I drifted away from BSB as I grew up and moved on to other pop culture obsessions—2Gether (Yup, that fake MTV boy band), American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, actors, superhero films, baseball players. I did still find myself buying their later music though, so there was a part of me that always loved and appreciated them and never truly let go.
In many ways, the Backstreet Boys were my first loves and muses. My favorites always alternated between Nick and AJ but I thought they were ALL good-looking dudes. I crushed on them before I moved on to guys that were actually within touching range. They were also the reason why I came to love music. Of course it was around before I was 10-11, but after I first saw the music video for “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” that’s when I began to regularly watch MTV and VH1 (When they actually played music videos) and listen to the radio. It’s mostly because of them that I started developing a musical taste since I had watched the other videos and listened to the other songs as I waited for theirs to play. They may have even made me realize my calling as a writer. In 2004, a few years after my BSB obsession was pretty much over with, I had written an editorial-type entry in my paper journal about boy bands. A few days later, I wrote another entry in my journal that essentially said “Hey, that was fun — maybe I should do that for a living.”
When my co-worker Steph mentioned to me this past spring that they would be coming to the Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord, CA for their 20th anniversary concert tour, I said I wanted to go. I didn’t say it out loud as my reasoning at the time, but the opportunity was like one where you’d get to see a really, really good friend that you haven’t seen in years — most people would say yes to it.
I had a little bit of October 22, 1999 in my head as I lived the night on September 8, 2013. I had just turned 25 two weeks ago. I now wear contacts and have much straighter teeth, dressed in a short sundress and standing less than ten rows from the stage with Steph. I capture snapshots and even a few videos through my camera even though I have way too much energy to hold completely still. I enjoy fist-pumping to DJ Pauly D‘s super sick set (And think about the time I interviewed him for Hollywood Life and talked about his then-aspirations of DJing) and watching Jesse McCartney, especially when he sings “Beautiful Soul.” I admire that Brian’s son Baylee is following his dad’s footsteps by singing for us. I am amused by how much AJ’s beard is making him look like Brian Wilson, even moreso with his tattoos and wearing a red Dodgers cap for the finale. I swoon that Nick has only gotten hotter with age. I love that Howie is still so shy and sweet. And I’m happiest to see 41-year-old Kevin back with the Boys where he belongs. I sing along to EVERY song. I dance around like no one’s watching to “We’ve Got It Goin On” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” I die a little bit on the inside during the songs I felt most emotionally connected to – “All I Have to Give,” “As Long as You Love Me,” “The One.” And I freak out when AJ talks a little bit about the 49ers and Brian does his best Colin Kaepernick impression, even though I cringe a little bit everytime someone mispronounces the venue city name as “Con-CORD” (Or even mentions it — we are the BAY AREA!).
It may have been a slightly different experience for a different-looking girl in ’99, but 14 years later, the Backstreet Boys brought out that happiest dork in this girl again. Perhaps like them, she was always there after all. I guess it’s true that some things never really change.
RECOMMENDED READING: The Backstreet Boys made me fully realize “the dream” as I published this portfolio piece on them for The Hudsucker last month. The retrospective chronicles their rich 20-year history as well as their discography and biggest hits.
In a world like this where some back down, I know we’re gonna make it / In a time like this where love comes ’round, I know we gotta take it / In a world like this where people fall apart, in a time like this where nothing comes from the heart / In a world like this, I got you.