Saturday, 21 February 2015

Boyhood: "Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of"

Stephen Kijak's documentary Show 'Em What You're Made Of opens and closes with footage that rejoins the erstwhile Backstreet Boys - AJ, Brian, Howie, Nick and, lest we forget, Kevin - as the men they are today, embarking upon an impromptu hike through the countryside. Some complain of bad knees. Others have to stop for regular pee breaks. Framed between these bookends is an intriguing question: what happens to a boy band when they don't have the same youth to sell anymore? Kijak answers it rather better than anyone could have expected, or better than any of those ITV2 reunion shows have thus far managed. The Boys' comeback album and tour of 2013 here provide the peg for a look back on the highs and lows of the group's fleeting time in the spotlight. The editorial is willing to allow the possibility BB were no more than a New Kids cash-in, and one from the off defined by its constituent members' ordinariness. No Justin or Robbie here, angling for a post-group solo career; instead, these were a quintet of corn-fed, all-American teens, assembled by Fagin-like impresario Lou Pearlman for their willingness to pull together in a money-spinning operation. Brian and Nick briefly clash over a lead vocal on the new LP, but the tone is generally fond and cuddly; pace Metallica, this is Some Kind of Honey Monster.

Kijak's slumming a little after his excellent Scott Walker doc 30 Century Man, but he takes his subject as seriously as five young men who once appeared in public wearing tracksuits and Peter Andre bangs possibly can be taken: he hoovers up all the crackly VHS footage of Nick Carter's high-school performances that a Backstreet Girl might want, while allowing his interviewees time and space to be earnest and honest about their interactions with Pearlman (who, in the manner of impresarios from time immemorial, screwed everybody over twice, first in branching out - you could hardly call it diversifying - with *NSYNC, then in the matter of royalties), reclusive Swedish songwriting machine Max Martin (who probably merits a profile of his own at this stage) and German groupies, not to mention the inevitable dependency issues that followed in their wake. Even in Dolby, the hits sound as they always did - Cowell-anticipating lumps of processed cheese, indistinguishable from *NSYNC or Boyzone's output, which speak more of commercially savvy production than genuine artistry - but doubtless fans will want them that way. As for Northern Line, Another Level and e-m@le (the boyband on rollerskates): don't go getting any ideas, guys.

Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of plays in selected cinemas on Thursday 26th, followed by a live concert broadcast.

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