For years, late '90s nostalgia seemed to litter modern media, from a resurgence of butterfly hair clips and cargo pants to a new obsession over '90s brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Birkenstocks. This love for '90s culture has extended its grasp into the music industry through the newest Ariana Grande music video, “thank u, next,” filled with cult classic film allusions and artists like Iggy Azalea wearing “Clueless” outfits. We have now reached a new level with the release of the newest Backstreet Boys’ album, “DNA.”
Known for hits like “I Want It That Way” and “Everybody” that defined the '90s, the Backstreet Boys have made numerous yet ultimately failed attempts to reestablish their iconic role in the music industry, from their 2013 release of “In a World Like This” to their most recent tour. And the album “DNA” is no exception.
The entire album deeply resembles the backing soundtrack to rain scenes in chick flicks when the guy finally tells the girl he loves her. As sickeningly endearing as that may be, an hour-long album filled with a single long sappy romance scene in the rain or at a high school dance quickly starts to feel unbearably repetitive.
There is also, of course, the fact that the entire band is all pushing 50 years old. This fact makes listening to the music feel almost wrong, an entire album of ballads by older men about young love and hopeless romance. Mature artists should have mature themes in their songs or, at the very least, a recognition of the passage of time. They cling to an image of themselves from the '90s with little to no deviation, forcing their album into a stale and immediately overplayed category.
To gain traction in the contemporary era, they lean on modern music to the point where the entirety of the album is unoriginal. Songs like “Chances” and “No Place” are nearly identical to hits by artists like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, respectively. The Backstreet Boys even had Shawn Mendes co-write one of their songs, as if clinging to some semblance of modernity with their iconic yet now overdone sound. They have become a glorified acapella group with a strong reliance on synthesizers and other chart topping songs to maintain some sort of hip appearance, which ultimately just leaves a hollow and disappointing quality.
Even with its unsuccessful attempts at contemporary sounds, there is the Frankenstein-like aspect to the music itself, as a bastardized experiment of blending outdated hits with modern music. The Backstreet Boys have chosen to ride the line between between nostalgia and modernity rather than submitting to one single and clear side. In doing so, they create an album that is neither modern nor old, a struggle that is deeply rooted throughout the album. And this awkward blend ultimately doesn’t hold up to either time period’s standard.
The only remotely redeeming aspect of the album is the song “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” because of how catchy it is. Yet, even that song feels wildly familiar like a rendition of songs by artists like The Chainsmokers and Marshmello. The title, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” is the same as another artist, Elton John’s, album from the 1970s, a further depiction of lacking connection to any time period. The song already belongs in the category of guilty pleasures that hide deep within playlists, without the justification of tasteful aging that grant other songs an equal place. It is as if they are afraid to experiment outside their Backstreet Boys niche and within the previous successes of other musicians, a dependency that ultimately hurts them and their future prospects on the modern music stage.
There are just some things that should be left in the '90s, like vests or neon, and unfortunately, the Backstreet Boys is one of them. Maybe their new album will make a great romantic comedy soundtrack or cheesy sitcom backing, but at least we’ll always have “Everybody” and “I Want It That Way” to blast in the car or sing in the shower. All I can say is — Backstreet’s back and it is not all right.