In April, Nick Carter confirmed that the Backstreet Boys were going to reignite the ol’ desire fire and hit the recording studio. That same day, I lost it as 10-year-old me began to jump up and down at the thought of a reunion featuring the world’s most seductive men.
I grew up in a family that worshipped A.J. McLean, Howie D., Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, and Carter. We directed, produced, and choreographed endless home videos that circled around us as the Boys. I’ve seen them three times in concert, and have never failed to cry at the sight of Littrell gracefully taking off his shirt onstage.
While the band has spent the better part of this decade on hiatus, they remain active on Twitter—feeding hungry fans cheeky content on the daily.
Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, just this week, performed “I Want It That Way” in the locker room. The BSB nostalgia wave is coming.
This all brought me to my senses and took me on a Spotify and YouTube binge. After careful listening, I’ve compiled the definitive ranking of Backstreet classics.
Every one of their songs brought with it a carefully executed, holistic music video, and so equal consideration was given to the visuals. All listings are final.
15) ‘Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely’
We start out this best of by picking out this touching number that’s dedicated to lost loves. Howie has a short, sweet solo for once, and the song serves as one of the most melancholy and soulful from the BSB catalog.
“Incomplete” is from BSB’s comeback album, Never Gone, a collection of underrated works that reminded us of our never-evading fandom upon its 2005 release. Nick’s haircut kind of makes him look like Joffrey Baratheon in the video; in it the guys experience the wrath of the elements: Wind, water, fire, and earth make appearances as the boys all boast their feelings openly to the sky. They are sad, worn, and incomplete.
Kevin, for his part, plays the piano.
13) ‘Get Down’
Featuring a blistering verse from Fun Factory’s Smooth T., this nascent party anthem has been buried by the sands of time. Only the band’s third single, it put A.J. on the map as the group’s go-to rapper.
12) ‘All I Have to Give’
Besides Nick looking like a very cute 17-year-old girl and Howie hitting that wild high note, the video is pretty predictable in terms of hip Backstreet dance moves. However, it’s an enduring gem because of its second life as a karaoke classic.
11) ‘The One’
A song dedicated to the true BSB fans, its video was a montage of concert footage and lots of girls screaming at the top of their lungs. It’s happiness, nostalgia, and a fitting curtain call: Released in mid-2000, the Millennium single was a victory lap for a band that had just conquered the world.
10) ‘Climbing the Walls’
Unfortunately, the song didn’t get a music video. But it makes my list because of its refreshing pivot toward mainstream rock. It was an alternative BSB sound that worked because of its raw emotion.
9) ‘Larger Than Life’
Here we’re taken to the future (as imagined by the late ’90s) which is apparently a time where Nick is leading a squad of yellow transformers in this time-travel extravaganza of a music video. In this intergalactic dimension, Howie has cornrows.
The song is about the temptations they face as celebrities and the emotional toll that takes. But they are gracious and appreciative to the fans, and it made the hard-hitting album opener a coronation.
A simply cathartic and sensual tune, the sound is more mature on this 2007 Unbreakable centerpiece. They’re still singing about love, but they look older and more put together—especially A.J. with his bleach-blond upgrade. (Howie is unavoidably sporting faux-leather pants and a “Bring Me the Horizon” haircut, but whatever.)
The best part about it, though? The song has two videos— the “dry” version shown above and a “wet” version. A.J. steals the show again, wearing a tight, netted, long-sleeve that looks like it belongs at a burlesque show. The “wet” version is apocalyptic, with a horrible, unforgettable motion graphic of water crashing on the shore. It’s cheesy, but this version is just as lovable.
Bonus points: Kevin devotes a few seconds to a classic hair shake that has burned itself into into my sexual desires.
7) ‘Backstreet’s Back (Everybody)’
This once-ubiquitous dance number is your favorite song to hear on throwback night. The video still freaks us out, with all the creepy characters who seem to have years of dance training.
Written by Swedish pop god Max Martin, the banger was a late add-on to the band’s U.S. debut—making it to the States almost a year after it hit European airwaves.
6) ‘More Than That’
This western-themed video gets me. Kevin is modeling a cowboy hat (and he looks damn good) as A.J.’s raspy voice makes you swoon and grasp for air simultaneously. Rain and storms are prevalent themes within most BSB videos, but the clip’s shining moment is Nick’s reliably dramatic end scene, where he pleads on his knees. It’s an impeccable ballad that the band, in its prime, cranked out on auto-pilot.
5) ‘The Call’
This song almost didn’t make the list, but after jamming to it and re-watching the video, how could it not be top five? The video is an action flick featuring car races, stealthy escapes, and an old-school cell phone. The song is funky, mysterious, and daring, with all the guys apparently cheating on their girl with the same girl, and then being played by her. She’s a badass.
The song, from 2000’s Black & Blue, is one of the band’s final mainstream roars as Earth’s biggest touring force.
4) ‘Shape of My Heart’
“Save me from the man that I’ve become” is a meta call for help that anchored the theme of the band’s third U.S. album, Black & Blue. The understated record ditched the bombast of the Millennium takeover for wounded and vulnerable ballads.
The guys here are singing their hearts out in their least-dramatic setting yet—a theater. There’s no crashing rainstorm and no one is surprisingly topless (looking at you, Kevin).
This one is a showcase for everyone’s vocal range, with lots of “oohs,” “aahs,” and extensive note-holding. The simplicity of the video adds to the lyrical sentiment, and it’s all just so damn beautiful.
3) ‘I’ll Never Break Your Heart’
This is a slow, love-making beat. In the iconic video we are gracefully introduced to a random, futuristic tunnel via Kevin’s sexy spoken word at the start of the ballad. (I’m guessing it takes place in the same dystopia as “Larger Than Life.”) Nick’s hair looks like grated cheese in one frame and then like a slick wig in another, but I can’t help but stay in love with that gold-locked god—even today. He looks like he’s about to die of overwhelming emotion near the end of the video, making me wish so bad I was the red wall his smoking body leans against.
The song is a textbook, post-Boyz II Men, open-flame whopper. Despite its dated music video, it stands as among the band’s most timeless singles.
2) ‘Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)’
This video is Nick Carter, running his hands through his hair, in glorious slow motion. The world is just getting to know the five-strong crew from Orlando, Florida, and this 21-year-old song fueled the global obsession.
What a time to be alive when all these boys were singing their hearts out, body-rocking with their chests exposed amid a sudden rainstorm. The song gets you unconsciously vibing and singing along—you never notice that they’re hanging at a basketball court with no ball.
1) ‘I Want It That Way’
The legendary hit that belongs in a space capsule. In the video A.J. has a fedora, Nick is wearing a coat that’s too big for him, and the special effects are clearly indelible. The boys rock all-white outfits as they eloquently execute a dance number, appearing as if they have just dropped from the gates of heaven as they move in synchronization. The song has nothing to do with an airport and the lyrics don’t hold up to close reading. (What way are we talking about here?) It doesn’t matter because the chorus is a pop mountain no one has come close to scaling since.