Song: ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’
Artist: Backstreet Boys
US chart peak: 4
Release date: March 31, 1998
Writers: Denniz PoP, Max Martin
Producers: Denniz Pop, Max Martin
Quintessential Max Martin Moment: All of the various lyrical oddities
Video synopsis: Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ meets MTV Spring Break
Due to the fact that no fucker really gave two shits about the Backstreet Boys in America at first, their early release history is a little complicated. It wasn’t until the fourth single from their self-titled European debut, ‘Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)’, started to build in the US that they decided to put out a US-only debut (also self-titled), which was then sort of compromised by the fact that they’d already started working on their second album. Things weren’t helped when they then decided to launch said second album with a single called ‘Backstreet’s Back’. As someone from the label rightly pointed out when the ‘boys’ said they then wanted it to be on their US debut – where were they coming back from exactly? (Apparently one of them suggested it could just mean they were back home in America after years of touring German shopping malls etc. Oh dear).
In the end the US version of their debut was released a day after their second international album, without ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’. As that song started to pick up in Canada, however, the album was hastily re-packaged after the first million copies had already been sent out (Still with me?! Good). No one seemed to care where they were coming back from or whatever, with the album shifting over 14m copies and ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ becoming one of their biggest US singles.
And what a single it is. Ludicrous and camp in a way pop music doesn’t seem to be anymore, it’s a slice of pure unadulterated joy that – like a lot of Martin and PoP collaborations – makes very little actual sense. Exactly how does one rock their body? It conjures up images of some sort of full-body convulsion. Obviously the best part is the call and response pre-chorus that involves questions like “Am I original?” and, weirdly, “Am I sexual?” (not sexy, sexual), being answered with an energetic chant of “Yeah!”. Needless to say it goes down a treat at a wedding, just don’t lock eyes with Aunt Paula or Uncle Derek during the sexual bit.
It also starts with some brilliantly misplaced bravado, with AJ singing “Oh my God we’re back again, brothers sisters, everybody sing” as if a) the chances of a major label signed boyband who’d just sold shitloads of albums coming back were slim, and b) like the whole world was waiting for their return with baited breath (they were big before, but not that big). I also like the idea of brothers and sisters running through the streets just randomly singing with excitement, near delirious.
Musically, it takes the low-slung funk template favoured by Martin and PoP at the time and adds a pretty dirty synth riff, finally giving the ‘lads’ the chance to up the tempo after a string of pretty ballads. There are slight nods to hip-hop in the various breakdowns (please, for the love of God, only listen to the extended 4:46 version for the full experience), which also allow for some pretty amazing dance breaks, both by the band in the ludicrous video and for embarrassing Uncle Derek at your sister’s wedding.