Song: ‘Shape Of My Heart’
Artist: Backstreet Boys
US chart peak: 9
Release date: October 3, 2000
Writers: Max Martin, Rami Yacoub, Lisa Miskovsky
Producers: Max Martin, Rami
Quintessential Max moment: “Tragical”
Video synopsis: The ‘boys’ rehearsing for the worst play of all time
‘Shape Of My Heart’ – the lilting lead single from their fourth album, ‘Black & Blue’ – was the Backstreet Boys’ last ever US Top Ten hit (obviously they’re still together so ‘never say never’ etc, but it seems unlikely). Despite ‘shifting’ over 1.5m copies in its first week, the curiously-titled ‘Black & Blue’, complete with an album cover not actually featuring the band (surely a boyband no-no if ever there was one), was the album that also signalled the end of the Backstreet Boys’ reign as the planet’s biggest boyband (step forward *NSYNC).
While their oddly-permed and ludicrously dressed peers were at least taking some risks with the boyband template (‘No Strings Attached’, released seven months earlier, had a song on it called ‘Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay)’, for example), ‘Shape Of My Heart’ offered more of the same. As lovely as bits of it are, it’s a pretty standard teen-pop ballad, a light facsimile of ‘I Want It That Way’, which ironically their label were worried about being a lead single in the first place. Over time, BSB’s ‘raisin d’etre’ had shifted from white-boy R&B work outs to very white ballads.
One notable thing about ‘Shape Of My Heart’ is the shift into nostalgia that seems to creep into every boyband’s latter discography (see One Direction’s ‘Night Changes’ from ‘Four’). So the chorus starts with “looking back on the things I’ve done, I was trying to be someone”, which basically sounds like a swansong. There’s also an element of world-weariness mixed in with the reflective mood too, with AJ and Nick’s vocals in particular sounding a little rough around the edges. It adds the sky-scraping chorus a certain sadness and works brilliantly in the middle eight, which pre-empts a very Max trick when a key change crashes in and the chorus mutates into something slightly different.
Co-written by Lisa Miskovsky, the song was adapted from her own ‘Another Shape Of My Heart’, which is transformed from slightly too wordy indie-pop shuffle into a much more concise and melodic pop song, i.e. Max’s bread and butter.