Backstreet Boys – ‘Larger Than Life’

A guest blog written by Chris Haigh. You can agree/disagree with him here.

Song: ‘Larger Than Life’
Artist: Backstreet Boys
US Chart Peak: No. 25
Release Date: September 3, 1999
Writers: Max Martin, Kristian Lundin, Brian Littrell
Producers: Max Martin, Rami, Kristian Lundin
Quintessential Max Moment: The opening  robotic ‘wmow-wmow-wmow’ moments that become a leitmotif and make it sound all lovely and futuristic.
Video Synopsis: Five boys in the most CGI ‘CGI training montage’ ever with holographic space beauties and some yellow mech suits.

Backstreet was indeed back (alright!), and in a big way with the lads’ third album ‘Millennium’, their suitably-titled 1999 release, which had already produced one stonking ballad in the shape of ‘I Want It That Way‘, a boyband power ballad so iconic and globe-spanning that it’s both a karaoke staple and the backbone of one of the best sitcom cold opens of all time.

Fortunately, ‘Larger Than Life’ is more than capable to rising to the challenge of its forebear, but it’s a swift change of pace, trading in earnest mid-tempo, sweeping lushness in favour of an earnest electropop glean. ‘Larger Than Life’ is one of the few Backstreet Boys singles that works both as a fist-pumping dancefloor declaration and as a drunken singalong track, and it shows in the way that Max Martin and his co-writers Kristian Lundin and Brian Littrell (yes, that Brian from the actual Backstreet Boys) use the classical pop song structure to create a joyous and infectious rush of a song.

Martin and co. (in particular the always-exceptional Rami Yacoub) add some really fun flourishes to the production; every verse is punctuated with heavily-vocodered backing vocals (their call-and-response is very ‘O Superman’ getting its life on a dancefloor), lending the song a robotic touch in a world taken by storm earlier in the year with The Matrix. The entire song is built on a sonic foundation of sledgehammer dancefloor beats, but they manage to make sure it remains grounded in the foundations of a classic pop song, such as in the way the middle-eight drops out, leaving us floated and suspended before bringing us back to Earth and rebuilding the song via the adrenaline-racing, roof-raising reprisal of the chorus.

We can’t talk about the aural magnificence of the song without mentioning The Video. The Video which cost A LOT and received a huge push ahead of its release, has our five fellas as part of a sci-fi training program, resulting in vignettes about information collection, being your best Poe Dameron self in a space fighter, and playing space games with girls cosplaying as Leeloo Dallas Multipass. 

The Video version also has some cool flourishes sonically – at one point, the middle eight gives way to a thirty-second dance break on the spaceship, and after the first chorus, the entire song drops away, leaving Nick Carter singing the opening beats of the second verse alone. It all peaks with Nick conducting a dance routine in a neon-yellow mech suit, which kind of says it all, really.

The thing that really elevates the song beyond more typical fare are the lyrics, which act as a love letter to their fans. Without being saccharine or patronising, the band balances the fact that their lives belong, for now, to the public eye (the lovely single-line first-verse pre-chorus of “All of our time spent in flashes of light” summarises this really well), with a wholehearted acknowledgment of their fans’ loyalty to them as a sustaining force (“Every time we’re down/You can make it right”). The result is it pushes the spotlight away from the boys and onto their fans.

For the uninitiated, the title can seem boastful and arrogant, but once you hear the lyrics, the meaning of the song hits home; the musicians might be the ones standing in the sun, but without the people they inspire and affect, they’re just singing into the darkness. That’s what makes the fans larger than life, and that’s what makes the song a shining example of how good it can be to say thank you.

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