Tuesday, June 05, 2012

larger than life (the NKOTBSB experience)

I never thought I'd ever hear the sound of at least 18,000 people singing (well, shouting, really) the words to "I Want It That Way". But that was the reality last night: watching the four members of Backstreet Boys, minuscule and tiny onstage, four entire floors below us, holding up their microphones and gesturing like maestros conducting an arena-wide choir of fangirls (and possibly a few fanboys as well).

It was a Moment, and yes, it deserves a capital "M".

Look, say what you want about pop songs and 90s boybands, but the music of these people, from Menudo and New Kids on the Block to the Backstreet Boys and N'Sync, were inextricably woven into the fabric of our childhood. And when I say "our", I mean the tens of thousands of schoolgirls who grew up and went to grade school and high school in the nineties. Sure, they were bubblegum pop that talked about a forever kind of love or anthemic dance songs or even heavily veiled innuendo ("Get down / Get down / And move it all around" anyone?) but there was that inexplicable attraction to these kinds of groups. Sure, it might have been because they were boys that we could idolize from afar, safe in our private Catholic schoolgirl chastity and unwitting ignorance in the realities of boys. It might've been because we were the target audience - looking back, most of the lyrics don't even make sense ("Tell me why / Ain't nothing but a heartache / Tell me why / Ain't nothing but a mistake / Tell me why / I never want to hear you say / I want it that way" - which then begs the question, what is this mysterious "it" anyway?). Nevertheless, it didn't stop us from singing along, or impatiently waiting for MTV to play the videos to our favorite songs. We claimed them the way we claimed our favorite colors or favorite flavor of ice cream - in a sense, they allowed us to own a piece of them, if one could be so generous. And sure, you can say that it's a job, or that they were a formula group that was put together to capitalize on the boyband craze, but hey, it worked. And nineteen years later, it's still working.

And really, why take the hipster high ground and refuse to participate in the lowbrow bubblegum pop of the nineties? There's nothing wrong with knowing the lyrics to "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" or being able to let loose and dance along with thousands of other people while the anthems of your childhood plays in surround sound. Sure, it's nowhere near the songwriting caliber of Rob Thomas or the Counting Crows, fair enough. But that's like saying you'll never eat a Jollibee burger and the only thing that will ever pass your lips is wagyu beef. Junk food's bad for you, sure, but it tastes so much better than kale or ampalaya. Sure, it's not a Death Cab For Cutie concert, but I came out of this feeling as though I was walking on clouds - something that rarely happens to me after a concert.

And yeah, it's cheesy and corny and oh-so-simple, but sometimes you gotta embrace the cheese, and just let your hair down and have fun. And look, these guys have been around for at least twenty-odd years and people still know their songs and will still pay good money to see them perform live. And their performance does not disappoint: they still moved seamlessly, they could still dance well (despite their age) and they were still in tune, they knew how to work an audience, to take you through the whole show by the hand and lead you through their songs and remind you why you loved them in the first place. You don't find that kind of experienced performance very often. And yes, it's really that simple: you find yourself forgetting that you're an adult, with adult responsibilities and problems and issues and you're 13, 14, 15 again, and you're in love. And that's really the core of it: for what's probably the first time in your life, you're in love, and it's safe and euphoric and without any of the nasty bits in between. And sure, maybe you've drifted apart for years, but you find that love again and it's just as good as it was the last time around. And it's simple and pure and untainted - what more could you ask for?

If I was in possession of a TARDIS, I would make two trips right now: one trip to the past, where I'd tell my 13-year-old self, furiously scribbling away on sheets of yellow pad as I wrote fan fiction for the first time in my life, swept away by the power of story and my deep and abiding love for the Backstreet Boys, and tell her that hey, you do end up writing and reading and loving words for a living. And that yeah, you'll meet them eventually, and they'll still sound as good as they do to you now. (And to maybe give the album "Black and Blue" a chance, because it grows on you.) And then I'd take the second trip to visit the Backstreet Boys now, just after their concert in Manila. I'd say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, because they were indirectly responsible for putting me on the writing path, all those years ago, and that I owe them all the stories I've been writing ever since.

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