Film Review: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, The Backstreet Boys

Do you remember the Backstreet Boys? I do, just. But not like this.

In this new documentary titled Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, centered on the Backstreet Boys’ 20th Anniversary Tour, we see the Backstreet Boys as we’ve never seen them before. Gone are the youthful, boyish looks and energy and in their place, neuroses, petulance, trick knees and raw, unchecked emotion.

The basic premise is this: after a long absence, Kevin, the oldest member of the group, is back, just in time for the band’s 20th anniversary, which is to be celebrated with a huge tour. In addition to rehearsing for the tour, the group is attempting to record a new album. In order to reconnect with each other and become, once again, a team, the Backstreet Boys journey first to London and then to their respective childhood homes. As the film goes on, various stories from the Boys’ past unfold, including the tale of their corrupt and, ultimately, prison-bound ex-manager, Lou Pearlman. The whole story is neatly wrapped up with the Backstreet Boys performing on their Tour, complete with screaming fans. Fine, good.

The film is a little predictable, certainly, with its candid shots of the guys in the recording studio writing songs and playing instruments (this was actually very impressive, they’re a musically talented bunch, that’s for sure), its one-on-one confessionals with each of the members and the steady stream of facts and information about the band’s history.

What is brilliant is the way in which this film has captured, intentionally or not, the essence of these men. Kevin, calm, measured and rational, having spent nearly ten years away from the band (he left in 2006), talks about the band and the tour like a normal person would: he has high hopes, but he’s realistic. He seems to see the tour as a business venture, his band-mates as family, yes, but primarily as business partners.

Howie, arguably the least memorable band mate, is enthusiastic about telling us that he, originally, was the lead vocalist until he was phased out and that before embarking on this Anniversary Tour and album, he specifically requested that he get to sing plenty of lead vocals. He even shouts this out the window at some fans waiting outside the recording studio. There’s no nice way of saying this: yes, you’ve got a great voice, but you sure are bitter.

And then there’s AJ, who also seems fairly normal and… lovely. He talks about his time in rehab, of course, and how he got there: being in a band, he says, causes you to “loose your identity” and, in his case, create the rebellious, coke-fiend persona that got him in so much trouble. He talks with great generosity about the others in the band and seems to have, now, the best sense of who he is.

Finally, there’s Brian and Nick. Brian is suffering through an emotionally tied vocal problem, about which he cries a lot. And Nick, too, just seems to either cry or shout. Brian doesn’t seem to have any sense that his vocal troubles will, inevitably, affect the rest of the band. And Nick… well, apart from maybe selfish and uncomprehending, there’s not much to say about Nick.
It is these depictions of the Backstreet Boys that are enthralling. It’s easy, when a band is as huge as the Backstreet Boys were (they’ve sold 130 million albums worldwide), to forget that they are real people: they were worshipped like gods and then they were forgotten. This film makes them real and human and that makes them, despite their flaws, absolutely loveable. You empathise with these men: being in this band is all they’ve known for most of their lives. At one point, AJ (I think) asks, “What do you do when you’re a grown man in a boy band”. The answer? You keep going. You Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of.

“BACKSTREET BOYS: SHOW’EM WHAT YOU’RE MADE OF is in cinemas nationwide on 26 February followed by a special performance by the band broadcast live by satellite“