I Wanted It That Way, Part III
|May 7, 2013||Posted by Jess under Adventures in Real Life, Celebrities, Music, Tweendom|
Okay, folks, here comes the good stuff.
On November 21st, 2000, the Backstreet Boys released their fourth album (third in the US), Black and Blue. (And no, I did not have to look that date up. THIS WAS A BIG DAY FOR ME.) As a way of building hype for the release, they went around the world in 100 hours – 55 for travel, 45 for public appearances – in a private plane with “Backstreet Boys” painted on the sides, hitting major cities on six continents.
…Honestly, until just now, writing that down, I didn’t realize how awful it was. At the time I just thought it was impressive: Look at my boy band! Look how rich and famous and popular they are! There was a DVD of the tour released soon after, and all I really felt when I first watched it was validation when they were mobbed in Tokyo; when their bus couldn’t drive through Rio because the streets were packed with 10,000 fans; when a contest winner had to be picked up and carried away from them because she was actually, literally hysterical, screaming and sobbing and unable to form words. I loved them for how gentle they were with her; for how scared they were when a girl fell in the Rio mob, right outside their bus window, and was almost crushed. I cooed over the shot of four of them sharing a bed on the plane, half in and half out of the covers, too drained and desperate for a few hours of sleep to care about personal space.
Now I look at those numbers, those stats, those stories, and it sounds like hell on Earth. Nearly every hour of private time matched with an hour of being on? And all of that private time in transit? The lack of privacy (there was a camera crew on the plane with them), the pressure, the fear for their fans’ lives? The fear for their own?1 I was shocked by the band’s implosion a few months later, but if I’d been able to look at them with anything but pride and love and frantic clinginess, I would’ve seen it coming.
Anyway, North America – specifically, New York – was the last stop: they’d arrive on the 21st, the album release date, which was of course a Tuesday. That Monday night, the Backstreet Boys’ Mature Fan Club was meeting at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York. I know it sounds like some kind of porn RPG group, but it was just moms, really – and Jamie’s mom was a member. So off to the meeting we went, with me in the guise of a cousin, since only members and their families were allowed.
The meeting itself was uneventful – mostly just the moms talking about how they wanted to do Kevin. But towards the end a woman came rushing in to tell us that both Towers Records locations were staying open until midnight, when the album dropped – and if you were one of the first 200 people to buy it at either store, you would get a wristband for the Boys’ press conference on Tuesday.
BOOM. Forty-odd moms and daughters (and fake cousins) threw their money down and bolted for the nearest Tower Records. There was a line when we got there, but only about 40 people or so. We were definitely getting wristbands.
Remember, at this point, that I’d never seen them in person – just AJ, at his solo concert, and Howie, who’d come on stage towards the end of AJ’s concert to sing a couple songs with him. And now I was going to see them all. I was going to see Brian. What was standing four hours in line on a cold November school night in the face of that?
And so we waited – chanting, singing, swapping stories of former concerts and general gossip. MTV showed up and interviewed me and Jamie, among others, but I think we were too rational for them – they wanted screaming girls, not people answering questions in a normal tone of voice.2 Someone came out and started giving away random merchandise, which is how I got my treasured Backstreet Boys frisbee, prized primarily for its weirdness.
Finally, at midnight, they opened the doors, and we got our albums.3 And our wristbands.
Oh man, you guys. This was it! We were really going to go to the press conference! Jamie’s mom drove me home so that I could shower and change. (My mom was thrilled when I woke her up at 2 in the morning to explain that I’d be skipping school the next day to stand in line waiting to see the Backstreet Boys.) An hour or so later, we were headed back to the city to get in line for a good spot for the press conference.
I honestly don’t remember much of the line – I think I was too sleep-deprived and wired to process anything. I do remember jostling for a good seat inside, and waiting for what seemed like an eternity while “Shape of My Heart” played on an endless loop. I remember the guys coming in and screaming until my voice gave out. I remember the striped blue scarf Brian was wearing and that he was drinking cranberry juice instead of water and that he seemed worn out and quiet; I remember leaning in towards Jamie and saying “I think Brian is sick” with deep, real concern in my heart.4
I remember bursting into tears when they sang.
Millennium had broken the record for first week sales in the US, and was subsequently surpassed by No Strings Attached. AJ had confidently (and, it turned out, incorrectly) predicted that Black and Blue would break the new record. As the press conference ran down, a reporter asked if they thought they’d done so already. “I don’t know,” Kevin said, and turned to the band. “Do you guys want to go over to Virgin Megastore and find out?” It turned out they did.
Then he looked at us. “Do you guys want to come?”
Deafening screams. The Boys stood up and headed out, and I turned to Jamie, frantic. “Are they really going to Virgin?” I shrieked.
“I don’t know, I don’t know!” she screamed back. “But let’s go!”
The crowd was already forcing its way out the doors, racing after the Backstreet Boys on the off chance they hadn’t been kidding. I grabbed Jamie’s hand and we ran, forgetting about telling her mom where we were going, forgetting about everything but getting to the band.
All 400 wristband-wearers poured into the street. We were only a block or two from Virgin, and we went running down Broadway like the bulls of Pamplona were after us, a flood of frenzied teenage humanity. Traffic in Times Square came to a screeching halt as we ran into the streets, heedless of cars.
This was during the height of TRL, and the Boys were scheduled to be on that afternoon. For those of you who weren’t tweens/teens then or don’t remember, every afternoon a crowd of teens would gather below the window of the TRL studio in hopes of being on camera. When a big name like the Backstreet Boys or Nsync showed up, the crowd tripled or quadrupled, at least. This was a mob, and not a stupid one. When they saw the flood of girls running through Times Square, they knew something was up. Most of them dropped their signs and ran after us, straight into the open doors of Virgin Megastore.5
And sure enough, they were in there. At least, I presume they all were – it was hard to see or hear anything but screaming girls everywhere, pushing, shoving, hyperventilating. I lost Jamie immediately. It was hard to keep your feet in a crowd like that; I put my hand down on one of those huge, heavy CD racks and felt it wobble from all the shoving.6
There was an especially tight cluster of girls in front of me and at the center was Kevin, patiently signing autographs and giving no indication that he feared for his life. I was trying to worm my way towards him, even though I had nothing for him to sign, when Jamie materialized at my elbow. “I just heard Brian and Nick are going out the back,” she said.I think I actually gained superspeed for a minute there. I’d been in the front of the store, but seconds later I had pushed my way past approximately forty billion teenage girls and was heading for the back entrance, along with a few other girls who’d heard the rumor. And there was Brian, only a few feet away from me, with a giant security guard between us. Maybe Nick was there too; I was incapable of seeing anyone but Brian.
The guards got him out of the store and we girls tumbled after him onto the back street,7 where five town cars were waiting. Brian got into the closest one and waited, presumably for the others. We peered through the tinted window, trying to see him, and he took pity on us, rolled the window down, and waved.
“Brian!” the other girls screamed. I couldn’t speak. “Brian, I love you!”
A minute later, he started to roll the window up, and I found my voice. “Brian, wait!”
He did. “Yeah?” he asked, looking me right in the eye.
What could I say? How could I possibly convey to him how much he meant to me, how much they all meant to me? How could I convince him in the next ten seconds that even though I was nine years younger than him, he should ditch his fiancee and run away with me, because only I truly understood him? How could I dazzle him with my wit and charm, so that I could be their friend and hang out with them and go to all their birthday parties?
“Do you have a cold?” I blurted out.
He blinked in surprise. “…Yeah?”
Genuine sympathy plucked my heartstrings. “Oh, I’m sorry. Feel better!”
“Thanks!” he said, and smiled – at me! – and rolled the window up. And his driver drove him away.
I turned away from the street in a daze. Jamie was standing there, staring at me in awe. “Wow,” she said. “You talked to him.”
It was the greatest moment of my life.
Before that day, I still had a certain disdain for the crazy fangirls on TV. Yes, my walls were plastered with pictures of the Boys, and yes, I sometimes cried at their sadder songs, but mostly? I kept my cool. I would never scream and chant on camera like a mindless drone. I would never cry just because they walked into a room. I would certainly never get swept up in a raving, shrieking mob, stepping over girls younger than me to get closer to members who weren’t even my favorite (sorry, Kevin).
But the Beatlemania Effect is powerful. It works no matter how smart or mature or cool you are. It works when you don’t even like the band all that much. But the more you like them, or the bigger the crowd, the harder it hits.
It starts with screaming over things not worth screaming about, like a picture of the band being projected on a screen, or an announcer saying their name. At first it’s just a game you’re playing: “Yes, let’s scream! I’m excited! You’re excited! Let’s all be excited together!” But as the fever pitch is built – and make no mistake, announcers/directors/producers/whoever build it very deliberately – the detachment fades. You’re not screaming because it’s fun to scream. You’re screaming because you can’t not. You’re screaming because OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!
The Beatlemania Effect snowballs quickly. There’s something about all that energy, all that adrenalin, all that helpless desire and longing and confusion and love focused on a few spotlit, charismatic figures that carries you along. The world narrows until there is nothing but The Star, and getting close to The Star, and screaming as loud as possible so that The Star will notice you. When cool and rational you know that Nick Carter/Justin Bieber/Elvis/whoever will not fall in love with you when you’re screaming and crying and reaching up to them like they’re Jesus. But when you’re in the clutches of the Beatlemania Effect, rational thought is forgotten. Being your best self is forgotten. All that matters is look at me, notice me, see how much I love you. All that matters is a split-second touch of a hand. You will literally risk your life – mobs are fucking dangerous, people – for that momentary connection, and you won’t even realize you’re doing it until it’s over.
At a concert the frenzy is (usually) safely contained by seat assignments and barricades and security guards. But no matter how much of a brown-nosing rule-follower I – I mean, uh, the general you – are, given the opportunity, you’ll cross those barriers, and gleefully.
For those willing to see it, the Backstreet Boys were starting to break down. Black and Blue had been a success, but not as big a success as their last album. Brian and Kevin were getting married and turning more towards family life. And, of course, AJ went into rehab for alcoholism and depression, which floored the fanbase. We’d all joked about how AJ, the Bad Boy, was constantly drinking and doing drugs, but we hadn’t known it was serious. We hadn’t known it was a problem. Considering the rehab was the result of a Kevin-led intervention, it’s a safe bet that the Boys’ interpersonal relationships weren’t doing so hot, either.
Still, they eventually finished their (delayed) Black and Blue tour, and yours truly had tickets, along with my friend Holly, of exchanging-bracelets-with-Willa-Ford fame, and a friend of hers whose name I can’t remember. Our concert just happened to fall on the night of the VMAs, which just happened to be taking place in New York; the Boys would present an award, then come out to Jersey for the concert. I was a senior by then; Holly and Holly’s Friend Whose Name I Can’t Remember were freshmen in college, and thus possessed of a level of adulthood and autonomy that dazzled me. It was HFWNICR who came up with the plan:
“We’ll leave the concert before the second encore. They always go off in five matching vans to split up the crowd. They’ve got to be going back into the city for a VMAs after party. We’ll just find the vans, and follow them into the city.”
Yeah, that’s stalking. Still, it sounded like a great plan to me.
And we went ahead and did exactly that, slipping out after the first encore and driving around the stadium until we found the vans. There were about a dozen other cars there, so clearly we weren’t the first to come up with this brilliant idea. We idled as close behind the vans as we could, and a few minutes later the Boys were hustled out, flanked by bodyguards, each in a separate van. They took off, and we took off after them.8
It was an actual, literal high-speed chase. We ducked and weaved through traffic on the highway, going well over the speed limit as we frantically tried to keep the vans in sight. Four managed to get away, but we stuck like glue to the fifth, though we had no idea who was in it. Every so often another car would pull up beside us driven by another pack of 18-20-year-old girls in BSB t-shirts and hair glitter, then switch lanes abruptly as they fought not to lose the van.
Looking back, we’re so fucking lucky that we didn’t get pulled over. We’re even luckier that we didn’t wipe out and die. But remember, the Beatlemania Effect doesn’t care about safety, and free from the confines of our seat assignments we were totally in thrall to it.
We reached the city and wove through the streets after the van. It stopped in front of Trump Tower, and Nick got out. (BONANZA! I mean, I would’ve preferred Brian, of course, but can you imagine if we’d gone through all that for Howie? Sorry, Howie.) There were already police barricades set up on either side of the entrance, with a handful of girls clustered at them (how did they know???), and a few cops keeping non-guests from going in. Further barricades blocked the side steps.
There was no time to lose. Nick was already walking up the front steps into the hotel. HFWNICR double-parked the car and we sprang out. But how to get into the hotel with Nick? The front was blocked. But the side steps…
“This way!” I shouted to Holly and HFWNICR. And I leaped over the police barricade like a fucking gazelle and ran up the side steps, through the side door, and into the lobby.
Holly and HFWNICR were right behind me. “Nick!” we cried. “Nick, over here!”
He turned, looking a little bemused, and waved. Success!
…Until hotel security asked us to leave, and the cops sternly ordered us to get back over the barricade and move the car. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
The Beatlemania Effect has two stages: a frenzied one (that apparently turns high school girls into Olympic hurdlers) and a stubborn one. We were now in the stubborn phase. We found the hotel garage entrance and camped out next to it. The afterparty wasn’t in Trump Tower. The guys would have to leave eventually, and we’d be ready for them.
I had several missed calls and a voicemail from my mom on my phone, wondering where I was, since the concert was long over. I guiltily deleted them and put my phone back in my purse. What would I say if I called her back? It wasn’t like I was willing to leave. I would’ve stayed in that spot for days if I had to.
An hour or so went by. We shivered and chatted with the handful of other girls who were lurking there. One of them insisted that she knew the guys; she’d won some trivia contest on TRL, subsequently befriended them, and had totally partied with Nick. HFWNICR had seen the episode, so at least that part was true, but I was skeptical of the rest. Still, it was possibly an in.
Finally a van pulled out. We peered at it but couldn’t figure out who was in it. What should we do? As it pulled out of the driveway I managed to glimpse a profile through the tinted window. “IT’S NICK!”
We ran down the street after the van, waving and shouting. “NICK! NICK, IT’S YOUR FRIEND [TRL GIRL]!” Maybe she would get in the van, and invite us, and we could go to the TRL afterparty, and everything would be perfect forever!
A few yards down Central Park West, the van stopped. The door opened. TRL Girl hesitated. “Go!” I said, and pushed her forward. She ran up to the van and got in. The door closed.
They drove away.
If you’re reading this, TRL Girl: thanks for nothing.
On the way back home, my mom called again. “Where are you?” she demanded when I answered.
“Uh…on the way home.”
“From the concert?”
Needless to say, she was not impressed with my explanation. It was the only time I was ever grounded.
That was the peak of my BSB fandom, which was probably for the best, since if things had continued in that vein I might have gotten arrested or killed or exploded or something. Also, I was graduating from high school and trying to reconcile my teenybopper tendencies with the new, adult me. But college still held some surprises for the Backstreet fan in me – like, say, meeting the entire band. And – what was actually more important – getting some closure. More on that next time.
- You know that scene in Singin’ in the Rain when Gene Kelly’s fans rip his clothing to shreds? That really happens. And it’s not just clothing – AJ once had an earring ripped out in a mob. ↩
- They did, however, include a shot of me chanting “Backstreet Boys! Backstreet Boys!” in some special I never saw, though most of my high school did. Thanks for that, MTV. ↩
- If you think I don’t also own the Japanese version, which includes a fairly terrible bonus track plus a lot of mediocre pictures, you haven’t been paying attention. ↩
- “Either that, or that’s blood and he’s a vampire.” Eh, I’d still hit it. ↩
- I do find it kind of funny/sad that this story involves two huge record stores, both of which are closed now. ↩
- It turned out that the store had sustained heavy shoplifting that day, unsurprisingly. After the hubbub died down, an employee asked Jamie’s mom if she would testify against BSB, since they had agreed not to appear at Virgin, as Virgin could not guarantee enough security. Obviously, she refused. Our Boys could do no wrong! ↩
- Ha. ↩
- Again, it continually delights me how accurate so many little details of Singin’ in the Rain are about fandom, save for the part where the matinee idol drops into the fangirl’s car and falls in love with her. But the part early on where Don and Lina are placed into separate cars to break up the mob? Yup. Probably not the wisest move to have one of those cars be a random friend’s convertible, though. ↩