Backstreet Boys Fandom through a Generational Lens

Curator's Note

Over the past few years, various hit artists from decades ago have stepped back into the limelight. Pop acts like Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, and Jonas Brothers have reunited for a tour or a piece of new music. These revivals or long-running “pop franchises” offer a chance for their longtime fans to nostalgically return to their object of affection. But this also requires fans to adapt and update their fan practices.

In 2022, the Backstreet Boys are back again: they’re touring the USA, Canada, and Europe at the moment. However, according to their fans, they were “never gone.” The release of a Christmas album in 2022, sold-out Vegas residencies in the years before the pandemic hit, and a documentary (2015) attest to their long-term career. This boy band is still very present in today’s cultural industry.

To understand decades-long fandom, I studied adult fans of the Backstreet Boys in the Netherlands who had first fallen in love with the band when they were teenagers. I found that they were able to “update” their fandom as adults, with new opportunities for them to stay active. In control of their own money and time, unlike when they were children, many reported that they were more able to attend concerts and themed cruises and purchase memorabilia. Rather than waning as they grew out of their teen years, their love for the Backstreet Boys sustained itself and sometimes even increased as the fans entered adulthood. These fans participate in a lifecycle fandom, in which their own life milestones have become entangled with their experiences as Backstreet Boys fans. The band’s career and lives, and the fans’ lives have grown together.

Although some fans have just joined the fandom recently or abandoned their fandom and now participate in these Backstreet events for nostalgic reasons, many have been with “the Boys” for over two decades now. As the band members themselves state in this clip, their thirty-year success is really due to thirty-year fans.

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