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Watch the Tunes: Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of

On June 10, 2016


There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Backstreet Boys: Show ’Em What You’re Made Of, which is streaming over on Netflix.

I’m about to firmly advocate that you watch a documentary about The Backstreet Boys, so brace yourselves, people. Yeah, I didn’t see this coming either, but here we are. Now that we’re here though, there’s something really wonderful about getting to prosthelytize to the Vinyl Me Please faithful about Stephen Kijak’s Backstreet Boys: Show ’Em What You’re Made Of despite the fact that nothing of theirs was ever released on the slick twelve inch by twelve inch medium we all know and love. It’s music, and that’s enough for nerds like us to put it under the umbrella of “stuff we give a shit about” even if, like me, it was just something to tolerate while you waited for whether or not Nine Inch Nails might inexplicably make the cut on Total Request Live.

While it stops just short of being a tour documentary, Show ’Em What You’re Made Of covers all the time leading up to the Boys' inevitable “In a World Like This” 20th anniversary / reunion / world tour in 2013. After six years in the wind chasing a solo career, Kevin’s finally back with the other four (A. J., Howie, Nick, and Brian, if you needed the reminder), which creates an excellent balance of tension and warm-fuzzy moments that are difficult to look away from. Everyone has aged and is showing their years. Summing up the kinda sad reality of being in a famous boy band, Brian Littrell (whose vocal range occasionally fails him now) says early on in the doc: “From 1999 to about 2002 we were the biggest band in the world. No one thought it was going to be as big as it was, then it just stopped. And what do you do when you’re a full-grown man in a boy band?” The group makes pilgrimages to not just their their respective hometowns, but also the home of their former “sixth member” Lou Pearlman who put the group together, stiffed them for millions of dollars, and was eventually busted for running a pyramid scheme. Walking around Pearlman’s now-empty house with the five-some feels uncomfortably like revisiting the scene of a crime and it kinda is since, in a discomforting revelation, the self-appointed father-figure used to let the teenagers watch porn on his rec-room big screen.

The “Boys” are collectively painted as victims and, given how hard their manager fucked them over, it’s a characterization that sticks a lot better than you’d think. Sure they were a boy-band, cobbled together with the pure intention of separating teen girls from their allowance money but, even though it’s a far cry from Get In The Van, they sure as shit put in the hours and days rehearsing and bouncing from mall to mall in the early years. "Pinocchio was manufactured but in the end he turned into a real boy" is the way they validate the means by which they were chasing the dream of being Artists with a capital A. There’s a ton of colorfully dated archival footage crammed into Show ’Em What You’re Made Of and, coupled with the mid-aughts trips to catch up with various middle school chorus teachers, it all goes a long way to humanize these guys. For real, if A.J. dusting off some ballet moves in front of a class full of girls who were infants when he was topping the chart doesn’t warm you to them, nothing will.

The film ends up landing a good ways off from the squeaky clean image that the group was forced to conform to at their peak. From the opening shot of two members of the group pissing in the woods, you know to watch out cuz “this ain’t your mother’s Backstreet Boys doc!” Wanna learn how to say "Will you give me a blow job?" in German? Kevin’s got ya! For rubberneckers looking for trainwrecks, there’s a shocking amount of candid and sometimes unflattering footage that makes it into the final cut. In a huge Some Kind Of Monster style emo-explosion, the cameras capture a tour-planning meeting where Nick yells a seemingly nonstop barrage of profanities at Brian over the fact that the group is having to dance around his cracking voice. It’s a crazy testament to the group’s professionalism that the beef eventually gets squashed and everyone’s able to ultimately get past their old grudges, but it’s readily evident that everyone’s got some scar tissue just under the surface.

Show ’Em What You’re Made Of, like previous Watch the Tunes entry We Are Twisted F*cking Sister, does a great job controlling the narrative scope of its respective subject. Even though you might end up with a whole new respect for the group, actual footage of them on the tour in 2013 is thankfully saved until the credits start rolling (the less said about the tunes from the new album, the better). The upside of this credit reel though is getting to see the OG fans interact with members before and after the shows. These guys clearly still mean a lot to more people around the world than you might think, and my only complaint is that it’s a fact which we aren’t directly confronted with until the very last possible moment. There are so many ways this could’ve ended up being a really boring movie, but it ends up transcending the soulless genre of music that the Backstreet Boys were best known for.

Profile Picture of Chris Lay
Chris Lay

Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.

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