An Open Letter To One Direction Fans From A Backstreet Boys Fan

You kids don’t know how good you have it.

Dear Directioners,

Let me tell you something about your generation: You never would have survived the boy band boom of the ’90s.

Oh, sure, you shriek and pull your hair out for One Direction, and I respect that dedication. But you have no idea what we went through as fans of the Backstreet Boys at the end of the last millennium. You don’t know the struggle. And until you’re schooled on the reality of our lives as BSB fans, you’ll never know how good you have it now. We were lost. We were scared. We were tweens before anyone used that word.

This isn’t about telling you that the Backstreet Boys are better than One Direction. This is about explaining why you can’t even compare the two. We come from different times, you and I. And while One Direction makes your body quiver in ways I can only imagine, the Backstreet Boys continue to have a hold on me that harkens back to a pubescent discovery that I was into guys — specifically guys who were Nick Carter. We can agree on the absurd appeal of boy bands, but our experiences are worlds apart.

Let’s start with dancing, or the lack thereof. Over the past month, I have had the pleasure of seeing both One Direction and the Backstreet Boys in concert, and while both groups are talented in their own ways, there is a sharp distinction in stage presence. The Backstreet Boys dance. One Direction shuffle around on stage, passing the mic to one another along the way. That’s not a criticism: It’s a fact.

When you see One Direction, you can relate to them, because they seem like normal teenage boys. They’re just hanging out on stage. The Backstreet Boys, on the other hand, represent a well-oiled machine. No human should be able to move like that, at least not with such perfect synchronization. You are lucky to be able to feel close to your idols in a way that we never could: BSB were always too far removed from reality. They were a single flowing organism, or very realistic dancing robots, and we responded accordingly.

Along the same lines, there is a sense of individuality to One Direction that is both admirable and, for old-school boy band fans, a little disconcerting. Our boy band members didn’t have unique personalities back in the ’90s: They were personality types. As fictional boy band 2gether laid it out, you had the bad boy, the young one, the older brother, the shy one, and the heartthrob. And that was all we needed. Any more information could be gleaned from Tiger Beat, but that publication — however essential to our development — never delved deep.

As for imagining a romantic pairing between members of the group, forget about it. That was a fantasy you held in private, not something you could share on Tumblr for thousands of reblogs. (Tumblr didn’t even exist. Take a moment.) And the Backstreet Boys never gave in to our hidden desires with self-conscious moments of guy-on-guy flirtation. One Direction’s homoeroticism is one of the most delightful things about them, but it’s important to remember how far we’ve come. If we deviant BSB fans wanted to read about AJ and Brian giving in to the love that dare not speak its name, we had to scour the internet for poorly written erotica — just words, no pictures! And we had so little to work with, because we had such limited knowledge of the Backstreet Boys’ true selves.

BSB rarely shared their innermost feelings with us, because they didn’t have Twitter accounts we could follow. Consider how you would feel if you had to go without that kind of relentless access to the boys of One Direction. We couldn’t beg the BSB guys for a follow, or ask them to retweet a message for their Brazilian fans. They were too far removed to touch — whether virtually or otherwise. The fan mail went unreturned. The screams went unanswered. And that was OK, because it was all we knew. But you have more of a chance of reaching Harry Styles than I ever did of complimenting Howie Dorough on his Roswell cameo. It might feel hopeless to you — “Will you ever notice me?” — but remember how lucky you are.

OK, yes, they thanked the loyal fans when they could, but never to the extent that One Direction does. That’s not a dig at the Backstreet Boys, whose ability to sell out an arena 20 years after they formed is a credit to the fans, but rather an acknowledgment that times have changed. Everything that One Direction does, they do it for you. We never had that solemn promise. We never had a concert film made just for us. I mean, we never had a concert film at all.

I realize that no matter how I explain all of this to you, any comparison of the Backstreet Boys and One Direction is bound to draw ire. And I get that: Your passion for 1D runs deep. But for all of you who feel like you invented boy band fandom, and who are sure no one else has endured the pain of not being able to hold Zayn close and smell his hair — I’m asking for a little respect. We put in the hours and toiled hard for our boy bands. To reach BSB, we’d walk miles. Uphill. Both ways.

Showing you the meaning of being lonely,
Louis Peitzman

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