How I Became an Adult Backstreet Boys Fan
“Sorry, we went with another candidate.”
I briefly considered putting this on my tombstone, but then I realized the better idea would be to get cremated and have a trusted friend blow my ashes into the eyes of job fair recruiters. If I were to die this instant, that is. You don’t want to hire me? Too late, I fired myself from being alive.
“You’ll get something,” my mom assures me. “How is your writing going?”
I spend all my extra money on a video player for the TV. It’s small and compact enough that I could probably lose it if it didn’t have wires attached. I rip it out of the package and sit nearly immobile until one of my roommates returns.
“Look,” I say, holding up the remote. “We can all watch music videos together.”
She is excited like she would be if I’d just made alternate on the spelling team. You’re happy so I’m happy. I decide this is sufficient.
That night my roommates and I watch everything from My Chemical Romance’s “Helena” to Crazytown’s “Butterfly.” I drink champagne out of a boot-shaped mug and fist pump when I put on “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”
I have seen it before, but each view brings a new revelation. All of the Backstreet Boys are trapped for a night in a mansion so spooky that they turn into horror movie characters. Nick is wrapped in gauze, flanked by two female mummies. Howie is a vampire doing a slow-mo bite of a lady in a red, ruffled dress who looks stoned.
I decide that a world without a high-budget haunted-mansion boy band video is not a world I can feel comfortable living in, just as I would not feel comfortable living in a world where the question “Am I sexual?” is left unanswered.
“Wait,” I tug at my roommate’s sleeve, sloshing champagne into my lap. “Let’s watch another Backstreet Boys video.”
My inbox the next morning has three job alerts, along with a confirmation for my order of one Backstreet Boys Millennium tour poster.
When my girlfriend comes over I ask her who her favorite Backstreet Boy is.
“I didn’t really like Backstreet Boys. I liked NSYNC.”
“It’s not a zero-sum game! You can like both.”
“No,” she says.
“But like if you had to pick—”
My favorite Backstreet Boy is Brian because he is short and looks like he might have been really into kites during his childhood. My favorite member of NSYNC is Justin, which I feel a little guilty about. Backstreet Boys was more of an egalitarian boy band, whereas NSYNC was the Justin show: the other members didn’t really have a fair fight. I imagine that Chris Kirkpatrick’s dread-ponytail was a cry for attention, a silent plea to let him have a solo.
I have stopped looking for jobs.
My poster comes much later than expected, and I have to pick it up from the post office. It’s in a long poster tube, but when I unwrap it I reveal a small print the approximate size of, say, my resume. I flatten it out and tape it to my door.
My roommate surveys the poster.
“I thought it would be a lot bigger.”
“It’s big enough! Look at it! They’re dressed like spacemen.”
“Yeah,” she says, looking at it again. “Why are there only three of them on the poster? Aren’t there five of them?”
“These are the three best ones.”
I text a photo of it to my girlfriend.
“Why is it so small? Where is Howie and AJ?”
In the video for NSYNC’s “I Want You Back” the boys are dancing on a spaceship, with color-coordinated skintight shirts and baggy, belted black pants. Halfway through my third viewing of the video, I decide that I, too, would like to look good in skin-tight shirts.
“If I just dance a lot I’ll get those muscles.” I pull another beer out of the fridge.
“Dancing gives you lean muscle,” my girlfriend says. “They have to lift weights too look like that.”
I have a gym membership that I use approximately once every two weeks, my primary motivation being that there’s a liquor store on the walk home. “Gym gets you Gin,” I’ll say as I turn the elliptical up from Level 1 to Level 2.
I start going to the gym every day, equipped with a playlist I subscribed to called “BOY BANDS,” which has everything from O-Town to New Edition. Every day after the elliptical I take a walk through the weights section, too self-conscious to pick anything up. There are dudes in tank tops who already have boy band muscles. They lift weights above their heads without breaking eye contact with their mirrored reflections.
I meander long enough at one point that it’s awkward if I just leave, so I pick up a five-pound weight and flex with it.
My roommate who works from home is making a fruit salad while I listen to “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” with headphones plugged in.
“All you do is go to the gym, get drunk, and listen to the Backstreet Boys,” she says. “Are you going to be an adult Backstreet Boys fan?”
I don’t answer because I don’t need to.
I fly back home to Texas for my grandmother’s 80th birthday party. Afterwards, I pick up a friend who I haven’t seen in a year.
“What’s new with you?” I ask. “Are you still seeing Mark?”
“Yeah! How are you?”
The playlist in my car switches songs.
“I think that ‘The Call’ was when people started liking Backstreet Boys less,” I say. “It’s a song about infidelity that couldn’t possibly be marketed to the same group of people that were enamored of ‘As Long as You Love Me.’ I’m good though, to answer your question.”
A few days later I return home to a handful of letters that my girlfriend wrote me while she was visiting California, along with a package containing a Backstreet Boys T-shirt that I ordered off of Etsy a week before in the twilight hours of the morning.
Sighing, I sit down at my computer, open a job alert email, and turn the volume up slightly on “It’s Gonna Be Me.”
Chelsea Upton hates One Direction.