AJ McLean Explains Why Backstreet Boys’ Upcoming LP ‘DNA’ Is ‘One of Our Best Bodies of Work’

Next year may be 2019, but for fans of the Backstreet Boys, it may feel more like 1999 again. The legendary boy band are not only releasing a new album, but they’re also embarking on their biggest tour in nearly 20 years.

The group gave fans a glimpse into this next era of BSB on Friday morning (Nov 9) with a new single called “Chances,” a thumping love song that allows all five Backstreet Boys’ voices to shine on their own. The track — penned by a team of writers, including hitmakers Ryan Tedder and Shawn Mendes — follows the group’s dynamic comeback single “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” which landed the quintet their biggest Pop Songs airplay hit in 13 years.

Along with the new song, album news and tour announcement, BSB also released the fanatical video for “Chances,” which was directed by AJ McLean — the first time a Backstreet Boy got behind the camera for one of their visuals. That makes the track particularly special for McLean, but he promises that the entire album (titled DNA, due Jan. 25 on RCA) is chock full of incredible tunes. “Literally song for song, I feel that every record on this album could be a single,” he suggests.

Ahead of the release, Billboard caught up with McLean to hear about working with Tedder on “Chances,” directing the video, and why he believes DNA is one of the Backstreet Boys’ best albums of their career.

How did you end up with “Chances” after Ryan Tedder and Shawn Mendes wrote it?

I’ve known Ryan for about 15 years — him and I worked together on my first solo endeavor. So I kept saying “Dude, you’ve gotta send us the hotness, man!”

Finally we got a song submitted we all fell madly in love with it. We loved what it said, we loved the vibe. He’s just such a brilliant writer and just an all-around awesome freaking guy. And same with Shawn. Shawn’s so talented and a freaking sweetheart. I hate he’s so tall and handsome, it kills me. [Laughs.]

What made it feel like the right follow-up to “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”?

“Chances” is sonically the closest to “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” but it also stands on its own. Lyrically, the song it’s not your typical Backstreet Boys love song, which is something we all really liked. It’s more of that realistic love story about chance, to find that person in the most precarious of scenarios. It’s a really beautiful love song.

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Also, everyone gets their moment to shine, and it’s just an all around a feel-good record. Going into the holidays, you don’t want a full-on dance, power-pop record, you might want something a little bit sweeter. I think we really nailed it with this song.

You just directed the music video for your own solo single, “Night Visions” — is that what inspired you to direct “Chances”?

I kind of got a little bit of the buzz for the directing thing! I really enjoy it, and I would even like to do it for other artists outside of our group. But I think it’s one of our absolute best videos to date.

That’s a big thing to say as a Backstreet Boy. You guys had so many iconic videos!

We did, but I think as far as aesthetically, visually, this video really stands out. It’s the first time that you see all five of us wearing suits in a video, for one. There’s a beautiful elegant dance sequence that, instead of cutting back from the dancing to us singing, it’s an uninterrupted 30 seconds of a beautiful dance routine. I was a little bit scared that I was going to get pushback, but the fellas loved it, the label loved it, management loved it, and they said “Don’t touch it.”

It takes you off in this new world, kind of how La La Land did — “Is this today, is this 30 years later? I don’t care, I’m in love with what I’m seeing.” That’s kind of the whole inspiration behind it.

As for the lyrics of the song, do you see it connecting with the story of how BSB was formed, in a way?

There’s definitely an homage to that how things transpired for us. What are the chances us five guys would come together from all walks of life, from different states, different backgrounds, different upbringings, and be here 25 years later still making music, still having fun, and about to embark on our biggest tour in 18 years?

You know, it’s funny, I just thought of something — to this day, whenever we do any kind of interview or whatever, people always throw in that tongue-in-cheek “Backstreet’s back!” and we have to say “All right!” I got a feeling “Chances” is gonna be the new one. Every interview for the rest of this tour is going to be like, “So what do you think the chances were this, this and this,” Like, “Oh, there it is again. Chances.”

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You guys just need to be more careful about naming song titles that can be puns.

Puns are the best part of a lot of things, so as long as it’s being talked about, then we’ve done our job. We’ve made the impact with another great song, and it’s just been about the music for us, and it always will be. If we can keep making great music, then we’re going to stay around for 25 more years.

I have a feeling that’ll happen with the album title DNA too. What sparked that title idea?

Kevin was the catalyst for it, basically walking us down memory lane and reminding us, “Guys, think about what has really encompassed the sound of the Backstreet Boys. It’s been digital, and analog. Songs like ‘[Everybody] Backstreet’s Back’ or ‘Larger Than Life’ definitely fall in the digital category, and songs like ‘As Long As You Love Me,’ ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,’ ‘I Want It That Way’ that have that acoustic live feel, fall in the analog department.”

As soon as he said that, I was like, “So basically it’s kinda like the DNA of what makes up the group.” And everybody looked at me like, “That’s the album title.” I was like “You’re welcome.” Wasn’t my plan, but all right. What are the chances Kevin would’ve said it? [Laughs.]

How much involvement did you guys have in the creation process for this one?

We were definitely hands-on with the whole record, really letting each of us have their moment to shine. There’s really prominent group records, there’s some records where there’s only three guys singing, there’s some records where there’s only two guys singing. Really trying to make this album kind of something different for everyone, but also a different experience for us as well to kind of break up the monotony of it.

The one thing I think will ring really true on this album, in comparison to our last album In A World Like This, is that we’ve definitely gotten back to that signature Backstreet sound as far as the harmonies. We really really tuned that back in again.

I think you guys have done a good job of still being the Backstreet Boys, but the Backstreet Boys in 2018. How do you think you’ve managed to do that?

See also  Don't Go Breaking My Heart

With every album, we always try to one-up ourselves. One thing we take pride in is we never try to conform to what is happening elsewhere in the music world and to stay in our own lane. Whether it’s doing something like Las Vegas, which is capitalizing on that nostalgia, but also reigniting the flame and reinventing ourselves again, and getting ourselves hyped about embarking on a brand new journey together, with a new album, with what you said, Backstreet Boys of 2018.

You’ll hear songs on the album that will take you back, but the production is very current, or the lyrical content is very urgent, but the harmonies or melodies may take you back to the Millennium album, or Black and Blue, or even the first album. We found a way to encompass the last 25 years in this album.

Where do you think this falls in the ranking of all 10 Backstreet Boys albums?

I know it’s a bold statement, but I’d say it’s right up there in between Millenium and Black and Blue. It’s just such an amazing body of work. We really have great songs that show growth. There’s certain elements from each song that takes you back to those amazing albums, whether it’s the production, the lyrics or the melodies. This is one of our best bodies of work in a long time. I truly, truly believe it.

You said the Vegas show reignited a flame. I’d assume the residency will play into how the tour comes together, but did it also have any impact on how the album came together?

It kind of falls into both. We’ve been doing these songs for a long time, but seeing new faces in the crowd, and to see new fans falling in love with us for the first time, and fans who have been with us for 25 years falling in love all over again, is so inspiring in so many ways that it reignited this new fire under our butts and say, “We’ve got to ramp things up guys, we’ve got to go to the next level.” And that’s exactly what we did.

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