What I observed about storytelling during a Backstreet Boys concert.

by Todd Foley

028Yes, I just admitted that. Backstreet was back (alright!) in Vancouver last night, and I was singing along to nearly every song. I was admittedly a bit secretive about attending, but once I was there, I had no choice but to sing (sing, croak, whatever it was my vocal cords attempted to do) – and I had a lot of fun.

While I did watch the boy band (“boys” who are now pushing 40) recap their wide catalogue of Top 40 singles and get down (and move it all around) to the original choreography, I spent most of the night looking around at the audience – mostly made up of millenials like myself along with many middle-aged women (my wife even saw one of her college professors busting it to “Larger Than Life”). Nearly everyone was singing, swaying and smiling to every line of factory-produced cheesiness in the songs.

But we all were eating it up, because despite how sappy the Backstreet Boys’ songs are (the singers even joked throughout the night about the silliness of the lyrics), it made us feel something. Without feeling something, it just feels, well, incomplete.

Sometimes, that’s just what we’re looking for in a story, and that’s my main criteria when I review books on this blog: How did this story make me feel? Which thoughts and emotions did it evoke? What did I most remember after finishing the story?

The especially fun part of the evening was that it was a celebration of more than 20 years in the industry – pretty impressive for a fad that wasn’t taken too seriously back when the group first rose to fame. We celebrated, because we remember how those cheesy songs made us feel. As an audience, we celebrated the story of growing up with the Backstreet Boys.

Here are three storytelling components I experienced while exploring the shape of my heart along with BSB’s Vancouver following, components that make up the BSB story:

  1. Nostalgia. When a song is nearly 20 years old, you tend to think back to where you were 20 years ago. Where you were working, what grade you were in, who your friends were, what hobbies you pursued, etc. The (in)famous line “Backstreet’s back, alright!” harkens a sense that something we remember is now back again, and those memories are from a much simpler time, back to a more optimistic America. Back to when I’d listen a mix CD with a BSB song on it on my 15-second ESP disc man (granted that the disc wasn’t scratched) or on my boom box while I waited for our monstrously huge desktop computer to connect to dial-up Internet. Back to when my biggest worries were making the bus on time and getting the not-overcooked chicken nuggets at the middle school cafeteria.
  2. Joy. Even though many people grew sick of hearing “I Want It That Way” over and over on the airwaves (I can’t imagine how tired the group must be from singing this one for so many years), the audience new every single line. Maybe that’s because the lyrics are redundant and really don’t make much sense (which way is that way? And why must we tell them why?). But there’s something special about everyone singing along to the same song in unity, in celebration, in joy.
  3. Simplicity. Lyrics about love. Tightly choreographed dance routines. Flashing lights. Okay, so maybe flashing lights aren’t that simple or minimalistic, but it brought me back to late 90’s pop where that was the winning formula. No twerking, not shock-factor, no we-need-to-go-viral-instantly antics. It was a simple, straight-forward experience, yet it was somehow memorable.

That’s what I loved about the concert. I went to be entertained, and I discovered a story – a story that I was a part of. It almost felt larger than life.

Where have you unexpectedly noticed a greater story in an everyday experience (like a concert)?

P.S. How many BSB references did you catch in this post? Anyone who counts them all up gets a virtual high-five from Todd.