Lou Pearlman's Chart Legacy: Backstreet Boys, 'NSYNC, O-Town and More
Controversial pop music svengali Lou Pearlman — who died on Aug. 19 at 62, while serving a 25-year prison sentence for running a $300 million Ponzi scheme — managed, signed and/or helped create a number of acts that notched mega hits and massive sales. Among them: *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, O-Town, LFO and Aaron Carter. While his legacy is unquestionably a troubled one, there's no contesting the impact his acts had on the charts. Here’s a look at some of the chart numbers and staggering sales figures behind a few of those acts.
Backstreet Boys: The quintet made its Billboard chart debut on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart dated Oct. 14, 1995 with “We’ve Got It Goin’ On,” and two weeks later, hit the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 97.
While “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” only rose to No. 69, it was the start of something big for Backstreet Boys on the charts. The group claimed its second Hot 100 hit in June of 1997 with what would become its highest charting single ever: “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart).” The track would peak at No. 2 for two weeks that summer. Meanwhile, the act’s self-titled debut album entered the Billboard 200 chart on Aug. 30, 1997 and eventually peaked at No. 4 the following January. The set was a monster hit, spending 133 weeks on the chart, and was ranked in the top 10 for nearly every week for the following year.
However, in May of 1998, Backstreet Boys filed suit against Pearlman, claiming they had not been properly compensated for their work. (Pearlman recruited the members of Backstreet Boys in 1992 and 1993, and eventually signed them to Jive Records.)
By the end of 1998, Backstreet Boys’ eponymous album had sold 7 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music. It was the year’s third-biggest selling album (5.7 million), behind only Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love (5.9 million) and the Titanic soundtrack (9.3 million).
As for its suit against Pearlman, the group eventually settled with him in 1999, though the act sued him again numerous times until the deal was renegotiated.
In the midst of all these legal entanglements, Backstreet Boys were still racking up the hits. By the end of 1999, the group had claimed nine hits on the Pop Songs airplay chart, including the chart-topping “I Want It That Way.” The tune would later earn a Grammy Award nomination for record of the year.
In the summer of 1999, the group issued its second album, Millennium, led by “I Want It That Way.” The album blasted in at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart dated June 5, selling 1.13 million copies in its first week – at the time, the largest sales week for an album since Nielsen began tracking sales in 1991. The album spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and finished 1999 as the year’s top selling album (9.4 million sold that year).
Backstreet Boys chalked up another million-selling week, and another No. 1, with its next album, 2000’s Black & Blue (selling 1.6 million in its first week). In total, Backstreet Boys scored nine charting albums on the Billboard 200 in its career – with all nine of them reaching the top 10. To date, Backstreet Boys have sold 31.5 million albums in the U.S. Of that sum, 12.3 million is from Millennium, and 10.2 million is from the group's self-titled debut.
*NSYNC: As Backstreet Boys made waves on the charts, another Pearlman-commissioned act, *NSYNC, began to flourish. The group was assembled in 1995 by TransContinental Records and signed to BMG Ariola in Germany the next year. *NSYNC found its initial success in Europe before being embraced by American audiences. BMG label RCA Records issued the group’s self-titled debut album in the U.S. in 1998, and released its first American single, “I Want You Back.” The track debuted on the Pop Songs airplay chart dated Jan. 31, 1998 and eventually peaked at No. 7 on May 9 of that year.
The *NSYNC album debuted on the Billboard 200 chart on April 11, 1998, and rose to No. 2 in October. The set spawned four Pop Songs chart hits: “I Want You Back,” “Tearin’ Up My Heart” (No. 6), “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You” (No. 5) and “I Drive Myself Crazy” (No. 14).
Toward the end of 1998, the group issued a holiday album, Home for Christmas, which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Holiday Albums chart. For five weeks, both *NSYNC and Home for Christmas concurrently charted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart. At the close of 1998, *NSYNC’s debut album ranked as the year’s No. 5 biggest seller (4.3 million).
The following March, *NSYNC attempted to renegotiate its deal with TransContinental Records, but could not agree on new terms. Eventually, after months of legal wrangling, *NSYNC signed a deal with Jive Records in September of 1999. That move prompted BMG and Pearlman to sue *NSYNC and Jive’s parent company, Zomba, for breach of contract. Ultimately, in December of 1999, all parties settled, clearing the path for *NSYNC to announce the release of its second studio album, No Strings Attached.
The set was led by the single “Bye Bye Bye” in January of 2000, and the track shot to No. 1 on the Pop Songs chart dated March 4, 2000 and spent 10 weeks at No. 1. It was followed by a second No. 1, “It’s Gonna Be Me,” in July. (That was also the group’s first No. 1 on Hot 100 chart.)
No Strings Attached arrived on the Billboard 200 albums chart dated April 8, 2000, selling a then-Nielsen-era record of 2.42 million copies in its first week. That record would stand until Adele’s 25 was released in 2015, selling 3.38 million in its first frame.
No Strings Attached spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and finished the year as the top selling album (9.93 million).
In total, *NSYNC racked up 12 hits on both the Pop Songs airplay chart and the Billboard Hot 100, and a total of six albums on the Billboard 200. Following No Strings Attached, *NSYNC claimed one more No. 1: Celebrity, in 2001 (bowing with 1.88 million sold). It remains the group’s final studio effort. In total, *NSYNC has sold 28.7 million albums in the U.S. (including 11.2 million from No Strings Attached, its biggest seller, and 8.9 million from its eponymous debut).
O-Town, Aaron Carter and LFO: Pearlman initially managed O-Town after the group was assembled on the reality show Making the Band in 2000. O-Town busted out of the gate in late 2000 with the No. 10-peaking Hot 100 hit “Liquid Dreams.” The quintet followed it up with its highest charting single, the No. 3-peaking “All or Nothing.” The group’s self-titled debut album peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart in February of 2001, and has sold 1.7 million copies. A second album, O2, followed in 2002, peaking at No. 28 (258,000 copies sold).
Carter – the younger brother of Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter – was signed to a recording deal with TransContinental Records in 1997 when he was 10 years old. By 2002, Carter’s parents sued TransContinental for payments and royalties owed to Aaron. They eventually settled out of court. He later sued Pearlman in 2007 to get out of his recording contract and won.
Carter didn’t find much success on the radio airwaves (he never charted a hit on the Pop Songs airplay chart), but was a big seller in terms of albums. He moved a total of 4.7 million albums in the U.S., notching a pair of million sellers with Aaron’s Party (Come Get It) (2.7 million) and Oh Aaron (1.3 million).
LFO, who notched a smash single with “Summer Girls,” was also managed by TransContinental Management and signed to its label. “Summer Girls” peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 in August of 1999 and was followed by a second top 10 single, “Girl on TV,” which reached No. 10 that December. The trio’s self-titled album (released through Arista Records) peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 and went on to sell 1.5 million. A follow-up set, Life Is Good, was issued in 2001 and sold 310,000.