The life span of a boy band can often seem predetermined. As the boys mature into men and their teen audience ages out, two paths emerge: either break up and move on, or embrace their fate as a nostalgia act.
For Backstreet Boys, the highs were skyscraping: They moved tens of millions of albums worldwide, sold out arenas and had an embarrassment of chart-topping hits. But the documentary Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, an all-access pass to the quintet’s life during the past two years, focuses less on its planet-conquering success than it does on what happened when it faded. It’s a naked examination of how little fame matters when it fails to yield anything lasting, be it personal wealth or fulfillment, skillfully humanizing a group whose celebrity outshined the players within it.
In the doc, the members (Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and A.J. McLean) unflinchingly come to terms with a past that haunts them. Emotions bubble to the surface when they return to their childhood homes — most weep while reflecting on lives left behind — and soon turn vindictive as they rehash how the group’s creator, Lou Pearlman, who’s currently incarcerated for running a Ponzi scheme, financially betrayed them.
But it’s when the Boys contemplate the future that the film really compels. As they grapple with Littrell’s vocal detrition in the face of a hoped-for comeback, tensions mount; during a meeting about a new LP, Carter erupts, blaming him for failures that are yet to happen. It’s the ugly side of a group whose pretty looks used to be a selling point, and it has come to light in this surprisingly fascinating film.