Sunday, June 13, 2010

After 25.16 years of being alive, I just watched Pretty Woman for the first time. Is it just me, or is that movie super sexist? But I liked her spunky hooker friend.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BSB at Wolf Trap

When did you realize you were grown up? First apartment/car rental/ job/hangover/ baby/hangover baby? That time you went to the junkyard and screamed for no reason in the pouring rain with Natalie Portman and that guy from "Kinsey" who was really brave to go full frontal in that movie because, well, maybe he was in the pool, haha, oooh, umm, err, baby carrot?

Not me. I knew I would never be a grown woman until a treasured band from my adolescence showed up at Wolf Trap, gentle pasture for has-beens. Amidst the stellar summer lineup of Hall and Oates, Pat Benatar, Earth Wind and Fire, and REO Speedwagon, there came, on an ordinary Wednesday night, with little fanfare, The Backstreet Boys. Yes, The Backstreet Boys. They are still on tour.

The last time I saw them was February of 2001 - already past the prime years of "Backstreet's Back (All Right!)" and "Everybody (Rock Your Body)", but still in front of a sold-out house at MCI Center. The middle-aged woman in front of me had a giant tattoo on her back that featured all of their names, in cursive, orbiting the disembodied head of a unicorn. I am not lying. Ask Julia Scarborough. She was there too.

Those were halcyon days for The Backstreet Boys. First of all, there were still five of them. Taut-bodied and fancy-free, they shot up onto the stage in plumes of smoke, like bullets of awesome. I believe they did several of their hip-hop moves while suspended from wires in the air. The crowd was hysterical, and huge.

Flash forward ten years. As the house lights at the modest Filene Center dimmed for the beginning of the show, a five-year-old toddled out onto the stage in a single spotlight. Several of the girls in the audience cheered wildly, but most were confused.

"You ready to see The Backstreet Boys? My dad and The Backstreet Boys are behind this curtain," he lisped, grinning. Because, you see, The Backstreet Boys have children now. Cogent children. Children in school. This concert was going to be a different animal entirely.

...Yet the fans were still there. In a space a tenth the size of MCI, granted, and for half the cost of what BSB tickets used to command, but they were there, packing Filene Center to the gills: women in their 20's like me and the five girls I went with; women in their 30's and 40's, driven to new heights of lust by the Twilight books on their bedside tables, looking a little deranged, clutching "WE LUV U BSB!" signs; and finally, inexplicably, hundreds and hundreds of 10-12-year-old girls. Did Justin Bieber say he liked BSB? Did their mothers and babysitters play their old CD's for them? How confusing.

The concert didn't disappoint. Fortunately, like Marco Polo heading into steppes unknown, camels laden with spice, The Backstreet Boys (or their managers) seem to have thought ahead in the 1990's as they decided which songs written by other people would constitute their hit catalogue. Their songs were designed to age: Everybody, rock your body, Backstreet's back. Oh my God, we're back again. I have to hand it to them: they were pretty smart!

Pretty smart, if now no longer all that pretty. Brian Littrell, who moonlights as a Christian rock artist, looked like an elementary school teacher dressed up in costume for the annual school variety show: vanilla as un-dipped DQ, goofy grin on his face, hamming it up through lyrics he once delivered with a stone-cold sex face. AJ, whose self-esteem issues are evident in the fact that he performs solo as "Johnny No Name," is now completely bald and tried to rock a hoodie with the hood up the whole time to cover for it.

Howie was as forgettable as ever. (Poor Howie - I hear he's the only one of them who can actually sing.) And Kevin Richardson left the band in 2006.

That leaves us with Nick Carter, the Golden Boy, Teen People's Sexiest Man of 1999. His contemporary resemblance to Liza Minelli was so shocking that I half expected him to stop dancing and sob in the middle of the act: "Why, Mama? Why?" He managed the occasional hoarse, off-key solo and did his dance moves like--well--me in gym class the year I discovered donuts. But the important thing was: he tried.

They all tried. Very hard. And--this was crucial--they understood what they had become. They only attempted a couple songs off their new album, mostly sticking to the oldies. They spoofed themselves in little movie clips they played while they ran offstage every three minutes to catch their poor late-thirtysomething breaths.

And a crowd full of women who'd first heard them on middle school dance floors in the arms of a first crush or in a circle of giggling friends remembered some pretty great times. I for one remembered the only real celebrity crush I've ever had, at age 12, on Prince William (of course). The week I wrote him a letter and walked it to the post-box with fingers crossed, I listened over and over to BSB: "I don't care who you are / Where you're from / What you did / As long as you love me." In my mind, of course, Prince William was singing this to me, the overweight 7th grader from Bethesda whose letter dripping with perfume and flower stickers had just pierced his noble soul.

I wondered where that letter had ended up. I wondered if 12-year-old me would be proud of who I was now. (Sorry, younger Anna, no ascension to English royalty.) Then, as Nick Carter stumbled through another dance move, I realized I really was an adult now--and thank God, because boy bands are really much more fun with half a bottle of wine.

Thanks to Liz B. for having the idea to go out there in the first place!