When boy bands 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys hit the music scene in the mid-90s, I was a college student who wasn't listening to much pop music. It's not that I was unaware of either act, they were certainly difficult to escape at that point, but they were not a going concern for me.
For that reason I suppose I never even realized that while the two acts were often pitted against each other in the public sphere (especially when it came to topping the charts on MTV's "Total Request Live"), they were both managed and found their careers being nurtured by the same impresario. Lou Pearlman was a larger-than-life entrepreneur who, after watching the grand success of the New Kids On The Block, decided that he could put together similar groups to rake in easy money.
It was just another grand idea from a businessman who had previously committed insurance fraud to kickstart his finances. And, at least initially, it wasn't a home run. It took compiling two international albums from the Backstreet Boys into one U.S. debut before they started to take off at home (and eventually becoming the biggest-selling boy band in history). The perceived rivalry between BSB and 'N Sync was a big hit for Pearlman, less so for the actual members.
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Many of the guys from both groups are interviewed in "The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story" (no, Justin Timberlake isn't here, but his mother shows up to represent him a few times). They all explain how once they were really big enough to have lawyers review their contracts, it was clear that Pearlman was the only one benefiting from their success.
It's a wild cautionary tale for young artists and musicians that only gets weirder after we leave the pop world behind and learn about Pearlman's launching of a massive Ponzi scheme that followed all the artists he worked with suing him for fraud. In this case, the truth is definitely stranger than fiction.
"The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story" will screen again on March 14 at 1:45 p.m. at the Alamo South Lamar and on March 16 at 4:45 p.m. at the Stateside Theatre. The documentary will be available as a YouTube Originals release on April 3.