The Boy Band Con Review

AKA: The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story
Genre: Music Documentary/Crime Documentary
Year Released: 2019
Distributor: YouTube Premium
Origin: USA
Running Time: 99 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-14
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: On the Record, American Music: Off the Record, The Lion’s Share, Strong Enough to Break, Dark Side of the 90s, American Greed
Notes:
-The Boy Band Con is streaming for free on YouTube.
Fun Facts:
-The Boy Band Con was produced by NSYNC member Lance Bass who is also interviewed in this documentary. He was born in Laurel, Mississippi, and sang in various choirs since he was a child. Interestingly enough, he wanted to get into space after visiting Cape Canaveral during his childhood. Bass has done other film production work with The Grand and Kidnapped for Christ. Also, Lance Bass can say that he’s the first English voice for Sepiroth of Final Fantasy VII fame due to being the dub voice of him in the first Kingdom Hearts game. That’s right, the most famous Final Fantasy villain was voiced by someone from NSYNC, and I can’t make this up if I tried.

-The score was handled by the production company Bleeding Fingers. They have also provided music for the Survivor reality show series, Blue Planet II, and they are the current composers of The Simpsons. Do you want to know who’s one of the founders of this company? Hans Zimmer! It really does seem like he wants to score everything even indirectly.

-The sole Backstreet Boy to be interviewed was AJ McLean. Outside of his work with that famous boy band who are still touring and making music today, he released a solo album on the Japanese record label Avex Mode, and has acted in Truth or Dare?, was in the early 90s Nickelodeon series Welcome Freshmen, and The Bravest Knight.

-Ashley Parker Angel from O-Town was featured here. O-Town is named after Orlando and was the first act to be created with the reality show Making the Band. Yes, that’s the same show that P. Diddy would eventually be a part of in later seasons and Dave Chappelle would parody him and contestant Dylan there. O-Town’s most famous song is “All or Nothing” which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and #41 on the 2001 Billboard Year-End list. Parker has also voiced Alex in the Lunar: The Silver Star games and has played Ferio in the Magic Knight Rayearth game.

I have a love/hate relationship with music. There are still singers and bands I support, but I have vitriol against other musicians, venues, and the industry at large. Sometimes I wonder why anyone would bother making music in the Spotify era or why anyone would think they can sustain themselves with that artform with dwindling record sales or how COVID ruined concerts, especially in 2020. Even my understanding of music has been upended after watching Death Metal Angola and eventually reading How Music Dies (Or Lives?) by producer Ian Brennan. After my exposure to that documentary and that book respectively, I can definitively say that so many musicians (mainly thought who play pop punk, metalcore, and even forms of indie rock) are nothing but pampered brats with first-world problems who haven’t suffered in their cozy suburban lives. Now, it’s odd that I would say those things considering how recently watched a documentary involving DUN DUN DUUUUUUNNNNNNN Boy Bands! However, this is far from a positive watch even if it features members of NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, O-Town, C-Note, and Take 5 interviewed there. We’re talking about the dark side of the mainstream music industry. Despite some heartthrobs filling the minds of teenage fangirls back in the 90s and early 00s (we’re talking about a time before BTS, One Direction, and the Jonas Brothers here), many of them would be managed by someone who built an empire of stolen goods. While this isn’t the first time I watched a documentary involving people screwing over musicians cough The Lion’s Share! cough, I witnessed a tragedy that also deserves to be shared.

So many celebrities were left black and blue in the past millennium as they tried to have no strings attached to their music.

The Boy Band Con is a look into the crimes of the now-deceased Lou Pearlman. He was an entrepreneur from Queens, NYC who managed to have interests in aviation, business, and particularly music. As he would lease planes to various blockbuster singers and bands in the 80s, one client that managed to catch his attention with how successful they were at the time was the New Kids On the Block. This was during the height of their fame and a light bulb went off in his head to see if he could get a piece of the boy band pie. He set up Trans Continental Records in Orlando, Florida, and managed to scout five teenage singers in the 90s who would be known as the Backstreet Boys. Just a couple of years after discovering them, he also organized another quintet by the name of NSYNC. To no one’s knowledge, he managed the both of them when they were doing sell-out tours, getting massive radio hits, and major promotions on TV. One would think both boy bands (let alone the other talent he discovered close to the time and after) would become overnight millionaires as they lived their dreams to see the world and sing, right? Wrong! They were severely underpaid and Pearlman set up some very shady contracts. Things only get worse when investigations reveal that he had swindled half a billion dollars worth of baking and insurance fraud from over 2000 people since the 80s and that money helped make his pop music empire like he was trying to be the next Barry Gordy. It would be the biggest Ponzi scheme in recorded history and his pop star emporium took the brunt of that as he screwed over so many investors for decades. The interviews with his former singer clients, investors, managers, FBI agents, and other people are tied into this long-lasting con game.

In my adult years, I knew how caustic the music industry was and if I had my way, I would bury so many reputations of various bands in the independent scene with the dirty secrets I know, but seeing this in a major mainstream way only validates my hatred for the music scene at large. It was certainly shocking given how huge NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were during my childhood. I remember the fangirls having giant arguments even when I was in elementary school, how inescapable their music was (saying nothing about the boy band trend in general), or the constant media appearances on radio or TV. These guys sold millions of records in first-week sales that would never be replicated to this day. I would’ve never guessed how so many of those pop stars were screwed over out of millions of dollars while they were in boy band “boot camps” toured constantly, did photoshoots, and helped kickstart Total Request Live which I knew was a huge staple of MTV in the late 90s and early 00s (or the last time period where MTV actually played music videos). I had never heard of Lou Pearlman until long after all those pop acts were relevant and heard he was sketchy, but I didn’t know how bad his crimes were. It’s like all these singers were living a luxurious lie as they got to perform around the world, got to drive Rolls Royces even if some of them didn’t have licenses at the time, and got treated to lavish dinners, but everything crashed when they all got their big payouts…of $10,000 checks when they should clearly be making a million or at the very least upper six-digit figures. The level of greed, avarice, and callousness of Pearlman was astounding. That’s just with his pop music business. He swindled investors out of money with realistic-looking fake documents, committed insurance fraud, and been robbing people blind with various businesses (yet still convincing several banks along the way) since the 80s with his boy bands being trophies for his success. While he deserved to go to prison for what he did, there was still some sadness in this person when his childhood was revealed by his childhood friends and neighbors back in Queens. One quote he told his friend Jeri was how when he becomes rich, everyone will like him after being bullied a lot when he was a kid. Wow, that is tragic hearing that even though I clearly don’t excuse his actions. Outside of the story of how Lou Pearlman, I did like the production. The cinematography was very crisp, there was a good mix of interview shots, archive footage, concert videos, some brief animated graphs, and subtle reenactments of Pearlman, the boy bands, and concertgoers. The reenactments reminded me a bit of Dark Side of the Ring with the lighting, frame rate, obscured faces, and camera work. The interviews with the singers, investors, business people, and legal experts were all quite intriguing and didn’t really feel like a hit piece. The original soundtrack had subtle dramatic scoring and of course, there were some pop songs used by Pearlman’s clients. “Pop” by NSYNC was the de facto opening theme and “The Call” by the Backstreet Boys was used during the segment where that boy band was recruited. It was bizarre for me because I recognized most of the songs played given how popular they were at the time. Not going to lie, my perspective of “Bye Bye Bye” was changed a bit when Lance Bass mentioned how their gigantic second album “No Strings Attached” was a diss to Lou Pearlman when they got out of the contract. Bass and one of the other members were thinking of “I Got No Strings” from Pinocchio when they thought of the situation which inspired the title of the album and “Bye Bye Bye” was a musical middle finger to their former manager that was disguised as a breakup song. MIND=BLOWN! I’m sure pop music fans will definitely find lots to learn even if there are uncomfortable truths about what happened to these pop stars then.

I know a lot of people made comments about a certain interviewee in this documentary, so I feel compelled to bring this up. One subject that got a lot of attention with how he acted and looked was a former child star, Aaron Carter. My jaw dropped when his name popped up with his behavior and how emaciated he was like he didn’t eat much or possibly just walked out of a drug rehab facility. For those of you who don’t recognize that name, let me put it to you this way…Aaron Carter was the Justin Bieber of the late 90s and early 00s (especially the latter). Think about it: both of them are blonde boys who sold millions of records, piggybacked off Black music (Bieber getting his R&B on for his adult career so far and Carter rapping in a good portion of his songs), and had connections to famous people. At least Bieber can say it was someone outside with Usher. Aaron Carter is the little brother of Nick who is a Backstreet Boy! Nepotism, much? If you were in elementary and/or middle school around 1999-2002, this guy was everywhere if you watched Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, or listened to Radio Disney’s early years. It was bizarre seeing him acting weird and even defending Lou Pearlman at times despite how his family sued him in 2002. He vehemently denied any rumors of Pearlman being a gay pedophile despite multiple singers saying he may have been into that and even called his ex-manager a “gummy bear”. Carter got very emotional and seemed to talk like a child despite him being roughly 30-31 years old at the time of filming in 2018. To put this in perspective, he’s the same age as Kevin Jonas (the eldest of the Jonas Brothers), a year older than Big Sean, and eleven years older than Shawn Mendes. After doing some research, he had lots of drug problems and some mental health issues. Something must have broken him and if the rumors about Pearlman being a predator are true, then I think Carter must have a gigantic case of trauma bonding and rampant denial. It just seemed really off when he was denying things like the cameras in the house, crying in the end, or furiously demanding to see the footage from the tanning bed as mentioned by Nikki DeLoach from Innosense. It was astounding seeing how far this guy has fallen.

The Boy Band Con does make promises, but it doesn’t always keep them well. Bonus points to anyone who gets that boy band reference involving one of the interviewees. While it was important to see the grand Ponzi scheme going on in so many industries, I did get whiplash from time to time from the music stuff to the more serious businesses there. I could see some of those pop music fans getting bored with the aviation and investor scenes even if they bounce back to the music stuff here and there. There were some points that I’m surprised didn’t get brought up with the successes and failures of Trans Continental’s signees. For example, when they brought up NSYNC doing that Disney Channel concert special and how it skyrocketed their career in the late 90s, I was shocked that no one brought up the fact of them contributing to the Tarzan soundtrack with the acapella/percussion track “Trashing the Camp” (the part where the gorillas do exactly what the title says in the movie). Not only that, but multiple Mouseketeers were in this movie with JC Chasez and Nikki DeLoach. That’s not even counting obvious people like Justin Timberlake himself or Britney Spears who was an original member of Innosense before going solo. It does make sense that the former groups would and should be involved in this documentary, but am I the only person who noticed a major imbalance between the two biggest boy bands that Lou Pearlman signed on here? There were three NSYNC members interviewed (Chris Kirkpatrick, JC Chasez, and Lance Bass who has a major creative role in this film) and there was only one Backstreet Boy with AJ McLean featured. I guess Bass wanted to help his NSYNC brethren and even though I’m no fan of any of the boy bands, that did seem pretty odd. Even the ending theme was an acoustic cover of “Tearin’ Up My Heart”, so it was hard not to see that bias. If there’s one theory I have, I can see why they would be a bit selective with interviewees when it comes to the pedophilia and sex crime allegations against Pearlman if Justin Timberlake were to show up because I know some people are going to remind others about THAT Super Bowl performance with Janet Jackson. Yes, his mom Lynn Harless is there, but JT has no right to talk since his career stayed intact, and got to perform again in 2018 at America’s most-watched annual event. Maybe they wanted to deflect some of the hypocrisy, but that’s just a guess. Hopefully, that wasn’t the case.

This documentary certainly destroyed what little nostalgia I had for the boy band era, but it was definitely a revealing documentary that validated my hatred for so many of those who work in the music business. It was a good expose showing the ugly side of the music industry and was a cautionary tale about how greed can run amok. I hope more people think twice about trying to be a pop star or even an indie star (yeah, I said it). The production was quite apt and the stories were very haunting in showing the horrific side of fame. It was a bit weird hearing all these names again like LFO, O-Town, and Take 5 after so many years of not paying attention to pop music. While this story does read like a gigantic tragedy, some stories should’ve been embellished more or had some more self-awareness about certain issues going on. The Boy Band Con was a good example of true crime documentaries as well as another example of how satanic the music industry is.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1 point if you’re a fan of 90s/early 00s boy bands or girl groups.
-Add 1 point if you like stories involving the seedier parts of the music business.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you like documentaries only about music.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you have issues with your nostalgia being destroyed.

Pros:
-Great cinematography and editing
-Good soundtrack
-Powerful interviews and testimonies

Cons:
-NSYNC bias with Lance Bass at the producer’s chair
-Some stories were a bit lacking
-Whiplash with music and investor scenes at times

Final Score: 8/10 points

Content Advisory: The Boy Band Con got a TV-14 rating, but some parts do push it. The language gets into TV-MA territory with multiple F-bombs with current and archived interviews. The financial crimes are the more tame things about this documentary because some stories get horrifying with gay pedophilia and grooming allegations especially since a good portion of the singers would’ve been high school age at the time at the beginning of their careers (also, Aaron Carter was only TEN when his first album came out). There’s the discussion of voyeurism allegations with the Innosense girls getting into a tanning bed as Nikki DeLoach describes in her story and Aaron Carter’s behavior seems to be like he’s been broken and going through trauma bonding if he did suffer abuse and was denying it if it did happen. Lance Bass does talk about his experience being in the closet during his NSYNC days (he came out years after they broke up) and felt uncomfortable with Lou Pearlman massaging him. One disturbing allegation was in a Howard Stern interview with the late Rich Cronin from LFO where he talks about how that boy band could’ve gotten a major push in the pop music scene if they meet a producer in Europe who would be willing to put his hands on their privates and Lou Pearlman would talk them through it.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Boy Band Con is the property of YouTube Premium. The poster is from Pinterest and is the property of YouTube Premium.

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