CONTENT warning: This article discusses details of child abuse, rape and, addiction.
IN 2018, the Backstreet Boys celebrated their 25th year in the music industry. You'd be forgiven for thinking the band has long since disbanded and been absorbed into the collective memories of nineties tweens, long since grown up. But you would also be wrong.
The band is still touring and still releasing music and their fan base is still active and rabid. Next year they will embark on another world tour.
But the band is not without a difficult history: their founding manager is one of the greatest scammers in American history who many allege was a child predator, and the band members have struggled with fame and addiction through their 25 year career as the biggest selling boy band of all time.
HOW DID THEY BECOME THE BIGGEST BOY BAND IN THE WORLD?
Lou Pearlman was a billionaire manager and what some might call a 'natural entrepreneur' with 'founder genes'. He thinks of an out-of this-world, crazy, billion-dollar idea, and goes for it.
Before becoming a millionaire music mogul and founding the Backstreet Boys in 1993, Pearlman saw entrepreneurial opportunity in leasing blimps (popular at the time, in 1989) in New York City.
Pearlman brokered a deal with luxury fashion label Jordache before actually owning a blimp, and used this money to build his own flying machine. The gold blimp promptly crashed during its first flight, into a garbage dump.
Pearlman recovered from this and became a blimp millionaire and by 1993 put a call-out for young talent to join a pop group.
The Backstreet Boys all auditioned for Pearlman in one of his blimp hangars (apart from AJ, an early entrant, who auditioned in his living room). Pearlman named them the Backstreet Boys after Orlando's Backstreet Flea Market.
MANAGER PEARLMAN WAS A PONZI SCHEMING PAEDOPHILE
Lou Pearlman was, by 1997, the 150-ish kg boy band heavyweight of the world - he was behind the Backstreet Boys (the best-selling boy band of all time), *NSYNC, Take 5, Aaron Carter's solo career, Innosence (which initially included Britney Spears) and a slew of others.
He was considered a talent scouting renegade and a career-changing pop pioneer with a Midas touch.
But despite his run sheet, his career was riddled with scandal that his superstar bands were quick to unearth.
The first band to sue him were the Backstreet Boys, who were confused by the fact that they only received around US$12,000 each per year. This was despite relentless touring and their 1997 self-titled album selling over 28 million copies worldwide.
The band engaged a lawyer in 1997 and *NSYNC, also frustrated by their financial situation, were quick to follow suit. Pearlman's fall from grace in the music business was profound: every single artist and group Pearlman managed has taken him to court for mismanaging their careers and finances, racketeering and criminal activity. All were successful in winning their cases or settling out of court.
Pearlman was sentenced in 2008 to 25 years in prison, for running one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in US history; one which saw him con many out of their retirement savings.
His takings from his wheelings and dealings were around US$300 million, and saw him soliciting money from individuals, promising to invest it in two companies that did not exist.
His victims included his close friends and family, and people in their seventies and eighties.
PEARLMAN HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR WITH HIS YOUNG TALENT
Following his downfall, many members of his bands came forward to allege inappropriate behaviour while they were young teens, including naked wrestling on beds (at age 13), Pearlman's full frontal nudity in front of kids and showing them pornography.
An original member of the Backstreet Boys, Phoenix Stone, told Vanity Fairin 2017 that the blimp executive's interest in sinking millions of dollars into boy bands was not innocent.
"Basically this was an excuse for Lou to hang around with five good-looking boys. He was along for the ride … what he liked to do was take boys out to dinner."
AJ McLean's mother questioned the intentions of Pearlman, "As a mother, you kind of put two and two together," she told Vanity Fair last year. "'Is this all innocent? Or is it more?' I kind of thought that there might have been some strange things going on."
Jane Carter, Nick's mother, has been repeatedly questioned over an incident when Carter stayed the night at Pearlman's house, emerging the next day upset and no longer wanting to be left alone with the "Svengali" boy band magnate.
When pressed by a reporter, following other allegations of Pearlman's misconduct, Jane Carter said she'd been hushed: "I tried to expose him for what he was years ago. … I hope you expose him, because the financial [scandal] is the least of his injustices.
"I can't say anything more. These children are fearful, and they want to go on with their careers."
Pearlman died in a prison hospital in 2016 from cardiac arrest, following an infection caused by heart surgery.
NICK CARTER AND PARIS HILTON
In 2003 Carter and Paris Hilton began their party hard relationship, where they were constantly photographed exchanging PDAs and getting tattoos together.
After they broke up, rumours swirled that Carter had been physically violent, with Paris being photographed multiple times with severe and extensive bruising on her body and her face. Paris was photographed multiple times while displaying these injuries.
He told People at the time of their breakup at the time, "our relationship was based on distrust. She didn't trust me. I didn't trust her," while Paris's camp remained breezy, businesslike and aloof:
"Paris is busy working on her album and is starting a movie in August. She's also working on her jewellery line and her book. She is just concentrating on her career right now."
In his 2013 memoir, Nick savaged Hilton. "Paris was the worst person in the world for me to hook up with", he wrote. "[She] fed my worst impulses as far as partying."
RIVERS OF VODKA, NIGHTLY ECSTASY AND REHABBING YOURSELF
Carter's first real breakdown was after the dissolution of this unhealthy relationship with Hilton. After his 2006 reality show House of Carters was cancelled, he moved to Tennessee where the singer claims to have attempted "rehabbing himself" through isolation and the help of a book given to him by bandmate Richardson. (The book is called Why Some Positive Thinkers Get Powerful Results, should you need to rehab yourself).
Before this, Carter's partying was out of control. He describes the depths of his addiction as lines of cocaine and ecstasy tablets washed down with an entire bottle of vodka; this basic smorgasbord a nightly occurrence.
Carter's sobriety lasted as long as he was isolated, and ended as soon as the touring schedule commenced, when he started drinking "rivers of vodka".
His wake up call came when he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy - a weakening of the heart muscle that leads to sudden death and can require a heart transplant. It had been caused by his excessive drug use.
AJ McLean and other members of the band have been instrumental in Carter's recovery. "We've both struggled with drinking and drugs and when I was sober for a long period, he was really going through it," says McLean, who himself has spoken openly about his own struggles with addiction.
"A lot of people had no idea that I had a problem. Addicts can hide it pretty well," he said recently, adding that he still attends five Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week. "[Addiction is] a huge killer. It's a marathon, not a race."
MULTIPLE RAPE ALLEGATIONS
Nick Carter has twice been accused of rape.
The first incident was surfaced byRadar Onlinewho obtained a police report from West Allis, Wisconsin. The identity of the victim, who lodged a complaint in 2006 and completed a rape kit with the police, has been concealed.
The report details Carter and a friend groping and digitally raping the alleged victim, as well as forcing her to perform oral sex and badgering her for sex while she pretended to sleep.
The three had been drinking. She claimed to have protested against the pair's advances, been in tears, and repeatedly told the pair she was a virgin at the time.
The police report claims the victim had, at the time, opted not to press charges for unspecified reasons.
In November 2017, among other #MeToo revelations, Melissa Schuman wrote a detailed blog post alleging Carter raped her in a bathroom and bedroom at a party in 2003.
Schuman, who was an original member of girl group Dream, described the alleged attack in similar circumstances to the Radar Online allegations (it was reading these historical reports that emboldened her to come forward).
"He was stronger and much bigger than me," Schuman wrote. "He was relentless, refusing to take my nos for an answer."
Carter has stringently denied the relationship was anything but consensual.
He won't be charged over Schuman's allegations because the statute of limitations for prosecution expired in 2013.
In the wake of a number of #MeToo allegations, Backstreet Boys band members AJ McLean and Brian Littrell dismissed Schuman's claims and defended Carter's innocence.
"In this situation, [Carter's] been forthright and honest with us, and we have to stand beside our bandmate," Litrell told TMZ.
"I totally support my brother, man. He's a gentleman and a scholar … I think he's innocent and I love him", AJ also told TMZ at the time of the allegations.
Schuman has repeatedly said she wants nothing from Carter, but stepped forward to embolden other victims to share their stories. She said life since coming forward has been "hell", coloured by online trolling by Carter's voracious fan base.
"I think what is unique for me is that my abuser has a slew of fans, people who support him no matter what," she said. "And they've made it their life's mission to destroy me. And the comments made by Brian, and AJ … only emboldens that harassment."
CARTER FAMILY VALUES
In 2012, Nick Carter's sister Leslie died from an overdose after her own battles with drug addiction.
Nick did not attend the funeral, saying in a statement to Hollywood Insider at the time, "I wanted to be at my sister's funeral, but my family has always had a complicated dynamic. I am trying to stay healthy, positive and focused."
On the Saturday following his sister's death, Carter hosted a party in Atlantic City.
A year later he told Huffpost, "I knew something like this would happen in my family one day … and I couldn't stop it to save my life."
In 2013 Carter released his memoir, Facing the Music and Living to Talk About It, which he dedicated to his deceased sister.
ARE THE BACKSTREET BOYS TRUMP SUPPORTERS?
Donald Trump played the Backstreet Boys' music at his campaign rallies in the lead up to his election in 2017.
While a rep for The Backstreet Boys released a statement disassociating the group from the Trump campaign and revoking approval for the use of the song I Want It That Way, Littrell, who hails from Tennessee, has on multiple occasions, expressed his support for the president.
Interviewed by TMZ the day before the president's inauguration, claimed he was personally asked if the band would perform.
"Hollywood needs to chill out!" he begins, before the interviewer asks, "Your vote was for yes?"
"I mean of course", he replied. "This is our commander in chief … he's gonna do so many great things."
Littrel was asked again in May this year about Trump's presidency and expressed his support for the state of the nation.
"I don't like to talk politics but I believe our country is moving in the right direction. I will say that."
- Phoebe Loomes is a freelance reporter. Continue the conversation on Twitter @dollyybird