It’s the end of the decade and as you can tell by my latest posts, it has me all in my head pondering a lot of things that have changed over time. A lot has happened. Today I plan to focus on the nugget of fandom life many of us take for granted in today’s world, and that is VIP during a tour. You see, while I know some of the younger fans don’t remember this, but I remember when meeting a Backstreet Boy was pure luck. You ran into him in real life or outside their hotel. (I literally have lived in the same city as Nick Carter since 2017 and I have yet to have this happen. )
Sometimes you would win a radio contest. Or something from MTV like TRL where you got the chance to play a game or do something crazy like the infamous “Backstreet Bunker” which gave you the chance to meet them. Magazines would sometimes do drawings or online contests. But that…was about it. You were lucky or you weren’t. In the early days of their career you might have seen them do album signings in record stores. (Okay I know they did that for DNA but to be fair it’s not common anymore.) I was unlucky. I tried every contest. My parents couldn’t get me tickets for Millennium. They got me tickets for Black and Blue but it was one of the cancelled shows, and they weren’t able to take me to the later rescheduled date. My first concert wasn’t until Never Gone.
During the Unbreakable era we saw a lot of changes. It was around this time that Wonderful Union had a contract with the Boys (known then as Ground Ctrl) and they started revamping the at that point dead fan club. It would go through several revamps later over the past decade but this was the first. This was the first tour where we were introduced to VIP.
VIP you could buy was a very crazy concept once upon a time. There were soundchecks before this, but you had to win those. Again showing that it was all about luck. Some fans just weren’t lucky that way. Many fans, myself included were a bit skeptical at first at the idea of paying to meet the Backstreet Boys, even if it did include a soundcheck and an autographed photo. This was a new thing. Artists weren’t all doing this yet. BSB were one of the first artists in fact to work with what was then Ground Ctrl. Hell this was when the photos required a barrier. It kind of looked like you were visiting your favorite exhibit at the zoo. But I get it, this was new and who knew how crazy fans would be?
The VIPs lead into Cruises. They did VIPs yet again on the This Is Us tour but this time there were levels. Depending on how much you wanted to do. This was my first experience doing it. I was still skeptical but I had a General Admission ticket so I got Bronze (which only gave you the soundcheck, no photo), so I could watch the soundcheck and be guaranteed a good spot for the show. I enjoyed every minute. Looking back, I realized I could get used to this. I was seeing the Boys up close and in person, goofing around just like they did in interviews.
Cruises were the next evolution. Now unlike VIPs, I was sold on this from day one. The rest of the fandom not so much. I remember many fans telling me on Twitter I was crazy for throwing this kind of money on the Boys. But see I looked at it like this: I was being fed, I was traveling on a cruise, and holy shit I would meet them. It also included a concert and random games with the Boys themselves. Seemed like a good time to me.
Cruises opened the floodgates. Really. After we got back to shore, word traveled on all that went down on that boat. Fans were dying for another cruise already so they could have their chance to go. As a fan, I look at it now and realize this was the first time the barriers really started to come down with the fans. They weren’t jumping into crowds yet for photos, or doing the shenanigans that would come later in 2014 and 2018…but things were happening with Boys and fan interactions that weren’t happening before. This was true for me. The first time I met them was in 2010 and boy was it in a unique way. I credit it for being why I never get nervous when I see them.
By the time the NKOTBSB era came around, things had changed. Besides the fact another cruise had been announced, it was becoming expected to try and do VIP for your concert. As a fan, many felt it was better to do VIP and one show, rather than multiple shows. That was just how it was. More artists by that point were doing it too. It was becoming normalized. You told one fan you were doing a concert, the next question was ‘Are you doing VIP?’ and then they’d ask what level. The barriers were starting to go away at certain venues by this point. The Boys were becoming more and more comfortable. Sure security would yell no hugs! But fans shared tips with each other on how to get one anyway.
By the time Kevin returned, VIP had changed yet again. The barriers were gone. Sometimes staff might try and hurry you along (to be fair they’re doing their job), but the Boys themselves would stop them. Hell, I myself had this happen. Hugs were now a given. The crowds at VIP had gotten huge by this point. To put it in perspective, the first fifteen rows in the venue were full during soundcheck in my Las Vegas show in 2013. That’s how big VIP had become, how it was now a thing.
Solo VIPs were a thing by this point too. If Nick did a solo tour, he had a VIP. His have always been more intimate and longer than the group ones. But in all fairness, he had smaller groups to deal with and meeting one Backstreet Boy takes less time than five. Still, he had opened his arms up to fans and used VIPs as a chance to really show fans the love and appreciation he had for them though long moments, hugs, selfies, and autographs in addition to soundcheck parties.
By 2017, BSB VIPs went though another renovation for Vegas. Ground Control had become Wonderful Union by 2015 and with that change came some new people with a fresh way of doing things. Soundcheck went to the wayside as the way the residencies were set up, it required a new format. By this point it was considered weird if an artist wasn’t doing Meet and Greets as an option for the fans. They started limiting how many could buy it (thank God) due to the crazy high demand that led to massive crowds that would almost cause you the shows to start late. (True story.) VIP was not just a meet and greet anymore, it had become an experience of sorts.
In fact as I witnessed a lot, living here in Vegas during the residency. Fans would do VIP back to back to back. It was necessary as buying concert merch at a show, if not more so. The Boys knew many of their regulars by name or at least by face. Because they do try and remember you. If you’re there at a lot of events over the years, they would recognize you. In terms of the fandom, it almost became a competition of who could do the most. This is something I’ve always spoken out against myself as it should never be one. Some fans of course felt slighted but you weren’t a better fan if you did VIP. You weren’t a bad fan if you couldn’t do it. It was still luck, but more evenly spread than it used to be. People who never met them now had at least a shot.
It was possible.
In the midst of all of this, came Twitter. Twitter and social media in general changed the game. The Boys could see your tweets. They could answer your questions. Hell they could even look at a DM you sent them if you were lucky enough to have one of them follow you. It took fan connection to a new level. Suddenly the idols were people again.
And that’s just it, isn’t it? They were always people. But it’s easier to remember now. VIP events didn’t even have to be concerts any more. Nick did a birthday event at Top Golf, just chilling with his fans and hanging out. AJ did one where he went bowling. Howie did a freaking party bus. Nick did a mini concert outside and chatted with us. They were connecting with the fans.
Connecting with their fans – that’s what it was about. These are things we would dream about in the 90s. The beginning of VIP is what opened the doors to the 20th Anniversary event where they invited fan club members to go for free. It was a drawing, that was it. Or in 2018 where they picked people at random to go to a Q&A live stream to announce their DNA World Tour. In both instances the attendees were just random fans, that was it. If you were in the fan club you had the same shot as anyone else.
Hell, look at the photo I used to represent this post. In what universe before VIPs became a thing would I be able to show up to meet the Backstreet Boys, done up in my goriest zombie makeup, and pose like I’m trying to eat them? (Yes I am aware I’m weird haha.) Or do a photo with my friends where we’re posing like we’re in a boy band? Hell, where you could have Nick Carter tell you to pretend to hit him for a Boomerang?
That’s just it. It wouldn’t happen.
Fans around the world have been blessed with crazy stories and unique memories with BSB themselves all because of VIP and how far it has come. The majority of the fans today I bet will probably say the first time they met a Backstreet Boy was 2007 or later. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but it is the case for many. That connection has grown around the world due to this option. This so-called given that now goes along with concerts.
VIP has gone through many incarnations over the years but I’m thankful for what it has brought us. It gave us a way to meet our favorite group for the first time. It gave us a chance to possibly tell them what they and their music has done for us. It’s, cheesy as it sounds, made dreams come true. VIPs walked so Cruises could run, if you want me to be honest. The Boys have come so far as a group in their professional achievements this past decade. I’ve pointed that out already. But they’ve also come pretty damn far in what they’ve done for fans too. Whether it be a small thing like a tweet, or posing for some crazy photo idea? We should be thankful for all of it.
Because once upon a time…this wasn’t the normal every day thing it is today.