The Backstreet Boys Reveal Secrets from Their Nearly 3 Decades Together

The Backstreet Boys discuss the highs and lows of the past 26 years, from meeting their wives to "breaking free" from con man Lou Pearlman

The Backstreet Boys have still got it goin’ on.

On April 8, the band members — Nick Carter, 39, Brian Littrell, 44, Howie Dorough, 45, Kevin Richardson, 47, and AJ McLean, 41 — came together at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles for the opening of Backstreet Boys: The Experience.

The exhibition, showcasing the band’s journey to stardom, has everything from the shirts they wore in the “Quit Playing Games” music video, to an interactive video booth where fans can send messages straight to the band.

The “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” singers reflected on the highs and lows of the past 26 years with host JoJo Wright from KIIS FM, and PEOPLE exclusively live-streamed the event on Facebook.

It’s not just their hairstyles that have changed: the Backstreet Boys are all married now. When JoJo Wright asked how they’d met their wives, Kevin Richardson fondly recounted how he and his wife had worked together at Disney World in Florida: “She was a dancer in Beauty and the Beast, I was a Ninja Turtle.”

Backstreet Boys Exhibit Shoot and Arrival Shoot
Brian Littrell. Recording Academy™/Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images
Backstreet Boys Exhibit Shoot and Arrival Shoot
AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson. Recording Academy™/Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images

Howie Dorough joked, “Let’s just cut to the chase, I technically hired my wife.” Wright was just as confused as everyone else in the audience, asking: “Wait, did he just say he hired his wife?”

But the singer went on to explain how the band had hired her to create content for their website in 2000.

He continued that when she went on tour with them, “most of the guys were in relationships, so on the days off most of them were either playing Nintendo, Nick was doing that, or the guys were calling their girlfriends. I was the one that was always like ‘Let’s go out to hang-glide in Rio,’ and ‘Let’s go on the Copacabana Beach’ and ‘Let’s go to the pyramids,’ and just do fun, cool, exploratory type stuff. Needless to say, the website was basically a Howie D. website for a whole year!”

An Evening With Backstreet Boys
Backstreet Boys. Recording Academy™/Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images

Littrell, the self-proclaimed “numbers guy” of the group, remembered every detail of meeting his wife Leighanne — even the exact time of day. He recounted how the band had just been picked up from their hotel at 3:30 a.m., and were on their way to the “As Long as You Love Me” shoot.

“We’re all ass-out in the van sleeping, and I look back and there’s all these headshots of the girls that are going to be in the video, so I get to the sixth headshot and it says Leighanne Wallace. I was like, ‘Wow, I have to remember that name.’ It’s a black-and-white photo, I’ll never forget it. She’s dressed in white with jeans and she’s leaning up against a brick wall. I was like, ‘That looks like my kind of girl!’ Fast-forward to 9:45 in the morning and she’s not there, she’s late. Then she shows up in these khaki pants and black tank top and she says, ‘Hi, my name’s Leighanne,’ and I say, ‘I know.’ The rest is history. She’s the most amazing woman I know, it’s been 23 years.”

Backstreet Boys Exhibit Shoot and Arrival Shoot
Nick Carter and Brian Littrell. Recording Academy™/Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images

That’s an impressive length of time, but the Backstreet Boys have stuck together even longer — 26 years in total — and Brian described it as “harder than a marriage, much harder. I mean, have you ever been married to four dudes?”

It certainly hasn’t always been easy; just watch The Boy Band Con, which reveals their ordeal with Lou Pearlman. As their ex-manager, Pearlman brought the boys together, but he also, as Richardson elaborated, betrayed them:

“He was our manager, so he was getting a management commission. Then at the same time he owned a production company, so we were paying him all his production expenses and costs. He was also a one-sixth member of The Backstreet Boys, so he made one-sixth of everything we made, plus he got a four-point override from the record label, that’s 4 percent on every album that we sold. Oh, and he also owned the name. Basically, he was being very greedy.”

RELATED VIDEO: Backstreet Boys Talk about How Surreal It Is to Be Back at the Grammys

It soon became clear that Pearlman was taking 78 percent of the Backstreet Boys’ income. When the legal battle began, he not only threatened to take the band name away, he also locked up all their instruments, set, and touring equipment, with the words “I will keep this because I own it.”

Although Richardson admitted that it was a hard time in their lives — “he was like a father figure to all of us, and when the curtain was pulled back, it hurt our feelings, it broke our hearts” — they didn’t give up.

“We all bonded together and said ‘All right, are we going to fight this?’ And we did. But we ended up reaching a settlement out of court because we were just beginning to break in the United States and so we didn’t want to risk being in court for three years.”

Carter added that “the album Black and Blue was really about Lou, about breaking free.”

They might be free of Pearlman, but even for the best-selling boy band ever, things still occasionally go wrong.

Dorough recounted how he had to make a quick outfit change at a concert in Las Vegas recently, and in a hurry to get on stage, he ran into their wardrobe stylist and tripped. Falling into the metal pit surrounding the stage, he punctured his kneecap.

The pumping adrenaline enabled him to ignore the pain and run up the steps: “I remember doing “I Want it That Way” as we’re closer to the edge of everybody, and blood is dripping off my fingers and leg. I remember girls just going “Ugh” — I was trying to sing to them, and they were scared of me!”

Richardson has also endured his fair share of on-stage mishaps, and he joked about the time they were playing at the Los Angeles Forum on the Into the Millenium Tour: “We harnessed up and flew out over the audience, I got stuck over the audience for two songs, just hanging there.”

An Evening With Backstreet Boys
Brian Littrell, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter, A.J. McLean and Howie Dorough. Recording Academy™/Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images

He groaned when Nick Carter reminded him of the American Music Awards — another time he was stuck dangling in his harness.

But that’s the great thing about being in a group, AJ McLean chimed in: “God forbid one of us goes down, we’ve got four guys to back us up, and we can all do it. We all know each other’s parts!”

And he should know that better than anyone, since he revealed in an exclusive PEOPLE interview that he had strep throat and couldn’t actually sing when they were recording “As Long as You Love Me”: “I’m not even on the background! I’m not anywhere on that record!”

But McLean is certainly planning to sing on the next one: Carter announced at the end of the event that they’re going to release a Christmas album this year.

2019 is looking busy for the Backstreet Boys: They’ll be kicking off their biggest arena tour in 18 years — the DNA World Tour — in Portugal on May 11.

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