My childhood dream of seeing the Backstreet Boys live in concert was finally fulfilled this weekend—but it was tainted by one member’s alleged horrific behaviour.
In November, Melissa Schuman, formerly of the pop group Dream, accused Nick Carter of forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her at his house in 2002. Carter was 22 at the time of the alleged incident; Schuman was 18. On Dec. 1, Schuman tearfully said on The Dr. Oz Show that she forgives Carter and that she came forward so she can heal and also lend support to other sexual assault victims. Carter denies all allegations.
This past Saturday, the 37-year-old performer sang in front of a sold-out show at iHeartRadio’s Jingle Ball at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. My sister and I were two of many millennial women in the audience. I was given tickets to review the show and had planned to cover it months ago, with BSB as my focus.
The boy band was headlining the Canadian leg of the touring multi-act affair. Other Toronto Jingle Ball performers included Cardi B, Fifth Harmony, Fergie, Post Malone, Noah Cyrus and Kelly Clarkson. During the show, not one of the artists or hosts mentioned the rape allegations; instead everyone asked if the crowd was excited to see the band. And the audience screeched back with excitement.
I’ll be honest: I was excited to see the Backstreet Boys perform. I grew up in the pop-obsessed ’90s and counted the boys among my most-idolized artists. Carter was my favourite—he was Jessi Cruickshank’s, too—and I liked him because he was handsome and had that boy-next-door vibe. But when the rape allegations recently surfaced, I felt conflicted as to whether or not I should even attend the show, and if I did, I wondered if I should leave before BSB’s set.
I did go to the show, and I didn’t leave.
After four hours of watching other acts, a slightly puffy-faced Carter glided onto the stage. I instantly felt sick.
“Hey baby love, I need a girl like you, but tell me if you feel it too,” Carter purred during “Get Down.” “I’m in delusion every minute, every hour. My heart is crying out for you.”
When he sang his sexually-charged lyrics, I heard them differently than I did 20 years ago when I enthusiastically bopped to those same words in my childhood bedroom. I couldn’t stop thinking about Schuman’s essay about what happened That Night. The bathroom he allegedly attacked her in, the bedroom she said he took her to. How she says she watched Carter assault her via their reflection in the bathroom mirror. I couldn’t stop wondering what everyone else in the audience was thinking, and if they felt uneasy, too.
I also thought about the band’s backup dancers—especially the female ones. Did they feel uncomfortable performing behind Carter? And what about the rest of the group? Longtime pal AJ McLean has made it clear that he doesn’t believe Carter could rape anyone. Do the other members feel the same?
As BSB danced through hit after hit including “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “As Long as You Love Me,” I felt mixed emotions. At points, I was transported back to a happy time when the biggest problem in my life involved feuding with friends over which BSB was the hottest. When a blue-eyed Brian Littrell seductively illuminated the arena’s big screens, I got excited the same way I did when I watched him on MTV. But when Carter’s face appeared, I turned my eyes back to the stage. I didn’t want to look at him. Not by himself, at least.
The audience was filled with many young girls. I assume lots of them were at the show to see Fifth Harmony, but when the Backstreet Boys announced they were releasing a new album and would be heading on a tour soon, I worried. I thought of a new, younger generation who may fall in love with the band the same way I did decades earlier. Would they think that it’s OK for a man to be accused of raping someone and suffer no professional repercussions? The sexual assault allegations haven’t halted Carter’s career in the same way allegations made against men like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. have. What sort of message does that send?
For BSB fans who choose to look past the recent allegations—as well as the iHeartRadio organizers who decided *not* to pull BSB from the lineup—it’s important to know that Carter has a history of reckless behaviour, not to mention allegations of physical and sexual abuse.
In 2006, he was investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting a 20-year-old fan at a house party. According to RadarOnline, the alleged victim claimed that Carter forced her to perform oral sex on him. Her account sounds eerily familiar to Schuman’s. No charges were brought against Carter and the case was ultimately closed.
In an interview on The Tyra Banks Show, also in 2006, Carter and younger brother Aaron talked in problematic ways about the women they’ve dated (Aaron admitted he juggled multiple girls and called ex-Lindsay Lohan a mistake). When host Tyra Banks asked Carter if he beat up one-time girlfriend Paris Hilton in 2004 like she allegedly said he did after they split, he denied the allegations.
Carter’s run-ins with the law have been well-documented; he’s been arrested multiple times: for an alleged bar fight, for refusing to follow police orders, and for drunk driving. Carter’s bad temper was also on full display on his short-lived reality show, House of Carters, where he often verbally and physically fought with his siblings. No one mentioned any of that on Saturday, either.
After the concert, my sister and I started talking about how seeing BSB made us feel: nostalgic, happy, disgusted, confused. We both believe Schuman’s allegations. And I wished there was a way to let every single person in the Air Canada Centre know that.
Now that I’ve seen the Backstreet Boys in 2017, I know I can’t see them again and feel good about it. The magic they once embodied is lost; everything feels tainted and dirty. I also worry that by supporting a band or an organization that supports problematic artists, I’m setting a terrible example. While I was too young to understand what rape meant when I obsessively played “I Want It That Way,” I’m not too young to understand it now.
If I expect others to do better, I need to do better. I’ve come along way from the girl who spent years idolizing boys in a band. Now, I need to show that I idolize the women who hold them accountable instead.
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