The industry was floating in swimming pools of cash.
The Genie at Low Tide (Solo 2.1)
Millennium seemed to embody this overkill. It was the height of record company corporate greed. As with all gold rushes, the belief was that this one would last forever. Labels were fat and happy. They were about to undergo the mother of all crash diets. Napster was groundbreaking in that it allowed users to connect directly and exchange music. Even as Backstreet Boys toasted their historic accomplishment, a death knell was ringing.
Record companies had started out in the early 20th century as technology corporations designing and selling phonographs. Over the decades they had focused on the more lucrative business of flogging vinyl and CDs and forgotten about tech. Until it came back to bite them. The existential nature of the threat posed by file sharing became clear in late when Hilary Rosen, then president of the Recording Industry Association of America RIAA corralled the bosses of all the majors into a boardroom in Los Angeles and opened a laptop. One by one she asked the suits to name a song by one of their artists — the more obscure the better.
Each time, she typed the name into Napster and, bingo, up came the tune. Over the space of a few minutes their jaws all clacked open. Backstreet Boys and their peers were too busy enjoying their fame to notice. Instead, an unlikely early dissenting voice was that of Metallica. The heavy metal band were outraged when an unmixed version of a song they had recorded for the Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack turned up on Napster. They filed a suit against the company — for which they were derided at the time as petty party-poopers.
Fanning was soon almost as celebrated as the popstars whose careers he was accused of sabotaging.
What was next was a flurry of lawsuits. Twelve months later it declared bankruptcy. But for the industry, it was too late. The technology that made it possible for users to share music files was out in the world. Napster was gone. Every time the labels tried to stamp out a fire, another three flared up in its place. Fanning would go on to found a number of startups. The Backstreet Boys, for their part, had a chequered Noughties. Having sued Pearlman for misrepresentation and fraud, they would spend the next decade trying to reprise the success of Millennium.
But in early middle age, and with Carter returned to the fold, there came a happy ending. Backstreet Boys were carried aloft by the boyband revival that has also revitalised Take That and Westlife. The difference is that where Millennium sold 1. Backstreet Boys may have regained their position as the boyband of the hour. In every other way, all has changed completely.
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