The late ‘90s and early ‘00s brought about a pop music surge that included boy bands, pop princesses and girl groups. They were the pillars of a golden age of MTV’s TRL and brought about a new brand of fandom among a certain generation of trucker cap-wearing adults. Lance Bass lived through this era as a member of *Nsync, one of the hugest boy bands in the history of pop culture. With the fanatic glitz and glamour of it all, Bass should have lived like a king with stacks of cash, but the new documentary The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story directed by Aaron Kunkel sings a different tune.
Lou Pearlman became a super-producer during the early part of the 21st Century, curating boy bands and girl groups, but it was *Nsync and Backstreet Boys that blew up and served as a foundation of this distinct pop era. It was later discovered that he was running a ponzi scheme that affected all of the musicians under his thumb. As a result, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2008. He served eight years before suffering cardiac arrest and dying while in custody.
Presented by YouTube Originals and a Pilgrim Media Group and Lance Bass Productions film, The Boy Band Con is a collaboration between Kunkel and Bass, who also appears in the film. It paints a picture of Pearlman’s life, featuring interviews with people from his past as well as members of *Nsync and the Backstreet Boys including J.C. Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, and A.J. McLean. We also hear from other music groups from the era including Nikki Deloach of Innosense and Ashley Parker Angel of O-Town. Watch the exclusive clip from the film:
The documentary is making its world premiere March 13 at SXSW, but don’t expect a hit piece or a salacious documentary. Bass wanted this to be a cautionary tale to future entertainers or anyone else who are investing themselves in anything. More importantly, he wanted to give the most authentic and truthful story he could.
“I knew I didn’t want to tell any story that I didn’t have complete facts on,” Bass told Deadline. “That was my reservation — and that’s a lot of the cast’s reservation to even do this film because they just didn’t want to be a part of a very dark story of just really beating a dead man down. I knew that’s not the journey we were taking.”
Kunkel chimed in: “Lance’s drive on that was really inspiring — to actually want to tell the real story.” He adds, “He was hugely influential in the music industry and changed music in a lot of ways. He was integral to these guys’ career — but also, he’s got a lot of warts, and there’s a lot of problems with the things he did in his life. I think it was really interesting to tell that.”
Facts were the foundation for the documentary and it folds into society’s issue with dealing with truth and lies in today’s very divisive social climate. The documentary even goes as far back as Pearlman’s childhood when he got his early start as a scammer. It goes well into his adult years before and after he was using musicians for his own monetary gain. The film puts a spotlight on how he scammed elderly couples, businesses and his infamous Jordache blimp incident (which you will have to see to believe).
Even though the film centers on the wildly fascinating, oftentimes infuriating and ultimately sad story of Pearlman, it shines the light on confirmation bias. If we’re told something that we really want to hear, do we go out of our way to research whether it is true or not, or just believe it because we want to?
“I think this movie hopefully attacks that and analyzes that and how that’s been happening for a long time, and I think that’s exceptionally prevalent right now,” said Kunkel.
The project has been on Bass’s mind for some time. Initially, he didn’t know if he wanted it to be scripted feature or a documentary, but he decided to go the doc route. Once Pearlman died, he knew it was time for him to tell this story.
“I never really wanted to touch it until he was just out of the way,” Bass admits. “I just didn’t want to deal with him.”
It may seem harsh for Bass to say that he just wanted Pearlman “out of the way” but after watching the documentary and realizing what this man put him and so many musicians through, his bluntness is warranted. However, Bass admits there are mixed feelings about Pearlman’s death. On one hand, he helped build their career and sculpted a defining era in music and pop culture. On the other hand, he screwed so many people over while doing so.
The Boy Band Con comes at a time where we have seen beloved figures in entertainment get dragged down because of unforgivable behavior. From R. Kelly to Michael Jackson to Louis C.K. to Bryan Singer, allegations of abuse of power have come to the surface and it has shifted society’s view on artists that were once lauded. Kunkel said that as these stories come forth, fans of these respected artists are coming to terms — whether they like it or not — with the horrific behavior they have been doing behind the scenes for years.
“I think that that’s an important story to get out there so that, number one, people feel comfortable bringing that to light when it’s happening to them,” said Kunkel. “And number two, that the world knows and that everybody understands and reckons with what it is.”
When it comes to this Hollywood reckoning, Bass brings up Bill Cosby and says it feels strange to go back and watch The Cosby Show because it now has a stigma to it as a result of Cosby’s conviction. “But you also have to realize all the people that made [the show] happen — and you have to respect that fact,” said Bass. “One person might have spearheaded that, but everyone else put all that together and you shouldn’t be ashamed to enjoy that entertainment that you love so much just because one person went down a bad path.”
Watch another clip from the film below.
”Lou might have brought these five guys together, but they were still the ones we loved,” added Kunkel. “They were still the ones that were dancing and singing and writing all this music that we loved and is such an important part of our lives.”
From his childhood on, Pearlman’s intentions were fueled by the fact that he just wanted people to like him — he just went about it the wrong way. Even while in prison, Pearlman reached out to Bass about eight years ago with an idea for an idea for a television show where he would put together more boy bands from prison and manage them from his jail cell. He wanted Bass to produce it. For obvious reasons, Bass refused and the project never went anywhere. Pearlman now leaves a tarnished legacy that, in the film, will have you questioning whether or not you should feel sorry for him.
“Yes, he did a lot of bad things…but why? And what effect did that have on people? And what effect did he have, good and bad?” ponders Kunkel. “You can’t take away that *Nsync, Backstreet Boys and a lot of his bands brought a lot of joy into the world — they still are. But simultaneously, he also ran one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history. So there’s two different sides to him, and we wanted the make sure that we told that story.”