Making the Band: Dark History of Boybands
(whimsical music) - Hi, friends. I hope you're having a wonderful day today. If you're not, I'm sorry about it. My name is Bailey Sarian, and I'd like to welcome you to the library of Dark History. Woo! If you're knew here, hi.
This is a safe space for all the curious cats out there who think, hey, is history really as boring as it seemed in school? Oh, nay, nay. This is where we can learn together about all the dark, mysterious, dramatic stories our teachers never told us about. Intro! I don't know about you guys, but I never got the whole, like, boy band thing. My friend Martha though, yeah, she was like super into the boy band thing. She was one of those people who, like, stood outside the Total Request Live or TRL studio, screaming her head off like a psycho with a sign, like, "Marry me, Brittany," you know? I never understood why people did that.
It just seemed random. Look, now that everyone left and us real people are here, I'm gonna tell you a little secret, okay? I had a secret love affair with TRL, bitch. Not only did I think Carson Daley was super cute, hot, amazing, oh my God, I wanted be on TRL so bad, but I had a JC Chavez poster on my bedroom wall.
NSYNC before Backstreet Boys. (Bailey snaps) No, I was not here for Backstreet Boys. NSYNC was where it's at, okay? I mean, he was my everything. 98 Degrees.
Oh my God, do you remember 98 Degrees? Oh my God, what was that one guy's name? Ashley Angel! Do you remember Ashley Angel? Oh! My God, Ashley Angel. Shout out to you, Ashley Angel. Okay, so boy bands, love 'em, and I never really thought about, like, what the actual definition of boy band is. I mean, it seems sort of obvious, right, doesn't it? Boys that are in a band, but then I dug a little deeper and I found out this guy, Jason King from NPR, had a good definition. He sums it up like this. First, it's a bunch of guys, great.
They're in their teens, and can be as old as like maybe their early twenties. Their music is usually pop, or like some sort of pop-alicious, you know? And they don't usually play their own instruments, but they all play a certain role. The hot guy, the bad boy, the sweet one, the dad bod. Chris Kirkpatrick was there, you know? And in other words, their image, the dancing, and like the way that they look mattered as much as, if not more than, the actual music. I mean, they could be lip syncing for all we care, shit. So when I think of boy bands, my head immediately goes to NSYNC or Backstreet Boys, but it didn't start there, nay, nay.
We'll get to them. Okay, so I'm gonna open up my Dark History book to the boy band chapter. I found it, great.
So it's probably no surprise that the existence of boy bands predates the actual term. I mean, all those cute little acapella singers and their funny little, like, well, not funny, but, like, cute little matching sweaters. They're not considered a boy band for some odd reason. They sang without any instruments or anything like that, and they were all about their image. So, even if they weren't called boy bands, I mean, that's technically what they were.
It was called bubblegum pop back in the day, and it gave rise to things like barbershop quartets. This is where the idea of boy bands as we know them started. These were kind of like a social club that happened to sing for people, and it was a group of young guys who would perform a bunch of cover songs that were super catchy. Well, along the way, people realized that these groups had serious broad appeal and could be monetized. One of these people was a man named George Osmond. Oh, I see where we're going, and he turned his entire family into a money-making machine, bitch.
Look, if I'm gonna have a family, if I'm popping out kids, you're gonna all be making me money from a young age, God damn it. So strap those boots on, because we're getting to fucking work. That's what this family did. So the year is 1960.
Meet the Osmonds from the state of Utah. Dad, George, mom, Olive, and their four sons, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, and Jay. George was a military man, Olive was a housewife, and the Osmonds were a real picture of the American dream, right? Sounds like it. Well, because George was a military man, he also treated his children like soldiers, and what do I mean by that? Well, he made them all sleep in one bedroom together and would assign them endless chores to teach them discipline. Now, at the end of the day, the entire family would sit together around the dinner table and George would make the family sing. You think this might be something the kids push back on, but their dad, again, military guy, and they came from a very religious Mormon family.
So, pushing back, no, not gonna happen, nay, nay. So he starts training the boys to be a quartet of singers. After a few months of practice, word started to spread about the Osmond boys, and they got a big break in the form of a show at Disneyland, which had an audience of just one person, but that's not because the show was a bust or anything.
It's because the one man watching the show was looking for some new talent. That man, well, his name was Walt Disney. Yeah, the actual Walt Disney.
Now, I can't stress this enough. Getting Walt's seal of approval was huge. If you think Disney is big today, I mean, this guy owned the family entertainment industry during the fifties and sixties. I mean, he dominated it. There was no competition, God damn it, and, honestly, Disney still kind of does, right? Walt was so impressed by the Osmond kids, he had them sing at their first television appearance on a show called "Disneyland After Dark", which was like a variety performer showcase. So, from here, the Osmonds' rise to fame, I mean, bitch, it skyrocketed.
They were landing at another gig on television after this, specifically "The Andy Williams Show", which was hugely popular at the time, and the Osmonds were such a hit, they ultimately signed a five-year contract with Andy and moved to Los Angeles, the home of palm trees and legal child labor, as long as it's entertaining, of course. So the Osmonds were one of the first boy bands around and one of the biggest success stories early on, but while the Osmonds were dancing their way up the charts, another family was practicing their routine in their living room in Gary, Indiana, and this family would make the Osmonds look like O-Town. Meet the Jacksons. The year, 1963.
Katherine and Joe Jackson live in a two bedroom, one bathroom house with, let me look, eight kids. Yeah, that's a lot, my God, and speaking of God, the Jacksons were Jehovah's Witnesses, and if you didn't know, Jehovah's Witnesses are sort of a Christian denomination that have something called separationist beliefs, which means they don't like mingling with people of other faiths, I should say, and since Joe was a devout Jehovah's Witness, he kept his kids separate from a lot of the world. One day, while dad was away at work, one of the kids, Tito, decided to play a couple chords on dad's guitar. I guess Tito was being a serious naughty boy, because everyone in the family knew you do not touch dad's stuff, but, you know, kids do what kids do, and he touched it and he broke it.
Not the whole thing, though. I mean, it was just a string, but either way, dad comes home from work and everyone thinks he's about to go full-blown, like, psychopath, killer, out for blood, but to their surprise, he doesn't. He just sits Tito down along with his brother and says, like, "Show me what you got." They do, and Joe is like, holy shit, we got something here, but he doesn't just support their musical aspirations. He names himself their manager and immediately puts them to work, and this was the creation of the band, The Jackson Five.
It wasn't an accident that Joe had a guitar in the house. I mean, he had been a musician himself, and much like George Osmond, Joe worked his kids to the bones. I'm talking hours of rehearsal every day in their tiny home, and in case you forgot, Joe kept his kids separated from the rest of the world. So, on top of being overworked, they lived to work. Joe worked his sons to the point of exhaustion and then some, because anyone who didn't work enough, according to Joe's standards, was met with a few swings of his belt. I mean, he was known to beat the shit out of his kids.
Just super fucked-up shit, you know? Finally, in 1967, The Jackson Five performed at the Apollo in Harlem, which is a theater rich in history when it comes to Black performers. So, it's a huge accomplishment, but it's nothing like the size of the audience the Osmonds had access to with Disney and "The Andy Williams Show", and their first performance wasn't even a paid gig. It was a talent show, but The Jackson Five eventually caught the attention of a now iconic record label called Motown Records, and appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show", which was even bigger than "The Andy Williams Show". Mm, so rivalry between the Osmonds and the Jacksons emerged. Now, funny, Donny and Michael, the two lead singers of the respective bands, were buddies, but the press and others acted as though they were in competition with one another.
Now, it's important to note that, while the Osmonds quickly worked their way into the hearts and minds of America, it was a bit more of a struggle for The Jackson Five. Remember, this is all happening in the United States in the 1960s. I mention this because it reflects the fact that the United States liked its pop stars to be majority white. We've already touched on this in both the jazz and the rock and roll episodes, so I'm not gonna dive too deep into that.
I highly suggest you go listen to those episodes if you haven't, but it's worth pointing out the difference in perception and the reception of the bands. Either way, with the backing of Motown, The Jackson Five, their career exploded, just releasing hit after hit after hit. I mean, people will be dancing to their music 1,000 years from now. So, full-on Jackson mania had taken hold of not just the United States, but, I mean, I'm talking the globe, okay? But the smiley, happy family band everyone had come to love wasn't so happy behind closed doors. The Jackson Five only received a royalty rate under 3%.
So, if you can't math like me, don't worry. If the band earns a hundred dollars, then they only get $3, but then it has to be split five ways because there's five people in the band, so that's 60 cents each. Now, I don't know what you're thinking at home, but to me, that feels supremely unfair, but it's a bit of foreshadowing for the decades to come. Well, The Jackson Five began to unravel first with the departure of Jermaine Jackson, and then when Michael himself decided to go solo. So, The Jackson Five's rising star came crashing down much more quickly than the Osmonds', even though they'd go on to be remembered as a powerhouse in musical history, and the Osmonds would kind of fade into obscurity, but the idea of the boy band did not, and, in fact, it went global, and unfortunately, it gets even darker, you know, but, first, we're gonna take an ad break. (ominous piano jingle) You guys know I love the break-in protection that my SimpliSafe home security system gives me, but it's not always outside forces that you need SimpliSafe's protection from, oh, nay, nay.
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(ominous piano jingle) Bienvenidos a Puerto Rico! Okay, I gotta look over here to make, look, there's someone watching me right now. If you know what that means, help me out. There was the home of a man named Edgardo Diaz. Now, Edgardo was born in 1947, and after he graduated school, he moved to Spain, where he got a job managing a musical group made up of three boys and one girl known as La Pandilla. La Pandilla was inspired by the success of groups like the Osmonds and the Jacksons, and while Edgardo was managing the band, he noticed two things. One, their fan base was massive and mostly female.
Two, the most popular members of the band were the boys, but as the boys got older, the audiences got smaller. Plus, as the boys went through puberty, their voices changed, requiring the band to alter how the songs were being sung. This gave Edgardo the idea to start his own group that was only boys between the ages of 12 and 16, that sounds so creepy, and once they turned 16, Edgardo would replace them. With dollar signs in his eyes, Edgardo got to work in 1977, putting together a group he called Menudo. Oh my God, I've learned two things today. Pittsburgh is in Pennsylvania.
Menudo is Puerto Rican slang for pocket change, and Spanish for small. So, Edgardo named the group Menudo to highlight how different all of its small singers were going to be. Other than being young, the big requirement Edgardo had for the members of Menudo is being clean-cut boys from good families who weren't gonna cause trouble or become addicted to drugs. He's not asking for much, I guess.
Now, you may wonder why parents allowed their kids to just join a band and travel the world with this man, Edgardo. Well, he frequently targeted boys whose families needed the money, and once Menudo was a household name, the question wasn't like, why would you let your kid hit the road with Edgardo and Menudo, but why wouldn't you, you know? One historian refers to them as the band that never ages. Well, that's not because of some Peter Pan bullshit.
It's because Edgardo just decided to replace people when he felt like it, like they were machines in his own creepy little factory. I don't know about you, but it feels really ugh, right? Like, gross. He's spending a lot of time alone with boys specifically between the ages of 12 and 16.
Like, oh, okay, that makes sense. Immediately, Menudo was a huge success in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Actually, huge success is putting it lightly. You know how the Jacksons had Jackson mania? People went so freaking crazy for Menudo.
I mean, fans would wait for over 24 hours outside of venues or hotel rooms to see the members of Menudo. Some of them would find out which rooms the boys were staying in, and, get this, would wait under their beds to see them. I think that's illegal, and there are not one, not two, but three stories of fans crawling through the ventilation ducts of hotel rooms just to get to Menudo. You freaking crazy asses. Get a grip on your kids. And then once Menudo made it to the United States, American music fans got struck with this amazing band as well, with their first US release in 1983 selling 750,000 records in under a year. Now, the Washington Post said Menudo was the first Spanish-speaking pop music group to break the language barrier in the United States.
The following year in 1984, they had sold 8 million records worldwide. (Bailey clapping) Bravo. We love to see it. This was also the year that the most famous person to ever join Menudo appeared. That's right. The same year Menudo became global superstars, none other than Mr. Ricky Martin joined the band.
Ah, I loved Ricky Martin, oh my God. So, before he was Livin' La Vida Loca, the poor guy was exposed to La Vida Toxica. Dad jokes, full of them, I guess.
But, by 1991, 28 boys at this point had been a part of Menudo. They'd average about two years in the group, and then just kind of move on. I don't know about you, but something has to be wrong for a young musician to walk away from being a global phenomenon.
So, you know how I said Edgardo was very clear about the no drug use thing? Well, in 1990, two members of Menudo were fired after being arrested for having weed at an airport, but when the press asked them about it, the members said they got the weed from none other than Edgardo himself. So, he announced he was doing drug tests, and the whole story blew wide open. Later in 1991, four members quit at the same time, saying Edgardo was verbally abusive and playing games with their money, and on top of all that, there were allegations that Edgardo was sexually assaulting the boys in Menudo, ugh. Edgardo used the accusations from the members that left to his advantage, saying the claims of sexual abuse were just a way to strike back at him. Well, to put it lightly, this wasn't true, uh-uh. For starters, there was an eyewitness report that Edgardo forced a then-teenage Ricky Martin to dress up in women's clothing during mansion parties, and then another member of the group literally witnessed Edgardo having sex with an underage member of the group.
Edgardo, you nasty ass. You nasty! Now, to this day, no member of the group has ever sued Edgardo, but that's not an indication of innocence. While Menudo was tearing up the pop charts around the world, boy bands continued to evolve in the United States, and in 1980s Massachusetts, another phenomenon was coming together. This was none other than New Edition. Now, remember those barbershop quartets I mentioned earlier? Mhm, well, New Edition started kind of like that. Three of the founding members, Bobby, Michael, and Ricky, already had a singing group, and then they recruited two other dudes, Riz and Brooke.
Now, the five of them became New Edition. Now, urban legend says New Edition got their name when one of the band members' uncle saw them perform and was like, wow, you guys are like the new edition of The Jackson Five! New Edition differed from their predecessors in that, unlike the Osmonds, the Jacksons, and Menudo, they formed their own band. Good for them. In December of 1981, the guys entered a talent contest. The winner got a recording deal with a producer named Maurice Star.
Ironically, they came in second, but Maurice was so blown away by them, he offered the guys a record deal too. Their first release hit number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was sitting firmly at number one on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart. Anyway, with their charting success, they hit the road for their first country-wide tour.
Now, when they returned, they were handed their check for their earnings. Each of them received, a drum roll, please. Joan, drum roll. (drum roll plays) Great, a dollar and 87 cents! Great. That's just great. Awesome. I mean, it was honestly insulting.
When they wondered why, they were told that the rest of the money was used to cover other costs. So what did they do? Well, they sued Maurice, and, good, good for them. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, but the damage was done. New Edition and Maurice parted ways. The band continued on and so did Maurice.
In fact, Maurice went on to create a group that absolutely owned the late 1980s and early 90s, and he did it by doing the same thing he did with New Edition. Now, he named this new group New Kids On The Block, mhm, and this was kind of like a big fuck you to New Edition. So the guys who became New Kids On The Block originally called themselves Nanook, but Maurice thought the name didn't roll off the tongue. I mean, it doesn't, and he came up with something a little catchier, okay? Something that could easily be confused with New Edition, but people wouldn't be confused for long, because all of the members of New Kids were white, and this was intentional. Marie said, quote, "If New Edition was as big as they were, I could imagine what could happen if white kids were doing the same thing," end quote.
And he was right. By 1988, their second album sold 7 million copies. Not quite Menudo big, but since they were white, people gave them more credit. Unlike a lot of other bands we talked about, New Kids On The Block didn't really have that many controversies, and ended up being one of the most successful pop bands of the late 80s, and maybe Maurice learned his lesson from his New Edition days, you know? So you're probably thinking, well, why am I telling you about New Kids On The Block then? Well, hush your little lips, sugar.
It's because one man having a chance meeting with them set in motion one of the darkest scandals in the world of boy bands. Oh, shit! But we're gonna take a little break real quick. ♪ Tell me why, ain't nothing but an ad break ♪ ♪ Tell me why, I never wanna hear you say ♪ ♪ Why so many ad breaks ♪ (ominous piano jingle) There are certain people that just make my life so much easier. I am so thankful that I have a team of people and experts who help me with Dark History every single week, because, let me tell you, there's a lot. There's a lot of information and a lot of work that goes into this. I'm not complaining.
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D-A-R-K-H-I-S-T-O-R-Y. ZipRecruiter, the smartest way to hire. (ominous piano jingle) Welcome back. So we have George and Joe, Edgardo and Maurice, but there's one boy band manager that puts all of these men to shame. Enter to the scene the man who called himself the sixth member of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, Lou Pearlman.
Lou was born in Flushing, New York, and by most accounts, he wasn't really a popular kid, and this will become a theme, okay? Like Daddy Jackson, Lou had been into music in his high school and college days. His first cousin was Art Garfunkel, as in Simon and Garfunkel. So, from an early age, Lou was really interested in the business side of music, because, honestly, he didn't have a face, body, or voice to be on stage, you know what I'm saying? Not to be shady, but, like, if you Google him, I'm not wrong, okay? When he was a teenager, he managed a band, but he never really found any success with this, so he turned to another field. Fraud, you know? Like, that's where you go sometimes. As the story goes, he earned his first million through a bit of insurance fraud, where he bought a blimp he knew when would fly, crashed it, and collected a quick three million dollars. Then, Lou moved to Orlando, Florida to set up a shell company called Transcontinental Airlines that chartered flights for people who could afford them.
It was also the home of a massive Ponzi scheme, but we'll talk about that later. Anyway, this company is important to our story because this is what brought him into contact with none other than New Kids On The Block. New Kids chartered one of Lou's planes, and when he met these dapper young fellas, he was like, what? How can these kids afford one of my planes, you know? And when he found out that they were making like 200 million in record sales and 800 million in touring and merchandising, Lou was like, shit, I'm in the wrong industry! So, Lou put out a casting call with his eye on creating his own version of New Kids. Now, this is how Lou met Nick, Brian, AJ, Kevin, and Howie, AKA the Backstreet Boys, hey! So, all these managers seemed to use the same playbook.
You meet one guy, sign him, and he recruits the rest of the members for you, but Lou's story comes with a bit of twist, because he set up a house for these five teenage guys to live in. It was kind of like a content house before a content house was a content house. Yeah, Lou was on it. So, they could, you know, spend all of their time rehearsing, right? And these guys were living just the life. No parents, no bra, no panties. (Bailey chuckles) That's so funny, Bailey.
I'm so funny. Papa Lou, as they came to call him, which is like super creepy, drove them around in limos and a Rolls-Royce. He took them out to fancy restaurants. Oh my God, he's like a pimp! He took them out of school! He gave them an allowance! Oh my God, I just had an epiphany, but that's literally how they get you, like sex trafficking or pimps. Like, that's fucked, ew. Not only did he promise them everything they could dream of, but it seemed like he was delivering on that promise, right? I mean, Lou was their guy on the inside of the industry they wanted to be in so badly.
Chris Kirkpatrick said, quote, "When you're around Lou, it was like you didn't have to worry about money. You didn't have to worry about anything." End quote. Now, I hear you.
"Bailey, Chris wasn't in Backstreet Boys!" I know, okay? He was in NSYNC, but surprise, surprise. Lou was also behind NSYNC too, and he started them shortly after starting Backstreet Boys. So let's bring them into the mix really quick. Come on in, boys. Just kidding. That'd be so cool, right?
Lou exploded onto the scene with Backstreet, and seeing how successful it was, he knew it was a matter of time before someone arrived to compete with them, but Papa Lou had, and I'll give him credit for this, a great idea. Why not invent the competition himself so he can reap all the rewards? Smart. So Lou pulled together the guys of NSYNC in a similar way that he brought the Backstreet Boys together.
Then he set up the NSYNC guys in their own little house and they were off and running, but first things first, they needed to rehearse, very important that they do that. Lou set the guys up in one of his airplane hangers, and now you might think this sounds super cool. Working on vocals and choreography, surrounded by a bunch of super expensive jets, but it wasn't. The hanger was empty. They were rehearsing in a giant hot warehouse in Florida.
Terrible. And when they weren't dancing their faces off, they were expected to be working out with their personal trainers Lou got for them. Ultimately, these kids, kids, were pulling 18 hour days, and that's just six hours of sleep, assuming they didn't stop to eat, shower, use the potty. I don't know, stare at the wall for a minute, you know? And immediately went to bed after their sessions, so probably like four hours of sleep, if that. Nick Carter said that the only way he could get through the early days of being in Backstreet boys was by drinking rivers of vodka until he became sleepy, and then following it up with a ton of blow to stay awake. Wow, party.
Those are his words. So these teenage guys had no social life, were becoming addicted to drugs, and lived entirely for their work. No matter how you slice it, it was manipulation by a con man looking to get filthy rich by exploiting poor teenagers, and Papa Lou was well on his way to doing that, because, by 1994, Backstreet Boys signed with a huge record label at the time.
It was called Jive Records. Now, the band cut their teeth touring and dropping albums in Europe before hitting the States, and when they did cross back over the pond in 1997, their arrival was fucking massive! They released their self-titled album, "Backstreet Boys". What songs did this album feature? Just two little hits called "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" and "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)". By 1999, 28 million copies of the album were sold worldwide.
I mean, I had one, did you? Let me know down below. This is before the days of iTunes, Spotify, or YouTube, where single song play counts mattered the most. People would camp out at Sam Goody and Best Buy just to get their hands on it, bitch. Teens would literally sleep on concrete just to get this damn CD, album, whatever, and TRL fed this frenzy. Backstreet Boys were so famous that, when they appeared on TRL one time, 5,000 screaming fans flooded Times Square.
It got so crowded that police literally had to shut the square down, and they did it again three days later to another 5,000 screaming fans. With all the success, things didn't slow down. They went from rehearsing and training 18 hours a day to doing interviews, photo shoots, touring, and then rehearsing 18 hours a day.
Could you imagine? Man, like, when you're young, you always kinda wanna be famous or something, but then when you hear this shit, you're like, I wouldn't be able to do that as a kid. As a kid? No. Anyways, so, I mean, Backstreet Boys, obviously, they were crushing it, okay? And it was proof Papa Lou could make good on what he was promising. Meanwhile, NSYNC is waiting in the wings, itching to get a taste of this success. They're ready for their time in the sun, but, remember, Lou didn't look at these bands as complimentary.
They were competitors. In fact, Lou had set up NSYNC behind Backstreet Boys' backs. So, a little scandalous, you know? One source reports that Lou outright said, where there's Coke, there's Pepsi. Part of Lou's manipulation was playing Backstreet Boys and NSYNC against one another.
So, Lou gets to work, stirring up his own competition and his own controversy. Remember how the world was told the Osmonds and the Jacksons were arch enemies? Well, honestly, that shit sells, and Lou knew it. He was like, if anyone's gonna be successful here, it's gonna be me! The tension between the bands was fed by the fact that Backstreet Boys was taking off like rocket ships, and NSYNC was kind of circling the drain, which was a little odd, because their front man was none other than Disney star Justin Timberlake. So, they're a little confused, right? Funny enough, their break came when Backstreet Boys, exhausted from the insane schedule Lou had them on, turned down a Disney Channel concert.
Oh, shit. Well, the NSYNC guys jumped at the opportunity, right? They're ready, and this was their turning point. The Disney Channel concert aired every day for a month, and, suddenly, NSYNC was just as big as Backstreet boys.
Their debut album jumped from 82 on the Billboard 200 to number two. They even had their own crazy TRL moment where an NSYNC fan threatened to murder host Carson Daly after she got an NSYNC trivia question wrong. Can we roll the clip? (crickets chirping) No? All right. So, Lou's plan paid off better than he ever could have hoped for, really.
Part of the success was because Lou fed the rumor mill. When he was with the guys from Backstreet Boys, he'd say things like, have you guys seen what NSYNC is doing? Have you guys noticed that? And then when he was with the NSYNC guys, he'd trash talk about Backstreet Boys. I mean, it all worked in Lou's favor, because no matter how bad the shit-talking got, people were talking about both bands.
Who cares whether it's Coke or Pepsi when you can just own the whole damn soda industry, huh? Well, let's pause for a little ad break, shall we? Go get some soda, I guess. (ominous piano jingle) Sometimes you have to ask yourself, hey, how have I been caring for myself lately? You know, have you? You know, whether it's taking longer baths, going on a morning stroll, which is what I like to do every day, or indulging in midday naps. Oh, love that. Pair your self-care ritual with Calm and take your wellness to the next level. Today, I'm partnering with Calm, the number one mental wellness app, to give you the tools that improve the way you feel. You can reduce stress and anxiety through guided meditations, improve focus with curated music tracks, and rest and recharge with Calm's imaginative sleep stories for children and adults.
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Go to Calm, C-A-L-M, dot com, slash Dark History, for 40% off unlimited access to Calm's entire library. That's Calm.com/DarkHistory. (ominous piano jingle) Unfortunately, the drama Lou started between the boy bands isn't even close to the worst thing he put the bands through. Back in 1997, Nick Carter was only 17 years old. Up until this point, Nick loved going to the hanger to hang out at Lou's house, but something happened one day at Lou's house that AJ McLean's mom said made Nick scared to go back to see Lou at all. It's not clear what happened, but according to her, Lou was definitely inappropriate with him, and Nick just felt that he didn't want anything to do with that anymore.
Nick's mom went a step further saying, quote, "Certain things happened and it almost destroyed our family. I tried to warn everyone. I tried to warn all the mothers." End quote. What is it? Other bands were more explicit about what Lou did to them. By the time Backstreet boys and NSYNC had blown up, Lou had stakes in about a dozen other boy bands, including a band called Take Five.
Now, one of the members said that, when he was 13 years old, he woke up to Lou standing at the foot of his bed, dressed only in a towel. Ew. Lou did a swan dive onto the bed and then wrestled with the boys while his towel fell off, leaving a naked Lou rolling around with 13-year-old boys. A few days later, Lou showed the boys of Take Five security camera footage from his home of a girl group he managed.
The group was sun-bathing naked. A grown man showing teen boys naked teen girls. Yeah, he did it again a few days after that, when he promised to show the boys Star Wars, and instead, he put on porn. At the time, one of the members of Take Five said, quote, "We just thought it was funny.
We were kids." End quote. One of the moms of a couple members of Take Five learned later that Lou took her underage sons to a strip club. According to her, Lou is just a sexual predator. I think that sounds about right. Perhaps the worst accusations against Lou came from his former assistant, Steve Mooney, who said that Lou had a history of touching him inappropriately, and worse.
He recalls a talk he had with a singer from one of Lou's lesser known bands where he asked the singer point-blank if Lou ever groped him, and he said, yeah, all the time, and when Steve asked what the singer was gonna do about it, the singer said, quote, "Look, if the guy wants to massage me and I'm getting a million dollars for it, you just go along for it. It's the price you gotta pay." End quote. But that's not all Steve knew.
If Lou's bedroom doors were closed, Steve said he knew not to disturb him. More than once, he saw young male singers trying to sneak out of the room undetected. The way he describes it is, quote, "There was one guy in every band, one sacrifice who takes it for Lou.
That's just the way it was." End quote. Man, that's so sad. Despite all the allegations that exist about Lou Pearlman, he never faced accountability or legal actions for any of it. To this very day, Lou being inappropriate is a hot button issue for his former bands. A Vanity Fair article about Lou put it best, saying, quote, "For every young man or parent who says he experienced or saw something inappropriate, there are two who won't discuss it, and three more who deny hearing anything but rumors." End quote.
One attorney who was part of a lawsuit against Lou said, quote, "None of these kids will ever admit anything happened. They're all too ashamed, and if the truth came out, it would ruin their careers." End quote. We need to give them a safe space.
So, the innuendo about Lou's sexual misbehaviors weren't enough to take him down, but something else did. Remember how one of Lou's singers said getting touched was the sacrifice you pay for pulling in millions? Well, here's the thing. They weren't pulling in millions. According to Lance Bass, the guys in NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were paid only $35 per day at the height of their fame, and that's how much he paid his biggest bands. Imagine what the other guys were making. Now, to make things worse, after three years of working their asses off, each member of NSYNC was handed a check for $10,000.
Three years, super popular. You remember. We bought the shirts. We had the posters. We had everything. $10,000.
That is all they got for three full years of training, rehearsing, doing press, recording, touring. I mean, not sleeping, not to mention the constant sexual harassment. Poor guys. So, the guys weren't rolling in it, and when they finally got around to asking about it, Lou just kind of shrugged it off. They tried to negotiate with Lou, but he wouldn't budge. Maybe part of the reason Lou didn't negotiate was because he was operating a Ponzi scheme.
I mean, he was probably using the money from his boy bands to keep his other fake businesses afloat. Yeah, what was he spending the money on? Because if you saw this guy, oh, what the fuck? Plus, despite the accusations of sexual misconduct, the guys looked up to Lou as a father figure. The revelations about the money was kind of a double whammy. In addition to dealing with the shock of not having the money they thought they rightfully earned, they were devastated to have confirmation that Papa Lou was honestly just a complete shit bag, and in order to get out of their shitty deals, they needed to sue.
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click on the microphone at the top of the page, and type in DarkHistory. ShipStation, make ship happen. (ominous piano jingle) ♪ Quit playing games with my money ♪ ♪ With my money ♪ ♪ With my money ♪ Thank you so much, you guys. I'm here all day. So, when the band sued Lou, they started going through the contracts with actual professionals, and what they found was wild! You see, Papa Lou set it up that he was the... He set it up so he was the sixth member of both bands, earning himself one sixth of each band's revenue.
He then had the guys sign management and recording agreements with his shell company, Transcontinental, which, quote-unquote, charged the band 43% of whatever they made, and then the contracts also gave Lou and his bullshit business power of attorney, which basically means he could enter them into whatever other agreements he wanted. Oh, shit, that's terrifying. So, yes, great singers and dancers, but, holy crap, shitty businessmen. I mean, it makes sense though.
They were only teenagers at the time. Nobody knows how to read a contract when you first get introduced to one. So, Lou knew this.
I mean, he really took advantage of all of that, especially by making himself a father figure to the guys. Step one, establish that trust. Step two, exploit that trust. That's what Lou was up to. So what happened? Eventually, through the legal channels, both Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were able to break away from Papa Lou. Still, that didn't reverse the shock, sadness, and anger they felt about all the backstabbing, but Lou kept going.
He just turned his focus onto other bands he managed, all of my favorite bands, the O-Town, LFO, and Take Five, just to name a few. He even tried his luck with a hip hop duo and some girl bands, but one by one, they caught on to Lou's shenanigans, all either breaking up or suing him as well, and at this point, it wasn't just musicians who were onto Lou's con job. The FBI was sniffing around too, and they were about to drop the hammer. So, remember earlier when I called Transcontinental Airlines a shell corporation? Well, that's because Transcontinental only existed on paper.
I guess Papa Lou would use his assets, like the Backstreet Boys, to attract new investors and use money from them to pay off old investors. This, my friends, is called a Ponzi scheme, and the federal government no likey Ponzi. So, by 2006, Lou knew the end was approaching, so he fled the country. The FBI eventually tracked him down all the way in Bali, Indonesia, so when the FBI got there, they went right to work, but, first, they decided to grab a quick bite to eat, but when they walked into the restaurant where they were gonna eat, and this is 100% true, they saw Lou Pearlman eating breakfast across the room! What are the odds of that? You can't make that shit up.
So, after everyone ate, including the feds, they arrested Lou. Yeah, they ate first. They literally ate first, and then they arrested him. I mean, okay. They brought Lou back to the United States, where he was tried in federal court for three counts of bank fraud, along with wire and mail fraud.
Papa Lou was already dabbling in money laundering, conspiracy, and lied at a bankruptcy hearing. He was sentenced to 25 years in federal lockup, where he was really... ♪ Shown the meaning of being lonely ♪ Do you see what I did there? I mean, that's larger than life. Eventually, Papa Lou croaked in 2016 while in prison. Bye, bye, bye, Papa Lou. ♪ Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye ♪ (Bailey humming) Whatever.
The end of Papa Lou didn't bring about the end of boy bands. Instead of learning from its mistakes, the music business just evolved and spit out new boy band scandals. Lou's shady tactics proved to the world that these bands could be replicated, exploited, and turned into fricking major money-making machines.
(cash register dings) Now, to these crooked music executives, these weren't teenagers with dreams. They were products to be marketed in order to maximize profit, and this idea would rear its ugly head again with the rise of K-pop! It just keeps going. It's like a wheel. You get it? Wheel. It's like a wheel. Okay, you guys get it? You'd think that, after decades of abuse, physical, mental, or otherwise, that things, I don't know, maybe would've changed for the better, you know? Maybe, I don't know, and to an extent, I mean, maybe it has, but, overseas, the South Korean music industry, specifically K-pop.
Look, you guys, side note. K-pop people, don't come for me. Look, I'm not speaking badly of your groups, okay? No, I'm not. Don't come for me. I love you. K-pop has found a way to make factory-made boy bands and girl groups to a whole other level.
Bands like Big Bang, Girls' Generation, or Shinee that lean into the intense choreography and pop-influenced dance music that prior boy bands did, and they've managed to find success on an international level to an extent we haven't seen since the days of BSB, Backstreet Boys, and NSYNC. Unfortunately, while those bands had just one Lou Pearlman, K-pop has made Lou Pearlman into a whole industry. Remember in the Golden Age of Hollywood episode, when I talked about morality clauses and the contracts actresses had to sign that gave away all of their freedom? Girl, these bands have those too, often abiding by strict image requirements and grueling training. Some of these bands have been pushed so hard, members have been driven to commit suicide. In 2017, Jonghyun from the band Shinee sadly did just that.
I mean, he left a suicide note saying success left him feeling broken inside. Aw, that's so sad. So when you see what's happening in the world of K-pop, you can't help but to see that, when the United States exports its pop culture and entertainment overseas, the good is almost always accompanied by the bad. The whole dark story behind boy bands and the trail of damage left behind raises some really interesting issues.
Let's start with Lou. At best, we know he was inappropriate with underage boys. At worst, he was a full-on sexual predator who created a scheme to keep a fresh supply of victims on hand at all times, but what we know for sure is that everything he did was smoke and mirrors. I mean, he was a con man. He manufactured a huge Ponzi scheme, and then he ended up just dying in federal prison, and while that's great, there are still men like Edgardo who never faced justice for any of the crimes he committed, and there's another question that keeps popping up for me. Where are all the parents this whole time? I don't mean to point fingers or assign blame, but, you know, where were the people who were supposed to be advocating for and protecting these extremely talented children while they went after their dreams? I guess it's hard to tell your kid no, especially when there's a charismatic rich guy who can deliver that dream, and, honestly, deliver that money, 'cause if I have kids, I'm gonna be, go make your mom some money, okay? So I kind of get it, but, unfortunately, this is what happens when you mix a predator with blindly ambitious people.
Sure, yes, they made some incredible, amazing, beautiful music along the way, but was it worth it given everything we just learned? Well, everyone, a big thank you for learning with me today. I hope you learned something new that maybe, I don't know, because, like, of course, we wanna support these talented kids and stuff, right? 'Cause they're talented. They make great music and stuff. We just don't wanna see them get abused and taken advantage of. I think that's not a hard ask, but, geez Louise, it seems like we ask too much here on Dark History, don't we? My God. Anyways, remember, don't be afraid to ask questions to get the whole story, because you deserve that. Now, I'd love to hear your reactions to today's story, so make sure to use the hashtag "darkhistory" so I can follow along.
Join me over on my YouTube, where you can watch these episodes on Thursday after the podcast airs, and also catch my "Murder, Mystery & Makeup", which drops every Monday! I hope you have a great day today, you make good choices, and I'll be talking to you next week. Good bye! ♪ Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye ♪ That was the right time to do it. Dark History, if you don't know, is an Audioboom Original. This podcast is executive-produced by Bailey Sarian, Kim Jacobs, Dunia McNeily from 3 Arts, Justin Comins, and Claire Turner from Wheelhouse DNA. Produced by Lexxi Kiven. Research provided by Romona Kivett.
Writers Jed Bookout, Joey Scavuzzo, and Kim Yaged. Edited by Jim Luci. Shot by Tafadzwa Nemarundwe. And I'm your host, Bailey Sarian! Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo! Ah! Ah! Okay, bye! I thought you guys were gonna clap.