Backstreet Boys – As Long As You Love Me

Released: 29th September 1997

Writers: Max Martin

Peak position: #3

Chart run: 3-4-6-8-7-11-12-16-17-25-25-23-21-25-36-41-56-60-72

In the late ‘90s bubblegum pop sphere, such was the sheer volume and quality of new releases, we were tripping over songs that could reasonably lay claim to being era-defining hits. Some are indisputable, and others are personal taste. As Long As You Love Me probably falls into the latter category; it’s not inescapably woven into the fabric of popular culture. But for our money, this is about as perfect an example of Cheiron’s masterful execution of ‘90s pop music as you could hope to hear in three and a half minutes.

By 1997, the Backstreet Boys had finally cracked the top ten in America with Quit Playing Games (With My Heart). Meanwhile, in the UK they’d established themselves as a consistent chart force after a few false starts in the preceding years. Indeed, by the time As Long As You Love Me was released here, the group had already scored three top five hits that year alone. Notably, this single followed on the heels of Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), and in many ways, it was the perfect antidote. This is very much the archetypal wholesome mid-tempo of the late ‘90s; as we’ve previously discussed, ‘nice’ hasn’t been a desirable descriptor for a long while in pop music, but that’s precisely what As Long As You Love Me is. It’s a throwback to the gentle halcyon days of our youth, where the boys next door crooning sincerely about ‘feelings’ was all it took to make us go weak at the knees.  

Arguably the essential element – besides the Backstreet Boys themselves – is the twinkling instrumental guitar hook that opens the track. It’s easily as distinctive as any of the vocal hooks contained within As Long As You Love Me; there’s a pure, almost celestial quality to it. It’s utterly dreamy, and when it reappears for a brief interlude after the second chorus, we can usually be found drifting into a nostalgic ‘90s haze. Despite its prominence in the song, there is an early mix of the track where the intro chords are much less defined. In an uncharacteristic move for Jive Records, that version was unintentionally included on the parent album. It’s not vastly inferior, but it certainly sounds a little unmixed by comparison.

The track may sound a little softer compared to the usual thrashing production associated with Cheiron, but it has no less of a bite in terms of melodies and hooks. Stylistically it is similar to Quit Playing Games (With My Heart); it’s little surprise that the two songs are usually paired together during the Backstreet Boys’ live gigs. But As Long As You Love Me is just that little bit more polished and refined; it’s an incredibly well thought out track. Take, for example, the way the beat momentarily drops to just the tap of a snare drum during the segue from verse into chorus. It’s those little touches that show Max Martin’s experience as a musician, not just a songwriter and producer. Indeed, As Long As You Love Me manages to achieve a real sense of ebb and flow without so many of the usual pop music quirks (no key-changes here, alas).

It’s yet another example of Max Martin’s ability to compose a song that sounds distinctly ‘90s and yet has a timeless, nursery rhyme-like simplicity to it. Moreover, he manages to make it look like the easiest thing in the world, when it most certainly is not. And then we have the Backstreet Boys themselves; their contribution is far more than merely reciting the material that’s been handed to them. As Long As You Love Me places a little more emphasis than usual on Nick and Brian as the lead vocalists, certainly during the verses in any case. The highlight of this combination is undoubtedly the middle-eight and Brian’s: “As long as you love me baby…” followed by Nick’s falsetto over the shimmering chords as they run into the finale. The pay-off is that when the group do come together on the choruses, there’s a palpable depth to their collective vocals that lifts the song and warmly envelops you into the melody. The last minute or so is a brilliantly layered finale, where the chorus peels away, and the group start jamming with the core elements, while also throwing in some killer ad-libs (“Yeah-EH-EH”).  

If you remain unconvinced of As Long As You Love Me’s credentials as an era-defining song, then surely there can be no such quibbles over the video? Everything about it has that unmistakeably warm glow of the late ‘90s with its crisp, vivid blue colour scheme. It’s a real testament to how powerful a simple concept can be when executed well. In essence, it’s a video within a video, as the Backstreet Boys perform the song to a group of women who are conducting some sort of screen test by using a remote control to flick through various scenarios, many of which apparently require the group to act awkwardly goofy while kitted out in fancy dress. It portrays an endearing sense of what the Backstreet Boys are like and sells the individual personalities behind the polished end product. And there’s plenty of that as well; the chair choreography is iconic and includes some impressively slick editing to create shots of the group transitioning into one another during a solo dance sequence. There’s even a bit of Black Or White-esque face morphing included. The kick, of course, is when the Backstreet Boys pick up the remote-control swap places with the women, who get the better end of the deal in terms of the (relatively sensible) outfits worn for their screen-test. Nigel Dick’s music video direction was a huge part of the Cheiron pop package and his work on As Long As You Love Me is a perfect example of why it worked so well. Ostensibly designed for the MTV-generation, flicking through an increasing number of TV channels, the song was immediately recognisable from the aesthetic whether the sound was on or not.

In the UK, As Long As You Love Me was a bit of a dark horse in terms of chart success. If you were asked to name the Backstreet Boys’ biggest selling single in this country, the smart money would be on I Want It That Way or Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) as the group’s obvious signature hits. But although As Long As You Love Me peaked at #3, it hung around the top 40 for almost five months and endured throughout the lucrative festive market, eventually selling more than 500,000 copies. In America, the single was also a huge hit, although has few official chart statistics to back that up because it was never commercially released, meaning it couldn’t chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a significant airplay hit though, managing to appeal to several key demographics, including adult contemporary, mainstream and, er, rhythmic? Needless to say, As Long As You Love Me was pivotal in driving sales of the Backstreet Boys’ debut album in America and remains an essential single in their back-catalogue. It’s a song that typifies the bubblegum pop era and deserves to be recognised as one of the jewels in the Cheiron crown. For this song is the Swedish studio in its purest sense away from the thumping production and squelchy synths; As Long As You Love Me exposes – and basks within – the harmonious melodies, killer hooks and sunny innocence that soundtracked the late ‘90s.

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