In the late-’90s it was impossible to escape the boy band. As former MTV VJ Dave Holmes says in The Boy Band Con, the boy band allowed young girls to embrace their transition into adolescence and scream their hearts out. It didn’t always matter who they were screaming at, but being in a boy band became the surest route to fame. But once the market was saturated it wasn’t enough to be cute or talented. The boy band craze was a brief, shining moment in time, ushered into by the smiling, heavy-set face of one man: Lou Pearlman. If you knew his name you were in the name, and if you didn’t you certainly knew the groups he created. But Pearlman was an enigma and The Boy Band Con seeks to uncover the man’s many layers.
By listening to the stories of Pearlman’s few childhood friends it’s evident he was a lonely boy with delusions of grandeur. Snapshots of Lou as a child show audiences’ someone who always stood out because of his weight and thus he invented himself as someone who was special. An appearance from Art Garfunkel at his birthday party was all it took to put Pearlman on the path towards finding fame and immortality through the use of pop music. Director Aaron Kunkel follows the path laid out routinely, telling Pearlman’s life from birth to death, most of it littered with the broken dreams of celebrities who never hit it big compared to the producer’s biggest claims to fame, N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys.
There’s no denying Pearlman understood the trends that would come to dominate the ’90s music scene and when The Boy Band Con focuses on the music itself it’s more alert. This is probably because N’Sync member Lance Bass is an executive producer. In fact, Bass tends to dominate the narrative; he’s one of just two N’Sync members interviewed, the other being Chris Kirkpatrick and an appearance from Justin Timberlake’s mother. At times the camera goes to Bass’ house where he and his mom discuss the rise of the band. Is this an N’Sync documentary or the tragic story of how a lot of people were fleeced?
That’s the conundrum at the center of The Boy Band Con, leading to a feeling of severe sanitizing. Pearlman himself is dead but it still feels like the subjects and Kunkel aren’t looking to dive into anything too messy. The majority of the movie is made up of Pearlman’s swindling of N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys of their money, leading to two messy lawsuits in order for the bands to escape him, as well as the Ponzi scheme that would eventually bring Pearlman down. It’s wonderful revisiting that time period, hearing the iconic music and getting shots of the TRL stage, but that all feels like a distraction to hide the true horrors of Pearlman himself.
There’s the lightest of light touches brought onto the allegations of Pearlman sexually propositioning members of his bands, a claim first alleged by the late LFO frontman, Rich Cronin. The movie makes a deliberate point of emphasizing that it was Cronin alone who said that, and obvious grooming behavior – including Pearlman’s penchant for making porn available to the male bandmembers available and deliberately videotaping female bandmembers in order to show to the boys he employed – isn’t even looked into. All the men interviewed act shocked and aghast and maintain nothing happened with them, but no one really seeks to examine whether it could have been true.
The Boy Band Con is a strong crash course in learning about the boy band world, but it feels like much is left unspoken. The cult of silence around Pearlman as an adult overshadows the fascinating aspects of his upbringing. It’s easy to understand why this is YouTube bound, but if you want to reminisce you’ll learn a few things.
The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is available to stream on YouTube.