IIt was a check that exploded the dubious relationships of one of the most controversial pop music managers. Having turned the Backstreet Boys into a boy band from the 1990s, Lou Pearlman became the brain behind NSync, created as a rival to their other band.
After three years of uninterrupted work and tens of millions of record sales in December 1998, he invited the five singers and their families to an expensive restaurant to officiate the ceremony, where each would receive his share of the vast fortune his career had spawned. so far.
Until then, NSync members had lived on a $ 35 allowance per day: they were thrilled at the prospect of becoming instant millionaires. They held their collective breath and savored the moment when their lives would forever change, stretching the hands eager to receive a check of $ 10,000 each. The floor fell below them.
"That's when I heard we were being tapped," says Lance Bass of "NSync, now 39." There was something wrong. We immediately started calling lawyers. "Bass and his bandmates managed to escape the wreckage using a clause buried in their contracts – which stipulated that Pearlman had to sign the group with an American record label (they signed with a record label within the German BMG.) – declare it void and no effect. The judge of the case was amazed at the claim of Pearlman, who according to his contract and possession of the band name he was "NSync and therefore entitled to 90% of her earnings. She ruled the band and the implosion of Pearlman's empire began.
Bass, along with director Aaron Kunkel, created the YouTube documentary The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story to reveal how this extraordinary character became a remasterizer and ended up losing everything by cataloging in detail the damage he caused, the people he stole it and the lives it ruined. It's part of the disaster movie, part warning of recent history.
Luke Hyams of YouTube calls this "one of the biggest untold scandals in the music industry" and says that this documentary, along with Leaving Neverland and Fyre: The biggest party that ever happened, is exploring the "natural appetite for drama" the public. He adds that the Backstreet Boys and NSync's YouTube streaming numbers were consulted in the commissioning process to assess the demand for a documentary on those acts. It's the era of documentary-based analysis.
Pearlman has joined a long line of svengalis that has infected the popular music industry since the 1950s. He was also the last of the breed, coining and riding the late 90s boyband wave that coincided with the industry's commercial peak just before the digital detonates the lucrative CD business.
Pearlman used her ostentatious lifestyle to seduce people and distract herself from her lies. His childhood obsession with airships led him to the aircraft rental business, which he allegedly funded by securing a substandard airship for $ 3 million, knowing he was going to fall. Riding a plane to the newly-ascendant New Kids on the Block in the mid-80s showed him how much money was sloshing in the pop world, and sharpened his substantial appetite for a part.
Having moved from New York to Orlando, Pearlman began to call himself Big Poppa, a man in search of a family as much as he was in search of money. He wanted to be a paternal figure for the groups he recruited through open hearings, which he personally funded but also wanted to date younger people to satisfy his big boy tendencies. Like Tam Paton and the Bay City Rollers, there was a darker side. The documentary features Bass talking about how Pearlman gave him massages: "He was very sensitive … I always felt a bit like" Ok, I know what you're doing ".
It is also based on archive footage from Howard Stern's radio program, where LFO's Rich Cronin, who died in 2010, said Pearlman had asked the group to stroke his penis as a "practice" for meetings with German music executives, if they suggest any they have already done. Nikki DeLoach of Innosence (Pearlman's only girlband, who briefly counts a Britney Spears pre-fame as a member) claims that he secretly filmed them naked in the solarium in his home to show members of his boybands as part of a bizarre ritual of bond. "That struck me as violating," she says.
Outstanding by his absence is Justin Timberlake, Pearlman's only artist to transcend his boyband roots with a solo career of success. Bass said he was not approached to participate as "we already had three members of NSync in the film", which seems to be a rather fragile reason. Timberlake rarely talked about Pearlman, although his mother Lynn Harless appears, humanizing Pearlman. "I think deep down in his heart is what he [Lou] really wanted to be – the sixth member of the group, "she says. "I think he wanted those kids to see him like that, too. And if he had not taken advantage of them, they would have.
There are strong echoes of Leaving Neverland, the documentary about the alleged abuses of Michael Jackson. Pearlman understood that enchanting her parents was the key to putting the groups under her spell. "What we wanted to show is that the adults in the room were also cheated," Bass explains. If Pearlman had given them $ 100,000 instead of $ 10,000 on that fateful dinner, would that have changed things? "He would definitely have extended his business with us," says Bass. "I would definitely have thought we would need to renegotiate even [$100,000] it was ridiculously low for what we should get at that moment. "
When his house of cards and Ponzi schemes fell around him, Pearlman fled to Indonesia, but was spotted by German tourists in Bali and arrested by the FBI. His career ended in involuntary bankruptcy and he died at a federal correctional institution in Florida, the state that once was his fief, in August 2016. However, he always believed that it was due to all the money he took: these were all his ideas and he who finances them.
"It's a warning tale we have to remember," says Bass. "Yes, people can be called much more easily and quickly nowadays [because of social media] and the temperature is definitely cooling, but there will always be people trying to take advantage of young artists. "
• The Boy Band Con: The story of Lou Pearlman is available on YouTube Premium.