Dirty Pop: The Darkest Secrets of Boy Bands Revealed


Dirty Pop: The Dark Secrets of Boy Bands Revealed

Getty Images/E! Illustration

The catchy songs. The bold fashion statements. The poster-ready faces.

Boy bands tend to have a squeaky-clean image when they first make their well-choreographed debut, eliciting the screams of millions of devoted fans. But many boy bands’ backstories harbor dark scandals, including lawsuits, in-fighting and substance abuse issues.

‘N Sync member Lance Bass‘ YouTube Originals documentary The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story pulled the curtain back on the deception his mega-group and others were the victims of, detailing the betrayal of their beloved-manager-turned-enemy Lou Pearlman, who died in prison in 2016. 

In the film, the truth behind the very real rivalry between ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys was revealed, as well as the intense legal battles they both endured after being cheated out of millions of dollars by the person they once called “Big Poppa.” 

But the two groups are far from the only boy bands to find themselves in hot water at the height of their fame, with New Kids on the Block, One Direction and the Jonas Brothers all experiencing their own controversies over the years.

We’re breaking down the scandals and secrets, boy band-by-boy band…

Backstreet Boys

Considering they are still together (and are the best-selling boy band of all time, with over 100 million album sales), there are 25 years worth of hardships shared between members A.J. McLean, Nick Carter, Brian Litrell, Howie Dorough and Kevin Richardson.

Their first major scandal came in 1998, when they realized their beloved manager, Lou Pearlman (who the affectionately called Big Poppa), had been screwing them over for years. (oh, and had launched another boy band—ahem, ‘N Sync—behind their backs.) 

In their first four years as a band, his company had made about $10 million in revenue. The band? Only received a cumulative $300,000, with A.J. revealing in The Boy Band Con that some of the members of the band could barely afford their rent. 

Brian was the first to file a lawsuit, with the other members eventually following his lead. 

Unfortunately, the terms of their settlement with Pearlman ended with their estranged former manager still getting one-sixth of their earnings. “It’s ridiculous,” Brian told Rolling Stone in 2000. “He’s doing no work.”

After Pearlman was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2008 after being accused of running one of the largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes in history, BSB took him back to court in 2014, claiming they were still owed almost $3.5 million. Eventually, the band received a settlement of $99,000 cash, 34 audio tape reels, 26 CDs, seven studio mastering audio tapes, six sealed posters, three audio cassettes, and one VHS tapes. The recordings included some unreleased mixes, demos and original materials.

Aside from the deception they experienced by someone they trusted, their rise to fame was secretly tearing them apart. 

Backstreet Boys, 1995

The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

“All of our dreams were coming true and we were all kind of tripping out inside,” Kevin admitted in 2018. “Instead of us coming closer and closer and tighter together, we almost retreated from one another to get that space. Our bond wasn’t as tight in those moments as it could’ve been.”

Brian was also dealing with major health issues during the band’s early years, and in 1998 was told he needed open-heart surgery for a cardiac defect he’d had since birth.

But he felt pressured to put his responsibilities to the band before his heath, telling Rolling Stone, “I delayed surgery twice because of the tours,” he told the magazine “I mean, the saddest thing is that I scheduled open-heart surgery around my work schedule. It was like nobody really cared or felt that it was important, because the career was moving on.”

He continued, “Eight weeks to the day of my surgery, I was onstage performing. I was sixty-five percent, really. My mind-set wasn’t there. But the show must go on.” It was serious enough that oxygen tanks were kept near the stage at all times, with Brian needing to use them after returning to the stage post-surgery.

Brian had another health issue years later, one he kept from the band for six years as it threatened his voice: he had been diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia, which causes the muscles around the voice box to constrict. After secretly entering therapy for the condition, the other members learned about his struggle when they watched their 2015 documentary. 

The documentary, Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, also revealed the complicated dynamic between Brian and Nick, who got into a heated fight during one scene. In it, Nick called Brian “a d–k” and said he was no longer afraid of him, before later going on to admit he always thought of Brian as Michael Jordan and himself as Scottie Pippen.

During the band’s earlier years, Nick looked up to Brian as a “big brother” and “father figure,” A.J. said, adding Nick struggled as they got older and Brian settled down with his wife and kids. 

“I think it really really broke Nick’s heart because then it was all about Brian and Leighanne [Littrell] and it wasn’t Brian and Nick anymore,” A.J. explained. “It wasn’t that Frick and Frack relationship anymore. I think that really started this downward spiral for Nick as far as the relationship between him and Brian. And for years after that I think Nick was always intimidated a little bit by Brian.”

While all of the BSB members have released solo material over the years, Nick was the first to do so…and it was messy, as the band had decided to leave their management company, The Firm, in 2002, feeling they weren’t receiving enough support. 

“They’ve built a huge, very powerful company, and they’re good people,” Richardson told The New York Times at the time. ”But this past year, some bad decisions were made and some bad advice given.”

The problem? Nick decided to stay put, working with The Firm on his solo album, Now or Never, but his career as a solo artist never took off. 

His 2002 solo effort also led the band to sue their record label for $75 million, claiming they had purposefully delayed the band’s fourth album to focus on Nick’s promotional tour

In 2018, Carter looked back at his failed solo career as his “grounding moment,” explaining it was his way of “rebelling against the family I have that I didn’t know was more of a family than my real family.”

A solo career isn’t the only struggle Nick endured though, as the youngest member of the band revealed his secret battle with drug and alcohol addiction in 2009, explaining it had impacted his health (he received a cardiomyopathy diagnosis the previous year). 

“I don’t want to die,” he told the publication. “I don’t want to be that person people read about and think, ‘That’s sad that he couldn’t stop it and killed himself.'”

He went on to share intimate details of his struggles in his 2013 memoir. 

Nick Carter

Eric McCandless / ABC Via Getty Images

“During the height of my problems, I did Ecstasy, cocaine and drank a large bottle of vodka a night,” he wrote in Facing the Music and Living to Talk About Itadding he regretted his ecstasy use the most. “The amount I did caused changes to my brain that are responsible for my bouts of depression now.”

He also cited his high-profile volatile relationship with Paris Hilton back in 2003 as one of the negative influences on him, writing, “Paris was the worst person in the world for me to hook up with… [she] fed my worst impulses as far as partying. I could’ve ended up a tragedy.” (During their romance, Nick was accused of possibly causing bruises on Paris’ face, with the singer denying any allegations of abuse to People, “I’ll tell you one thing: I didn’t touch her. I’m not that kind of guy. I would never do that.”)

In 2016, Carter had a headline-making potential slip up when he was arrested after a bar fight in Florida, and according to court documents, he was refused any alcohol by the bartender due to ”high levels of intoxication.” 

While Nick’s sobriety struggles with kept hidden from fans during BSB’s earlier runs, A.J.’s substance abuse issues were widely reported and discussed, with the other four members memorably announcing he was seeking treatment during a 2001 appearance on Total Request Live. The band rescheduled tour dates for A.J.’s rehab, with Brian revealing how it went down. 

“‘Guys, I need help,'” he told MTV News. “I looked at him in the eyes and said, ‘I’m proud of you.’ That’s the first time he said it to any of us: ‘Guys, I have a problem, and I wanna better myself and better the group and better our situation.'” 

A.J., who later revealed he tried cocaine for the first time right before the band shot the music video for “The Call,” would go on to re-enter rehab for depression and excessive alcohol consumption in 2002 and 2011, and revealed he had relapsed in 2018.

“You know, it’s interesting about sobriety with family and with kids—you still have to put yourself first, and that’s been a real big struggle for me,” he told People. “Look, I have no shame in saying, I’ve relapsed over the past year. It’s no secret that this is a disease, and that it’s a daily struggle.”

‘N Sync

Just like their rivals at the time, Justin Timberlake, J.C. Chasez, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick were also being deceived by their shared manager, Lou Pearlman. But before that, they were kept hidden for a long time, feeling like “the redheaded stepchild,” Lance admitted in The Boy Band Con

“With the success of the Backstreet Boys, as ‘N Sync, we always felt like the redheaded stepchild. We couldn’t even go into the record label because the employees there didn’t know we existed,” Lance said, adding they were referred to in documents and expense reports as “B5” to keep the secrecy. “And Lou did not want them to know about us just yet because he didn’t want to upset the Backstreet Boys.” 

But after their rise to fame, they had the same experience BSB did, with Lance recounting Pearlman presenting each member of the band with a check for just $10,000 at a dinner after selling over 10 million records. It was the first time had been paid aside from receiving a daily $35 stipend.

After finding a small technicality in their contract, ’N Sync was able to get away from Trans Continental and RCA…but Pearlman then sued the band for the name ‘N Sync in a $150 million lawsuit in October 1999. The band counter-sued for $25 million and ultimately got to keep their name, with the suit being settled out of court.

In 2006, Lance came out as gay on the cover of People magazine, and during the group’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in 2018, he opened up about struggling to accept his sexuality during his time in the band.

“So many nights on stage, I’d see so many young, gay fans singing their hearts out and I wanted so badly to let you know, I was you,” Lance said. “I just didn’t have the strength then. But I do today, and so let me say loud and proud to all my LGBT brothers and sisters, who embrace me and show me the way to be who I am, thank you so much.”

In fact, Britney Spears was one of the first people he told. He came out to her after she tied the knot with Jason Alexander in Las Vegas in 2004.

“I went up to Vegas to kind of see the craziness that was happening, and she was a little upset once she realized what she had done,” he recalled on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen. “Because, you know, it was like a funny thing, and then she started, like, really crying and, like, she was so upset. And so, I took her to her room, and we’re sitting on the bed and she wouldn’t stop crying. So, I was like, ‘I’m gay.’ And it made her stop crying. She chuckled.”

During an interview with HuffPost, he spoke about the act he would put on during ‘N Sync’s most successful years.

“The ’90s were a different time,” Lance explained. “If you came out, if anyone knew you were gay, it was a disaster and people really flipped out. I felt like if anyone found out that I was gay, the record label would immediately drop us and the fans would hate us—these were all the crazy things that went through my head as a teenager. So, I just trained myself into being a certain person and became that person.” 

That included talking about girlfriends in interviews, including Boy Meets World star Danielle Fishel

“It was when I was 19, 20 and everyone started having serious relationships that I really started feeling depression for the first time,” Lance admitted to ET. “All the guys had girlfriends and we’d get a couple of days off and [they would be with] girlfriends and I was the only one who didn’t have anyone. That’s when it started getting really scary because I was like, ‘I can’t keep this ruse up much longer.'”

He also told Andy Cohen he was having sex with women while he was in the band.

“I was doing it, and doing it and doing it well,” he said on WWHL. “We did what we had to do to survive.”

During his 2015 E! wedding special, Lance Loves Michael: The Lance Bass Wedding, Lance admitted he stayed in the closet for years partially because of the band. 

“I was afraid to tell anyone mainly because of ‘N Sync. You know, if I told one person I knew someone would tell someone else and it would go around and the group would be over,” he said. “The guys would hate me, and they would leave the group and be like ‘We’re not going to be in a group with a gay guy.'”  

Of course, his “brothers” didn’t turn on him when he finally opened up to them, revealing to ET, “They were the easiest to tell. They’re my best friends…my brothers. They completely knew. So it was not a surprise to them at all.”

In 2002, ‘N Sync announced a temporary hiatus that turned into a permanent one, as the band never recorded music or toured together again, though they’ve reunited several times over the years. 

MTV Video Music Awards, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Zayn Malick, Harry Styles of One Direction

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

One Direction

The British boy band, which was assembled on the UK talent show The X Factor by Simon Cowell, is largely responsible for the boy band revival that happened at the start of the decade, and they’ve definitely had their fair share of drama. But unlike their predecessors, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson haven’t been shy about airing their dirty laundry, especially after Zayn’s shocking exit in 2015. 

Since announcing his departure from the group, Zayn has not been shy about how unhappy he was, both socially and musically. 

“I think I always wanted to go, from like the first year, really,” he told Beats 1 in TK. “I never really wanted to be there, like in the band. I just gave it a go because it was there at the time, and when I realised the direction we were going in – mind the pun – with the music, I instantly realised it wasn’t for me, because I realised I couldn’t put any input in.”

As for the other guys, Zayn told GQ, “I didn’t really, like, make any friends from the band. I just didn’t do it. It’s not something that I’m afraid to say. I definitely have issues trusting people.”

And in an interview with Us Weekly, the TK-year-old admitted, “To be honest, I never really spoke to Harry even when I was in the band.” 

Zayn Malik


Zayn also revealed he struggled with eating issues during his 1D days (though he clarified, “it wasn’t specifically an eating disorder,” in a later interview with the Sunday Times Style). 

“When I look back at images of myself from around November 2014, before the final tour, I can see how ill I was,” Malik said in an AP interview. “Something I’ve never talked about in public before, but which I have come to terms with since leaving the band, is that I was suffering from an eating disorder.

“I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control,” he continued. “So I did.”

He wasn’t the only member having a hard time at the height of the band’s fame, with Liam revealed his mental health struggles in an interview with the Scottish Sun. 

Liam Payne


“Going out and putting that happy smile on my face and singing the songs, honestly sometimes it was like putting on one of those costumes, going out there and, underneath the costume, people don’t really see what’s going on,” he explained. ”I wasn’t in a good place. And unfortunately I was going through a rough time and I let it get to me a little bit too much.”

In fact, he revealed the group had to cancel a concert in 2015 because he was struggling to handle his emotions. 

Liam said he didn’t have time to enjoy what they were doing at the time due to their exhaustive schedule and level of fame, saying, “I just don’t think we stopped and celebrated enough how great things were and I think that’s what got on top of us in the end. It was like, ‘Oh, you’ve just won three EMAs, but get on the plane and go to the next place.'”

One Direction’s level of fandom also ended up impacting their friendships within the band. After a faction of fans were convinced members Louis and Harry (dubbed “Larry) were in a secret relationship, the close friends started to put distance between them as every look, touch and inside joke was used as evidence. 

“It created this atmosphere between the two of us where everyone was looking into everything we did,” Louis admitted to The Sun. “It took away the vibe you get off anyone. It made everything, I think on both fences, a little bit more unapproachable.”‘

Zayn also addressed the shippers’ , telling Fader, “There’s no secret relationships going on with any of the band members. It’s not funny, and it still continues to be quite hard for them. They won’t naturally go put their arm around each other because they’re conscious of this thing that’s going on, which is not even true. They won’t do that natural behavior. But it’s just the way the fans are. They’re so passionate, and once they get their head around an idea, that’s the way it is regardless of anything. If it wasn’t for that passionate, like, almost obsession, then we wouldn’t have the success that we had.” 

The Jonas Brothers 

As if being band mates wasn’t ripe enough for drama, try being three tight-knit brothers and add in a Disney Channel image to uphold in for good measure.

When Kevin, Joe and Nick first came on the scene in 2005, they presented a new twist on the boy band genre, similar to Hanson back in the BSB and ‘N Sync days: They were a trio of brothers who could play their own instruments. Plus, they were religious, talking openly about their faith. 

The brothers infamously wore purity rings, proudly proclaiming they were waiting until they were married to have sex. But during their Carpool Karaoke appearance, Joe revealed the real story. 

 ”We were never going to talk about it. This is not for the world. It’s our own thing,” he explained. “But of course, you have three young boys [with] rings on their fingers, so everyone’s like ‘Are they married already? What’s going on here?'”

They were forced to talk about it when a reporter kept asking about it during an interview, with Joe saying when they told the interview they didn’t walk to talk abou the rings, the response was, “‘Well, I’m just going to say you’re in a cult.’ We were like ‘Well.'”

And then it became a massive story: ”The next thing you know it’s ‘The Jonas Brothers and their purity rings.'”

And the brothers never felt comfortable with the attention that was placed by the media and fans on their ring, with Nick saying, “I took pride in it, until I watched those interviews back years later and was like, I sound like a robot.”

Of course, the rings eventually came off, their Disney Channel show ended and the band broke up in 2013. 

Joe would later open up to Vulture about the pressure the brothers felt to live up to their image, admitting, “We didn’t want to disappoint anyone—our parents, our fans, our employers—so we put incredible pressure on ourselves, the kind of pressure that no teenager should be under.”

Nick also opened up about this, saying in 2016, “There was a lot of pressure on us to maintain a certain image and carry ourselves a certain way.”

The Jonas Brothers, EMA

Ian Gavan/Getty Images for MTV

Aside from that pressure, the brothers were also disagreeing over the direction they wanted their music to go in, ultimately splitting in 2013.

“I think it was time, and for us it took some time getting there, but we feel like it’s time that the Jonas Brothers come to an end,” Kevin said at the time.  

But six years later, the JoBros fans were delighted when they released their hit single “Sucker” and went on a massive press tour, officially reuniting.


New Kids on the Block formed in the earlys ’80s and consisted of brother duo Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, and Danny Wood; they went on to become one of the most successful and genre-defining boy bands. How big where they? A stampede occurred during one of their concerts in South Korea in 1992, resulting in the death of one teenage fan and 50 injuries.

Like the mega-bands that followed them, NKOTB also faced their share of scandal and legal situations.

At the height of their fame, the band was accused of lip-syncing by Gregory McPherson, who worked as an associate producer on one of their albums. To put the rumors to rest about their vocal capabilities, New Kids infamously booked a last-minute appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, immediately putting the rumors to bed by singing live to prove anyone who doubted their vocal capabilities wrong.

New Kids On The Block

Larry Busacca/WireImage.com

They went on to file a defamation lawsuit against McPherson, who had initially sued the group’s manager Maurice Starr for creative infringement and breach of contract. They eventually settled out of court, with McPherson then fully retracting his lip-syncing claims. 

Like other members of boy bands, members of NKOTB also secretly battled mental health issues while being adored by millions of fans around the world. 

In 1994, Jonathan announced he was leaving the group, initially explaining it just felt time to end it. ”I felt that we had done it long enough,” he told People. “I was the first to jump ship. The others were angry at first, but they understood.” Really, the singer was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. 

But fans never knew the true extent of Jonathan’s battle with panic attacks until he 2001 interview with Oprah Winfrey, during which he was visibly shaking and struggling to remain calm. 

In 2012’s New Kids on the Block: Five Brothers and a Million Sisters, Jonathan confirmed his exit from NKOTB was due to his anxiety, and also hiding his sexuality, publicly coming out as gay after he was accidentally outed by ’80s pop star and his ex-girlfriend Tiffany in 2011.

“I was so run down,” he said. “I had just been in a couple relationships with guys, and nobody knew. I knew I didn’t want to be confined anymore. I think I was dealing with my inner demons.”

In 2013, Jonathan walked off stage mid-concert after experiencing what seemed to be a panic attack. After the incident, he simply tweeted, “I’m sorry,” and returned to the stage for the band’s next concert.

After the group officially reunited in 2008, they consistently gone on sold out tours, even teaming up with acts like Backstreet Boys, 98 DegreesBoyz II Men, TLC andPaula Abdulfor joint events.

NKOTB received a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014 and have sold over 80 million albums worldwide. 


Another boy band put together by Pearlman, the trio made up of Brad Fischetti, Devin Lima and Rich Cronin had a few major hits in the ’90s, including ”Summer Girls” and “Girls on TV.”

In 2009, lead singer Rich alleged Pearlman had also taken advantage of them during an interview with Howard Stern, saying, “I should’ve made, like, at least 2 or 3 million dollars.” The group never pursued legal action. 

But the more shocking accusation was that Pearlman asked him to touch his penis, as well as the penis of a European music executive, with The Boy Band Con also featuring audio from the interview.

 ”I’ve had to go to therapy,” Rich said. “He’s really a creepy guy.” (He also spoke about Pearlman’s possible sexual misconduct in a 2007 Vanity Fair piece about his financial scandal.) 

Devin Lima, Brad Fischetti, LFO, 1999

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

Of addressing the rumors about Pearlman’s possible interest in young men in the documentary, director Aaron Kunkel told The Los Angeles Times, “We didn’t want to engage in any rumor-mongering or anything like that, so we tried to be as meticulous as possible and have corroboration for anything that was said. But we’re really happy we were able to provide a platform for everybody to just speak. That’s what we wanted everyone to do, because ultimately, a lot of people had a lot of weird feelings about things that Lou did.”

Sadly, Rich passed away at age 36 after battling leukemia, with Devin passing away in 2018 after a yearlong battle with stage four adrenal cancer

“Devin, as the world knows him, was an extraordinary talent, a doting father to his six children, and a loving partner to their mother,” Brad, the last remaining member of the group, told E! News in a statement. “He was a beloved son and brother and a friend to so many. On behalf of the LFO family, thank you for the tremendous outpouring of love from friends, family, fans, media, and those in the music industry.” 


After experiencing success in the late ’90s and early aughts with hits like “Bump, Bump, Bump” and an appearance in You Got Served, the hip hop boy band’s members—Omarion, Lil Fizz, J. Boog and Raz-B—announced they were going their separate ways in 2004. 

At the time, their manager Chris Stokes said it was an amicable split, telling E! News in a statement, “We’ve had a great run together making hit songs, albums and now movies. The kids are growing up and are interested in pursuing their own careers. I have enormous respect for each of them, and I wish them success in their pursuit of their individual careers. B2K was an extremely talented singing group that will surely be missed.”

But fans were shocked when Raz-B, Stokes’ cousin, accused his former manager of sexually molesting him and other members of the group in an online video in 2007. 

Stokes, who was managing Omarion’s solo career at the time, denied the allegations, telling MTV News, “All the allegations they made are false. I’m not gay. And I’m married. And I have four kids. I been with my wife for 16 years. And I’m not a child molester. So those are all false allegations. I’m gonna sue them. And I owe that to my wife and kids, period. It’s ridiculous.”

Omarion defended his manager in a statement, calling him a “father figure.”

At the end of 2018, B2K announced they were reuniting for The Millennium Tour, with all four original members participating. 

But after the tour started in March, Raz-B took to his Instagram Stories, according to Complex, to say he was leaving the tour, explaining, “I don’t feel safe because I feel like Chris Stokes is around. I’m off the tour.”

However, he then updated fans the next day, writing on his Instagram Stories, “I am a work in progress. I appreciate the outpouring of love, empathy, and understanding from my supporters.”



Big Bang

The K-Pop boy band found itself involved in a huge scandal in when member Seungri was named a suspect in an investigation in the Burning Sun scandal as well as his alleged involvement in secret group chats that were used to circulate hidden camera videos of women. According to the New York Times, Seungri was suspected of “offering sexual services.” After denying the allegations, he announced he was retiring from the entertainment industry. 

“I’ve decided to retire from the entertainment industry because of the huge social controversy that has arisen,” he wrote on Instagram. “I am under investigation, and I will receive investigation with sincerity so that the building suspicions can be revealed.”

YG Entertainment announced they were terminating their exclusive contract with the singer, saying in a statement they wanted to “apologise for the concern we have caused many people, including the fans, due to the numerous suspicions and controversies.”


In 2016, the K-Pop band’s member Kwon Kwon Jin was accused of sexual harassment, bad-mouthing his bandmates and dating one of his fans, with the bassist admitting to the latter accusation but denying any sexual misconduct as “outlandish.”

He then “decided to voluntarily leave N.Flying,” a statement from the group’s label read at the time. 

(This story was originally published April 7, 2019 at 3:00 a.m. PST).

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