“Hit it, guys!” With those words, a 17-year-old Britney Spears sent Backstreet Boys fans into a frenzy with hidden tracks on her 1999 debut, …Baby One More Time, which previewed the boy band’s upcoming full-length, Millennium. “I’ve got something very special, just for you,” said Spears in the teaser, which played after her final track. “I’m going to give you a private preview of new music from labelmates of mine.”
It was a strategic move by Jive Records amid the hungry anticipation for the Backstreet Boys’ third record, spurred by their hysteria-inducing popularity in Europe that had trickled into the United States. With no social media to leak the tracks, eager fans rushed to purchase a copy of Spears’ album. (A preview of new Backstreet Boys material also appeared on the group’s 1998 live album, A Night Out With the Backstreet Boys.) “Britney exploded as a result of doing that,” says songwriter Andrew Fromm, whose ballad “I Need You Tonight” was one of the tracks teased on her album and included on, he estimates, the first 200,000 copies of …Baby One More Time. “It really pushed Britney’s career. Backstreet fans were dying to hear new songs.”
Johnny Wright, who managed both acts, says the idea came from the label — the group wasn’t even aware of it until Spears’ album dropped. The aim was twofold: promote an upcoming Jive release while building a fan base for one of its emerging artists. It worked: …Baby One More Time was the second-best-selling album in the United States in 1999, right after Millennium, which broke the record for highest first-week album sales with 1.1 million copies, according to Nielsen Music. The LP also hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, where it stayed for 10 nonconsecutive weeks.
In the 20 years since, the band has earned eight Grammy nominations; dropped its 10th studio LP, DNA — which bowed atop the Billboard 200 in January — and wrapped a two-year Las Vegas residency that raked in nearly $1 million every night, on par with Shania Twain and Gwen Stefani. Andreas Carlsson, who co-wrote “I Want It That Way,” says it all traces back to Millennium: “This album was another level. The floodgates opened, and they became a phenomenon.”