When American boy band NSYNC signed their first record deal, they were told by their manager, Lou Pearlman, that they would all get their fair share of the profits once the contract was up. Three years later, after touring the world and selling millions of records, the five members all received what they were told was their cut – $10,000 each.
They knew right then and there that Pearlman, the man credited with starting the nineties boy band trend and who the band thought of as a second father, had been ripping them off all along.
They would also soon find out they weren’t the only ones. Other bands under his management had also signed his contract, described by one lawyer as being “the worst (he had) ever seen,” and lost out on big money as a result. These events are all recounted in the documentary The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story.
The documentary has plenty of first-hand accounts from those who directly affected, which isn’t so surprising as some helped to produce the film. Ex-NSYNC member Lance Bass serves as producer as well as appearing as a subject, along with his mother Diane and former band mates Chris Kirkpatrick and JC Chasez.
As such, the film does tend to focus on their own dealings with Pearlman, though there are testimonies from others who were once in the same boat – trusting young hopefuls who misguidedly signed his contract, which as one puts it, would have seen them making more money working in Starbucks.
It’s clear there are still mixed feelings about Pearlman – he has done many people wrong, yes, but he also gave them their start in the industry. AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys does not hold back his continued disdain, while former teen star Aaron Carter almost won’t hear a word against Pearlman.
These sentiments are echoed by Lynn Harkless, the mother of Justin Timberlake (himself absent), who expresses sympathy for Pearlman who, she feels, “wanted to be the sixth member of the band.” The problem is, the less interviewees who are prepared to really vilify him, the more the film ends up justifying his actions.
As well as hearing how they had been duped, the film also devotes time to Pearlman’s life story, from his childhood to his early business days in aviation and real estate – with his dissatisfied customers here also telling all – to making the unlikely career move to the music industry.
The documentary then goes into detail about Pearlman’s shady dealings and the truly bizzare manner where he was caught and brought to justice. The tone, though, is so light and splashy that it’s easy to get lost in the finer, more technical details of the legal proceedings. At the same time, some other serious allegations made against him are hardly probed.
Ultimately, The Boy Band Con struggles to find the balance between a real-life showbiz story and a more serious story about a serial embezzler. However, the story at its core is interesting enough to shine through the imperfections and make a viewing for those interested in crime stories and the late nineties music scene worthwhile.