Backstreet Boys Talk New Boy-Band Titans The Jonas Brothers, Old ‘NSYNC Rivalry

Group also reminisces about 'TRL': 'This is something that we've been a part of since the beginning,' Nick Carter says.

Remember the good old days when the Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC were battling it out for boy-band supremacy, yet they wanted it to look like there was no rivalry and that things were cool between the two groups? Well, all these years later, the Backstreet Boys finally admit that there was definitely some competition during the late-’90s pop explosion.

“A healthy competition creates this big ball of energy that just doesn’t stop and continues to grow,” Nick Carter said. “Obviously, with ‘NSYNC and with us — we’re allowed to say it now, it’s OK — it was a lot of fun, and it pushed us to be better as a group. I’m sure it pushed them as well. It’s just like [Michael] Jordan and [John] Starks … and the world loves it. We were happy to be a part of it. And we’re still striving to be better.”

“We all fed each other,” Howie Dorough agreed. “Everyone was trying to be on top of their game. … The media sometimes made us out to have a rivalry going on. … There was never any animosity amongst us, but it made for a lot of fun for the fans to get out there and support both sides.”

And it wasn’t just during the fun times that loyal Backstreet Boys fans stood by their sides. The guys recall the time when A.J. McLean used the “Total Request Live” stage to tell the world that he was going into rehab in 2001. He says he chose “TRL” — which ends its 10-year run November 16 — because it was the obvious place for a pop act to go when announcing big news.

“I was definitely happy with that decision,” McLean said. “We had talked about how we were going to approach it. I left it up to the four other guys, ’cause I was going through such turmoil in my head. But I think the reason why we picked ‘TRL’ was because it was our hub. That’s where everything started for us. … What better way to reach the fans? What better place for us to talk to people and be that honest with the situation?

“I still, to this day, have not watched the episode,” he added. “I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, and then when I see Kevin cry, I stop.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the guys recall having the power to shut down the center of the Big Apple during a “TRL.” “You used to be able to see out the windows, and then after that, they blacked out the windows and wouldn’t let us go near the windows,” Brian Littrell remembered. “We literally shut down Times Square. I remember it being calmer, then it became crazy.”

The guys will be on hand for the “TRL” finale , where they’ll be performing some fan favorites for the crowd. Nick isn’t ready to see it go. “Sad. This is something that we’ve been a part of since the beginning,” he said. “So many great memories. Why are you taking it off? What’s wrong with you guys? Things have to change.”

The guys are no stranger to change. In 2006, founding member Kevin Richardson left the group , and now the guys are pursuing “new goals.” Dorough said Richardson is in “such a good place right now,” raising a family and pursuing an acting career.

“In the beginning of the tour [this year], we left a gap onstage where Kevin would be, and then it started closing up,” Carter said. “We love him to death. We have to move on. We have new goals and dreams.”

The guys have since released new music and plan to release more next year. They also continue to tour, all with Richardson’s blessing. And despite how weird it still is to not have him around, they have no plans to slow down anytime soon. “We’re the happiest we’ve ever been. We’re all united,” McLean said, and Carter added that this is going to be the beginning of a new era — a fresh start for the guys.

And pop music today is as hot as it was nearly a decade ago, thanks to acts like the Jonas Brothers, and the Backstreet Boys are passing the boy-band torch to their former tourmates. “They opened for us on the ‘Never Gone Tour.’ They’re a talented bunch of kids. They’re growing up fast,” Littrell added. “I don’t feel reluctant to give them advice. I’ll never forget: We were doing a show in Florida with the Temptations, and one of those guys stood up and said, ‘This is show business, and as you’re doing your show, your business could be running out on you.’ I’ll never forget that.”