Thirty years after the Backstreet Boys rocked the music charts: AJ McLean Talks ‘Rebirth’ of the Backstreet Boys and the Band Rocking Cancún in 2024

The pop star tells PEOPLE about an all-inclusive concert vacation at the Moon Palace in April: “Celebrating three decades of music”

AJ McLean attends the We The Best Foundation Golf Classic VIP Reception at The Swan on July 19, 2023
AJ McLean in Miami in July 2023. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty

Thirty years after the Backstreet Boys rocked the music charts, blasting airwaves throughout the 1990s and 2000s with “Quit Playing Games with My Heart,” “Everybody,” and “I Want It That Way,” the band is back to perform at the Moon Palace in Cancún, Mexico from April 18-21, 2024.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, singer, dancer, and a founding member of the pop vocal group AJ McLean, 45, appears on-screen in typical AJ style — wearing the trademark silver earrings and long flashy chains, neck and arm tattoos, deep brown eyes, sporting a dark t-shirt, this time with short hair dyed blond and a black goatee — looking as he always has on Zoom, backdropped by yellow curtains half-draped over bright-lit window.

“Got to get a little Jimi Hendrix in the shot,” he says with a laugh, holding a Hendrix doll up to the camera. “There we go. What’s up, Jimi?” He tosses the doll aside and smiles before diving into Backstreet’s Back at the Beach.

AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, and Kevin Richardson of Backstreet Boys attend the iHeartRadio Z100's Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at Madison Square Garden on December 9, 2022
AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter and Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys at Madison Square Garden in December 2022. Slaven Vlasic/Getty

All the band members will be at the all-inclusive concert vacation — McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell — the beloved group of five from Orlando, Florida that shot chills down the spines of young fans across the world after their formation in 1993.

“It’s unprecedented for a group like us to still be around this long and still going,” McLean tells PEOPLE. “So, over the past, probably within the last 10 years, we’ve done five cruise ship-like excursions. We’ve done one in Europe, and the rest were ported out of Miami. We’d go out, either go to the Bahamas or we would go to a destination; we’d get off and then get back on the boat. You’re on a cruise with 3,500 fans; you’re doing deck parties, theme parties, photo calls, two shows, game nights. We were like, ‘You know what? This time, we don’t want to be in the middle of the ocean somewhere. Why don’t we just keep our feet firmly on the sand and let’s do a destination?’ I mean, Cancún is absolutely beautiful.”

Each night, the Moon Palace will welcome Backstreet Boys fans, screaming guests rallying to watch conventional and unconventional performances as they make their way to the main stage, located on a strip of sand by the Caribbean Sea.

AJ McLean of Backstreet Boys performs during the DNA World Tour 2023 at Allianz Parque on January 27, 2023
AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys performs during the DNA World Tour 2023 at Allianz Parque on January 27, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Mauricio Santana/Getty

“We’ve got theme parties, we’ve got game nights, we’ve got performances with 30 songs that have now been picked by our fans, which is going to be interesting,” McLean says. “We’ll see how many deep cuts pop up and how many songs that we’ve been doing, we can do again. But it’s going to be fun,” he says. “Great way to kick off 2024.”

Opportunities arising to interact with the group include a tequila and guacamole tasting with Dorough, a DJ performance by Littrell, a beach volleyball tournament with Carter, and a special variety show with the whole Littrell family.

When asked about the collaboration of the weekend’s itinerary, McLean offers an explanation that would be expected. “Nick will say something, and then I’ll chime in, and then Kevin will chime in, and then we all chime in and go, ‘OK. That works,’ or, ‘Hey, let’s maybe twist that and change that.’ We’re really just trying to make it very easygoing, laid back.”

Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, Nick Carter and Howie Dorough of Backstreet Boys attend the iHeartRadio Z100’s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at Madison Square Garden on December 9, 2022

Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, Nick Carter and Howie Dorough of the Backstreet Boys attend an iHeartRadio event in 2022. Kevin Mazur/Getty

McLean, who devised the plan for a karaoke night, explains, “I was trying to think of different ideas and different things, and for me, I’m a big fan of karaoke here in L.A.” The idea stemmed from a Japanese restaurant called Miyagi’s off Sunset Boulevard, “and every Tuesday night, they would have karaoke,” with “some of the biggest names in film, TV, and music.”

“I saw Whitney Houston singing karaoke there one night, which was insane. Jamie Foxx, I mean — you name it, it was the who’s who of karaoke. But it made me fall in love with karaoke even more,” he continues, “and as much time as we’ve spent over in Japan and the Pacific Rim, they love karaoke.”

McLean says people always ask him if he sings karaoke to Backstreet Boys hits. “I never do. I will do other boy bands,” he says. “I will do other bands. My go-to used to be ‘Hotel California.’ It’s just a fun song to sing, or I would go the other way and I would do ‘Bye Bye Bye’ by *NSYNC, or do something fun.”

AJ McLean attends Songs For Tomorrow: A Benefit Concert in support of On Our Sleeves, The Movement for Children's Mental Health at Heart Weho on January 18, 2023

AJ McLean in West Hollywood in January 2023.

“I’m also trying to throw in some movie songs like Disney movie songs,” he adds, “seeing as people know all the words to Frozen. What I’d love is to try to throw in one of the songs from Hamilton, which is one of my favorite shows ever, to see if people can keep up with all the words.”

The concerts will include the classic Backstreet Boys routines — the synchronized movements, the energetic steps, and catchy choreography with spinning, hip-hop dance styles reflecting their pop and R&B genres. Still, McLean says the music is what’s close to their heart.

“That’s what we really truly pride ourselves on,” he says, “being a vocal harmony group and being singers first. The dancing is secondary. But obviously, on certain songs, we’re going to get up, and we’re going to dance. Fans want to see ‘Backstreet’s Back,’ fans want to see certain songs with choreography,” he continues. “But just to be able to sit there and just have that intimacy with our fans is what I’m looking forward to the most.”

Along with daily performances from Eric Cubeecchee and DJ YO-C, Jason Derulo will complete the musical part of the trip by joining the band as a headliner.

“I think it’s going to fly by the seat of your pants,” McClean says, adding, “we’re going to hopefully have a little bit of prep time to work up songs, some that we’ve never performed live. So, you’re looking at a good two hours of whatever the fans decide.”

The pop star tells PEOPLE the group is already planning their next album, noting “we’re so fortunate and so grateful that we have this opportunity,” describing the venue as “a rebirth” and “great kickoff point,” before asking, “why not be someplace tropical that’s sunny and fun and just enjoy ourselves and be close to our fans? That’s something.”

“We truly have the best fans in the world that have been so loyal from day one and gaining new fans along the way,” he says, smiling. “So, to be able to all be together in a beautiful location, it’s a win-win all the way across the board.”

“For us to be able to celebrate anywhere, it doesn’t matter where we are, to commemorate 30 years together and to celebrate it with our fans. It’s just going to be a beautiful experience to all be together, celebrating three decades of music.”

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