NSYNC's Lance Bass opens up about Lou Pearlman, the conman who defrauded '90s boy bands
Originally published on April 15, 2019
In the late '90s, NSYNC was one of the pioneering boy bands that helped define the pop music of that generation. And yet, for all the millions of albums sold in their first three years, its members only received $10,000 for their first pay cheque by the band's manager and producer, Lou Pearlman.
The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is a new documentary produced by former NSYNC member Lance Bass. The film details Pearlman's role in skyrocketing boy bands like NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys into stardom — and how he ultimately defrauded them out of millions of dollars.
In his conversation with q's Tom Power, Bass described Pearlman as someone who initially felt like family to the artists he managed. Aside from supporting their musical ventures, he also travelled and partied with them. For some young performers, he was even seen as a surrogate father.
"The good thing about my situation: I had great parents … I never looked at Lou as this father figure that I needed in my life. But a lot of the artists [did] feel that way," said Bass.
"People that have lost their fathers or just didn't have a great one to look up to, Lou filled that void for them."
Pearlman's true persona slowly unraveled in the following years, especially after the musicians he had cultivated realized how much they were really owed. What followed was a slew of legal battles, revelations of fraud, and eventually, the discovery of a Ponzi scheme that spanned decades.
"He had a wonderful mansion. He had Rolls-Royces and limos … He'd take you to these lavish dinners and, you know, you'd be thanking him for them. Then in the end, you realize, 'oh my gosh, we're paying for all those dinners.'"
In 2016, Pearlman died in prison while serving a 25-year sentence for money laundering and charges of conspiracy. For Bass, his death came with very mixed emotions. Despite all of Pearlman's schemes, he was responsible for the career that Bass remembers fondly and the bonds he had formed with other bandmates.
"We would have never gotten a jump start in our career if it wasn't for him. Then on the other hand, he was a criminal and he did some really, really bad things," said Bass.
"Our outlook was never different because of Lou Pearlman … We were just having the time of our lives because we were working our butts off just to get anyone to listen to us."
The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story is streaming now on YouTube Premium.
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full interview.
— Produced by Mitch Pollock. Written by Miguel Santa Maria.
Miss an episode of CBC q? Download our podcast.