The year was 2006. It was the beginning of summer, shortly after the end of the Never Gone tour. All we had, as fans, were a few message boards online and MTV (or Much Music, depending on where you lived).
And Kevin Richardson left the Backstreet Boys.
In a statement, Kevin said that he wanted to “move on to the next chapter” and that there was nothing but love for his “little brothers” as they chose to continue on with the Backstreet Boys and their music. The remaining four, in turn, stated that Kevin wouldn’t be replaced and that the door was always open for his return.
To say we were heartbroken would be an understatement. We were kids, some of who idolized Kevin, but we all collectively could not imagine the Backstreet Boys without him. How could he do this, we thought. How could he leave us? How could he leave them? We thought he cared! Was it all a lie?
Now, in 2020, we get it and honestly, Kevin’s departure from the Backstreet Boys, a band he had poured his heart and soul into for years prior, has inspired us as adults. Before there were instagram posts and magazine articles about what self-care looks like and the many forms it takes, there was, for us, Kevin… taking a leap from something that he no longer felt inspired to take part in.
In the many interviews since his return to the group, Richardson has expressed that, not only did he want to see what else was out there for him, but simply that he didn’t feel passionate about being a Backstreet Boy anymore. He wanted to start a family, he wanted to try other things, and he didn’t think it was fair to the other Boys, the fans, or anyone else involved to drag behind.
And that act, leaving behind something great, something that works on the surface, something that pays for your lifestyle and more, is self-care at its finest.
The Backstreet Boys went on to make two albums without Kevin and a huge collaborative effort with the New Kids On The Block before he returned, fresh and invigorated and man, we feel it. We feel it in every interaction during a meet and greet, every selfie he’s stopped to take, every kind word he’s shared with us, every minute he leans down in the audience to touch as many hands as he can. Sometimes quitting is the best thing you can do for yourself so that you can come back bigger and brighter – and that is the case for Kevin Richardson. He is better because of it and so are we.
Earlier this week, while talking about Justin Timberlake’s departure from NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys discussed their Kevin-less ventures on Watch What Happens Live, to which Kevin (jokingly) claimed that “he’s no Justin”.
And he’s right.
At (mostly) a young age, we learned what it meant to have the courage to leave something behind for the greater good. We learned what putting your needs first looked like. We learned that putting your needs first also sometimes meant caring about what others were able to accomplish as well and that being honest is better than living a lie. We learned that burn out isn’t always forever and that what’s meant to be will be. We learned that no one that matters will love you any less for doing what’s best for you.
Because, for a lot of us, that is what Kevin Richardson has taught us. He’s taught us to be brave, that how you feel affects everyone around you, and that saying no is an option. Whether we consciously know it or not, his words and actions have stuck with us all these years and we are so grateful for every piece of his journey that he has shared with us, in ways that we now understand.
You’re a light, Kevin. We’re lucky to have you.