How A Backstreet Boys’ Fart Topped the Charts in Romania

‘The Call’ features backing vocals from Howie D’s butt
How A Backstreet Boys’ Fart Topped the Charts in Romania

We’ve all been there — you’re really concentrating on something, doing your absolute best and you accidentally fart. Sometimes pulling a shoelace really tight makes one come out. Doing a big throw. Turning your head too quick after a loud noise.

Rich, famous pop stars are no different, something that Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough proved while recording the vocals for their track “The Call.” 

While in some ways the tale of Dorough’s successful fart is a very short story — the man’s butt made a smelly noise — it can also be as detailed as one wishes. And so, away we go: It was mid 2000. The Backstreet Boys were in Sweden, working on their fourth album, Black & Blue. They were silly men, enjoying the long evenings of the beautiful Scandinavian summer and the unshiftably glorious feeling of being young, successful and seemingly indestructible, the world at their feet.

They were hungover. Everyone was smelly, but handsome enough to get away with it. And there was a song to be recorded, damn it. Superproducer Max Martin, who had worked with the band on their biggest hits to date, including “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “I Want It That Way,” had a job to do, farts or no farts.

“Everybody at that age — especially Nick (Carter) — was constantly passing gas, just being young 20-year-old guys doing guy locker room kind of stuff,” Dorough told Billboard in 2017. “And coincidentally, I got in the booth, was breathing in really heavily singing my part, and I guess some extra air kind of came out.”

Misuse of the word “coincidentally” aside — a bunch of dudes farting together for the same reason isn’t a coincidence, it’s just a bunch of dudes having a bit of a fart together, in a dance as old as time — Dorough is commendably open about his cheese-cutting, and it turns out he has a particular knack for it. “Max gave Howie his harmony, and I think he was just putting so much air into the vocal that as he was singing, he went ‘dun, dun’ and he farted,” fellow Backstreet Boy AJ McLean — the one with a great, great many accessories on him at all times — recalled. “But he farted not only on the beat, but in key.”

Martin was recording, and opted to use the fart as a sample. “So Max tweaked it and made it sound like one of his patented bass sounds, and it stayed on the record,” McLean continued. “He could turn a fart into a bass sound — that’s pretty damn genius if you ask me. Howie’s fart became an instrument and is on the record for the rest of our lives.”

That particular track, “The Call,” isn’t by any stretch one of the band’s best-known, but it did just fine as a single — it got to number 52 in the Billboard Top 100, and hit the number one spot in Romania. 

So, does this mean anyone can fart their way into a hit? Well, it would obviously help to have a superproducer on board — Martin is as super as they get, arguably the single most influential figure in modern pop. He has won the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Songwriter of the Year award 11 times, and has been hugely instrumental in the careers of everyone from Britney Spears to ‘NSYNC to Lady Gaga to Taylor Swift. Working with him doesn’t 100 percent guarantee enormous success, but it’s about as safe a bet as they come. Martin hasn’t produced any other fart material to date (he’s not named Max Fartin, after all), but you never know.

And, presumably, it would have to be the right kind of fart — a hungover one. Hangovers come in many shapes and sizes — and so, what would five young men have got drunk on in Sweden in 2000? 

This was Martin’s hometown, and while he is quite secretive, he definitely drinks — he and Pink got through three bottles of wine in their first meeting. Wine is very popular in Sweden, which is the world’s biggest consumer per capita of the bag-in-a-box variety. Today, 42 percent of the booze sold in Sweden is wine, with 32 percent beer and 21 percent spirits (and, presumably, 5 percent other, weird stuff). So wine, right? No! The Swedish wine industry only really exploded post-2000, which means that probably wasn’t what they were boozing on.

“Back in 2000, alcopops were big there,” says Joakim, a Swede living in London who for some reason opted not to have his last name used here. Slightly different to those sold in the U.S., European alcopops are pre-mixed drinks, about beer strength and very popular with younger drinkers. “Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezers, that sort of thing. Maybe the tropical lime flavor? Or the ruby grapefruit? Delicious,” explains Joakim.

So, Dorough — who, fun fact, is married to the former webmaster of the official BSB site, and met her just a few months after farting in the vocal booth — might have been hungover from going for it on Ruby Grapefruit Bacardi Breezers the night before. We can’t prove it, but it seems as good a bet as any. High in sugar and heavily carbonated, those drinks are a one-way ticket to Fart City. And, in Dorough’s case, musical immortality.

But there’s still yet a bigger question that needs answering: Is Dorough’s bottom-burp the world’s most-heard fart? 

In the music world, very probably — most of the farts that are committed to record are on novelty records or obscure sound-effects collections, both of which are obviously dwarfed in terms of listeners by pop behemoths like the Backstreet Boys. Hand-farts (or “manualism”) show up on a few “Weird Al” tracks, but they don’t really count. 

Roger Waters from Pink Floyd included farts on his collaborative soundtrack album with Ron Geesin, “Music From the Body,” but we’re not talking big numbers here — it’s not even on Spotify. 

“The Call,” meanwhile, is currently on around 130 million plays on Spotify, split between the version on the album and the one on the Backstreet Boys’ greatest hits album Chapter One. Meanwhile, Black & Blue sold about six million copies on CD, as did the best-of, so that’s 12 million discs of farts. It’s impossible to know how many times everyone who bought the records played them — there will have been some unwanted gifts in there that never came out of the plastic, and some BSB devotees who played them until they wore out. Going for a lowish figure of 10 plays per disc, that brings us in total to 250 million plays of Dorough’s butt-fart song.

In fairness, some big-screen farts might have been heard more — maybe the baked-bean scene in Blazing Saddles, or the diarrhea scene in Dumb & Dumber, or any Terrance and Phillip scene in South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. Perhaps the very long fart in the job interview in Step Brothers, or the wedding dress store farts in Bridesmaids. Movies with farts in them tend to be the sorts of films that have, to their fans, endless rewatch value, making it incredibly hard to figure out. There’s probably a strong case to be made for Pumbaa’s fart in The Lion King, too — that movie sold over 55 million copies on video.

Pumbaa farts once, though. Dorough’s fart plays constantly throughout the song. It’s incredibly hard to keep track of beneath everything else — with the original Pro Tools files, it would be straightforward enough to isolate the farts for a more accurate count — but that fart-derived sample is used at least 270 times.

At 270 farts per play, and 250 million plays, the noise that came out of Howie Dorough’s butthole that fateful day in 2000 has been played at least 67.5 billion times. SIXTY SEVEN POINT FIVE BILLION FARTS. That’s more than eight farts for every person on Earth. That’s like doing two farts a day, every day, since the extinction of the dinosaurs. 

Kudos, Howie Dorough, you are a fartistic genius.

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