If you watched the iconic "I Want It That Way" music video at the turn of the millennium (or, uh, hundreds of times since), you may recognize Devon Daniels. She appears in the crowd of fans yelling behind the band — and, perhaps most famously, at the 3:01 mark, when she's screaming and reaching out to them.
Daniels, now 39, lives in Maryland and is a mom of four children. She's a writer, and one of her books was previously featured in a BuzzFeed post.
Last week, with the help of her teen kids, she posted a TikTok about being in the music video when she herself was a teenager. She joked with BuzzFeed News that she's now "living a very suburban mom lifestyle," and her children don't quite appreciate her 1999 cameo.
But since the video has gone viral on TikTok, her children are finally starting to understand that it's perhaps the equivalent of them appearing in one of Olivia Rodrigo's videos.
"I've tried to explain to [my kids] over the years, and they have not cared. I’ve shown them the video, and they’re like, 'Cool, mom, cool,'" Daniels said. "To be in that video was totally life-changing. They’re just now starting to get it."
Strangers around the world are commenting on her TikToks, saying she lived their teen dreams. One woman, Daniels said, messaged her to say she played her in the Blink-182 music video "All the Small Things," which was, iconically, a spoof of the Backstreet Boys video. Nick Carter even commented on her TikTok.
Daniels said, "This week has made me feel 17 again."
At the time, in April 1999, the Backstreet Boys were only just starting to chart and make a name for themselves. Daniels had won tickets through a call-in sweepstakes at a Los Angeles radio station for the music video shoot, which took place at a vacant airplane hangar near LAX.
But she did not know at the time that the "I Want It That Way" single and accompanying music video would become a standout hit and solidified their legacy as a boy band.
"They were popular but ... it was just before the true explosion, so I wasn’t even super familiar who the Backstreet Boys were. I knew the songs, but I didn’t necessarily know the band members," said Daniels. She said she was allowed to bring a friend (she brought her best friend at the time), and the shoot lasted 8 to 10 hours.
She said she and the other women — some paid actors and others, like her, unpaid — interacted freely with the Backstreet Boys between shots.
"They were so nice, and we were able to go up to them and ask if they would take a picture," she said, which is why she now has a special, historic archive of photos from that day. She shared some with BuzzFeed News.
Daniels said a month after the video shoot, she and her friends watched the premiere on TRL. There were "deafening screams the whole time," she said, laughing. She wasn't sure what footage they would use, but she appears very clearly in at least three shots in the final cut.
"Our minds were blown. My face was in this video multiple times; that’s the coolest part," she said. "At the time it premiered, everyone knew about [the music video]. It was like being a celebrity and having 15 minutes of fame. We even put the video on in class."
It was the equivalent of going viral in the late ’90s.
"I was on TRL every single day for years," she added. "Every single person came home and turned on the TV and watched TRL."
Fandoms and fame look so different today, Daniels said. She grew up close to Los Angeles, and she and her friends used to walk up to a celebrity after a concert or go backstage. There was minimal security then, she remembered.
"It wasn’t like we were doing anything bad; we just wanted to see them," she said.
Nowadays, Daniels noted, fans have much more immediate access to celebrities and influencers online, but they can't quite get away with the same in-person experiences — like those depicted in these behind-the-scenes photos she captured.
"Social media now makes it literally so easy to get in contact. I did not tag Backstreet Boys [in my TikTok], because you don’t want to bug celebrities — I have a certain distance I like to keep — but when I posted that video, hundreds of people tagged AJ and [Nick] Carter," she said.
"This generation has grown up with no distance," she added. "They can log onto a live [video] on TikTok and YouTube and comment back and forth with people they love, which is very cool. Obviously, celebrities can set their own boundaries."
But it's her own past being a fan and indulging in all kinds of media that's made her more cagey of her own kids' social media use. In fact, Daniels will not allow any of her kids to have social media until they're in college.
"I have told my kids they can make their own choices when they go to college, but I don’t want them on social media before then," she said. "I just want them to have an adequate understanding of what they’re putting out there."
Her two oldest kids, who are entering their teen years, have not, surprisingly, pushed back against the rule, even though social media has given her another spotlight 22 years later. (Daniels did note that she began posting on TikTok to help drive sales of her books.)
"I want to give my kids the upbringing I had," she said.