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Return of the Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys, whose hits such as “Everybody” and “As Long As You Love Me” catapulted them into popster superstardom in the ’90s, are ready to stage a comeback.

The megaselling quintet announced plans to play a string of U.S. club dates starting Mar. 21 in New York in preparation for the release of their as-yet untitled upcoming studio album in July-their first album since 2000’s Black and Blue.

As of now, the club tour is set to wrap in St. Louis on Apr. 10, but more dates are expected to be added.

Once the album is released, Backstreet plans to launch a nationwide tour.

The “boys”-A.J. McLean, 27; Brian Littrell, 30; Howie Dorough, 31; Kevin Richardson, 33; and Nick Carter, 25-have undoubtedly done some growing up since their days of ’90s heartthrob status.

Both Richardson and Littrell are married, and Littrell is even the proud papa of a wee Backstreet boy. The Backstreet daddy also recently signed a contract with a Christian recording label and plans to get back in touch with his gospel roots.

Meanwhile, McLean and Carter have faced some growing pains along the way to adulthood.

After fighting alcohol abuse and depression, McLean did a stint in rehab in July 2001, causing the Boys to postpone several tour dates.

More recently, Carter wound up the subject of tabloid speculation after his ex-girlfriend Paris Hilton turned up in public covered in bruises shortly after their breakup last year.

The question is: Will fans be able to process the band’s transformation from Backstreet Boys to Backstreet Men? Or will they not want them that way?

Seeing as the group’s club dates are selling out as fast as Backstreet fans can log onto Ticketmaster, it seems that the Boys still have what it takes.

Before they hit the club circuit, the Backstreeters are set to head to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to perform in the Mar. 18 Force of Nature for Tsunami Aid concert, along with the Black-Eyed Peas, Lauryn Hill, Boyz II Men and Wyclef Jean.

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