Aaron Carter forges future after uphill battle

Chris Azzopardi Special to The Detroit News

Believe it or not, time didn’t stop for Aaron Carter.

He’s not 13 anymore. He does grown-up things now because, well, he is a grown up. But, for the now-DIY musician who once declared, “I always tried to be the flyest kid in the block,” escaping his teen pin-up history has not been easy.

The past is the past, though, even for those who’ve witnessed Carter go from spunky child rapper — he hosted an unsupervised house party for his equally-as-young BFF during the video for “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It),” released in 2000 — to full-on man with a string of well-publicized misfortunes: a drug addiction, the death of his sister Leslie and financial woes, the latter resulting from his parents who mismanaged his career then and, as he indicates, “didn’t do everything correctly.”

In 2013, Carter, the younger brother of Backstreet Boys’ Nick, filed a bankruptcy petition to eliminate more than $2 million in debt, mostly overdue taxes from money made during his time as a teen sensation. According to Aaron Carter’s manager, Lori Knight, the IRS honored his request for full discharge in February 2014.

“It’s been an uphill battle for me,” Carter says. “A lot of people don’t realize my story, and it’s gotta be told. I got hit with millions of dollars in tax liens. It blacklisted me.”

Record labels turned their backs on him, he says. And ex-fans were, and still are, he adds, stubbornly stuck in the past — they yearn for kid Carter again; they long for “I Want Candy,” a wildly successful cover of The Strangeloves earworm that was the second single from his 2000 album “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It).”

It’s been 14 years since Carter released a studio album, “Another Earthquake” (2002). In November 2015, new Carter music surfaced via Billboard.com, an exclusive, unmastered teaser song. The R&B slow jam, “Fool’s Gold,” was released independently — Carter isn’t currently signed to a label — and serves as a palette-cleanser of sorts. Portraying Carter’s artistic beyond-bubblegum maturity, the song inherently emphasizes the fact that Carter is not 13 anymore… even if you still wish he were.

“When I started touring again,” he says, “I was like, ‘How do people want me to dress? How do they want me to do this? Do they want me to do “I Want Candy” 17 times in my show? OK, I’m gonna do “I Want Candy” 17 times in my show.’ I’d do it and then I’d be like, ‘Man, it sucks. I feel like I’m 15 again. And I got sick of that ... when I was 15.’ ”

Carter’s iffy on performing “I Want Candy” at Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig, where he’ll play a pair of sold-out shows on Feb. 24 and 26. He’s over that song, true. But moreover, at 28, he says he’s a different, older, more-in-charge careerist, and though it’s clear his success hinges somewhat on his past pop songs, he wants — for both himself and his fans — to shift into the present. His narrative, he says, needs to be rewritten, no matter the cost.

“I’d rather there be five people who are super dedicated to seeing me do my new music rather than 500 people who want to see me do ‘I Want Candy,’ ” Carter says, admitting that fans contend he should be “grateful” for those early pop behemoths, the ones that launched his career more than 15 years ago. “I’m very grateful,” he adds, “but the fans — they should be grateful. They should be grateful that I spent the last 21 years of my life entertaining them.”

As he readies a new album for release later this year, the performer affirms that, “I got a lot of proving to do. I got a lot of adversities to overcome. I’ve got a lot of opinions and perspective to change.”

Carter says he’ll do so on his own terms, as himself. The creation of a pop-culture machine that, he notes, portrayed him as “not real,” the singer was first signed to a record label in 1997. So, as an adult, he’s decided to make a major change: He’s calling his own shots because “I stopped caring what (people) perceive of me.”

The turning point, Carter says, was in 2015, while kicking back and playing a videogame with producer deadmau5 at his house. The two live-streamed their hangout — parts of it, anyway. “I just learned a lot from the guy,” Carter says. “I have a lot of respect for him.”

Respect might be a hard commodity to win back from those who’ve moved on from Carter — and the road back begins by reminding people what he’s not.

“I get hit up all the time and people are like, ‘Man, you’re a one-hit wonder,’ ” he says, “and I’m like, ‘Maybe you should Google me. I broke Michael Jackson’s Guinness Book of World Records to be the youngest male to have four singles on the Billboard Top 10 chart.’ I deal with so much adversity, but at the same time, I wanna be like, ‘Yo, hold on. Let me explain this to you. Let me show you what I’m all about.’ ”

And so this is Aaron Carter now: committed and in control, “a rebel with a lot to prove.” He even went back to school to broaden his musical horizons. Carter received private tutoring to learn studio technicalities, including wiring and mastering, and sees himself pursuing a career as a music producer or engineer. “I have 100,000 beats just sitting on my computer,” some of which he notes have been released via his Twitter (@djkidcarter) account.

And should reviving his pop career not pan out, so be it. Being the “flyest kid in the block” is cool if you’re, well, a kid.

“I’m just doing things that I like to do, and people might not listen to it at all, but that’s OK. I would rather do what I feel is right and fail than do what everyone else wants me to do and succeed.”

Chris Azzopardi is a Canton-based freelance writer.

Aaron Carter

The Blind Pig

208 S. First St., Ann Arbor

Doors: 9 p.m. Feb. 24 and 26


18 and over


(734) 996-8555