"Who's to say that young girls who like pop music – short for popular, right? – have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That's not up to you to say. Music is something that's always changing. There's no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious? How can you say young girls don't get it?” Harry Styles (Rolling Stone, April 18, 2017)
We need to talk about boybands
Like most things beloved by teen girls, boy bands have always had a bad rap among music journalists, music snobs and well, most guys. Our brains are hardwired to take great pleasure in the music we love, and diversity is a good thing, right? Music never hurt anybody.
Why the need to trash somebody else’s taste? Is it just a sense of musical entitlement, or is it outright sexism?
Ignore the haters for a moment, and embrace the guilty pleasure. Here’s a quick history of some of the most crushworthy boybands ever.
The first mega-boyband gives us Jackson Mania
When the first wave of real boybands hit in the Sixties, the “cute” member of the most successful was none other than Michael Jackson (yes, the Jackson 5 is a boy band.) The Monkees were on TV doing their take on the Beatles. And the Osmonds were five Mormon brothers whose pop could never quite catch up with the funk of the Jackson 5. It was strict father Joe Jackson who transformed his five sons into the first black teen idols. They sold tons of t-shirts, lunchboxes, posters and even got their own TV show.
With songs written and produced at legendary Motown studios, the Five gave the world “ABC” and “I Want You Back”, two of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”. Years later, DJs still know these upbeat grooves fill any dance floor.
The second wave becomes a boy tsunami
New Kids on the Block,"I'll be loving you forever", 1988, Columbia
Boybands went quiet for a good fifteen years. Music videos arrived and Michael had become the King of Pop by the time New Kids on the Block erupted. They were originally assembled around the talented, charismatic Wahlberg brothers, Donnie and Mark. Mark was out by 1989 when the NKOTB scored their first big hit “I'll Be Loving You (Forever)”.
Bad boy Donnie, cute Joey, gorgeous Jordan, sweet Danny and quiet Jonathan scored five top tens and launched millions of crushes. Two years later, with “Step by Step”, they’d become the world’s highest paid entertainers, beating out Michael, Madonna, and Prince. When they disbanded in 1994, they left a hole in the hearts of girls that it would take more than one band to fill.
Enter the Backstreet Boys in 1996, followed by NSYNC, 98 Degrees, Boyz II Men and more. Over in England, pre-American Idol Simon Cowell managed Westlife in their rivalry with Take That. By the late 90s, boyband-fans were overwhelmed with choices. With more than one “bashful brooder” to choose from, screaming girls filled stadiums during massive world tours by these mega-acts.
Although it appeared that the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were rivals, both bands were in fact composed of talents discovered by impresario Lou Pearlman. He auditioned and selected the Boys—who really could sing complex harmonies—and launched them around the globe. But in the process, he discovered plenty of other talent, including Justin Timberlake. He assembled a second charismatic quintet around him and called them NSYNC.
During this golden age, BSB sold over 130 million records worldwide, making them the best-selling boyband in history. They released Millennium just before the turn of the millennium, and NSYNC released “Bye Bye Bye” in January 2000. Its album No Strings Attached remained the best-seller of the entire decade to come.
Then the two bands split up.
A new direction
One Direction, "Live While We're Young", 2012, Syco
That all took place during the “dark ages” when girls called each other up from their parents’ landlines and talked boys face to face at lunch break. Everything was slower then. Suddenly from the darkness of 2002, Simon Cowell appeared with his lovely accent and frank feedback on a new show called “American Idol”, soon followed by “X Factor” on both sides of the Atlantic, and copycat shows all over the world. Facebook launched in 2004, followed by the first iPhone and Twitter in 2007.
Soon after the new decade began, a cute boyband placed third on the British version of “X Factor”. You would think that Cowell and the powers-that-be would have relegated them to the dustbin of history, but fate was now in the hands of twittering, tumblring fangirls. They democratically elected Liam, Niall, Louis, Zayn and Harry as the boy avatars of their wild, young imaginations—no old-boys’ club could tell the girls the boys they should like. Similarly, with the power of social media, the talented teens of “One Direction” talked to the girls unchaperoned. If one day, Zayn left the hairdresser with bad hair, the online fuss began, and he best respond appropriately lest the internet break.
One Direction, with the help of their fangirls, made four albums in four years and broke all the previous boyband records. Even though the real boys are now on hiatus, the imaginations and online conversations of a multitude of girls, keep their images alive and kicking.
Boy will be boys, but eventually Boys II Men
But it’s after their training—with choreographers, songwriters, coaches, and enduring bad hair days—that the real stars make a bet on a solo career.
First, there was the King of Pop. Then after his pre-fame stint in the New Kids, Donnie’s little brother became Marky Mark. He enjoyed a few years of music stardom before making it as A-list actor Mark Wahlberg. Timberlake went searching for his solo identity. He found the confidence to launch when Michael Jackson called him in 2001 and gave him his blessing. We all know where that led. Meanwhile, Harry Styles of One Direction, the biggest boyband of this decade, has also gone solo.
And the rest of the Kids, the rest of the Boys? They came back from hiatus and formed a mega-boyband. In 2011, NKOTBSB filled stadiums around the world once again. In 2017, Backstreet Boys began the fastest-selling residency in Las Vegas history. A generation that had grown up on boybands bought tickets and put on their band t-shirts. Perhaps they wanted to check up on their first crush and relive their guilty pleasures—without anyone around to judge.
Does your heart beat for boy bands?
Check out Backstreet Boys concerts on Stingray Qello
Tune in to a music channel filled with boy band goodness!
Don’t miss Stingray Juicebox’s Top 30 Boy Band Special*: Saturday, April 14 - 10 am ET / 7 am PT Sunday, April 15 - 3 pm ET / 12 pm PT*
Catch the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block concert “Live at Q2” on Stingray iConcerts*.
*Contact your TV provider for listings