Oh, boy bands. I must admit, they’re intriguing. And they’re here to stay

It all started in the 1950s, I posit. Bands like the Everly Brothers stole hearts with their dreamy songs (about dreams, no less) and lush hair. Meanwhile, the Beach Boys were surfin’ and rebelling ever so slightly—though Pet Sounds includes unconventional and groundbreaking new instruments. In Motown, The Temptations wore their matching suits and swayed in sync. And don’t forget all of those shows in the ‘60s and ‘70s about Monkees and Osmonds.

Sidenote: The true revolutionaries were the members of The Temptations. They began the evolution (or devolution) of boy bands: they didn’t play instruments! Groundbreaking!

The Jackson 5, Menudo, and a few other groups popped up in the ‘70s, but gritty rock and roll took the reigns of pop music for a while, with raw sexuality in place of boy bands’ coy lyrics and cute dance moves. Plus, disco music was there in case anyone wanted to listen to poppy drivel.

The pretty boy rockers of the ‘80s, though admittedly edgier than the average boy band, began to prime the world for boy bands again. The guys in Mr. Big had to spend a lot of time on their hair to look as good as they did (check out the tambourine player in this video), and Bon Jovi combined rock and roll grit with some serious hair dryer action.

By the mid- to late-‘80s, the world was ready for the real deal; enter New Kids on the Block and then Boyz II Men (and, as a backlash, “Enter Sandman”). These bands paved the way to boy band heyday: *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and, albeit not as famous, 98 Degrees (but hey, one of the members was married to Jessica Simpson, so that’s got to count for something). This golden age of boy bandery was marked by matching outfits and supercool dance moves. And Hanson! Who could forget the band with two members that hadn’t hit puberty?

By the mid-2000s, the world was sick of dubiously coiffed snazzy dudes without much talent besides looking cool—seriously, did anyone actually play an instrument besides the kids in Hanson?—so a few years of famine followed the boy band boom. Sure, some bands probably cropped up, but they didn’t nearly reach the fame of these dreamy puppets.

But never fear! The Jonas Brothers are coming! They (kind of) play instruments!

Sadly, they all aged and then broke up a month or so ago. Nobody paid them much heed, though, as One Direction had eclipsed them a few years ago.

One Direction will most likely be enthroned for the next while, since the oldest member won’t be able to rent a car in the United States without an extra fee for a few years yet. These man-boys don’t dress alike, and they don’t even try to dance like the stalwarts of old. But however much they may try to distance themselves from the mockery today’s society bestows on Justin’s cornrows or that time he matched Britney Spears, they still usually shy away from instruments, dress in coordinating outfits, and receive ridiculous amounts of fan mail. One Direction is simply the latest iteration in a long chain of Tiger Beat poster fodder.

What marks a boy band most, though, is the lack of future success. Yeah, Justin Timberlake and Mark Wahlberg have made names for themselves, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Plus, the rest of their bandmates have fallen off the map. The Jonas Brothers still have hope, but nobody’s holding her breath, and probably because she’s screaming for Liam. Or Niall. Or that other guy who dated Taylor Swift.

Or perhaps she (I’m assuming the vast majority of fans are female) is grown up, in college and listening to music that’s so alternative that it’s not actually any good, or working her first job and listening to NPR while she commutes. Boy bands, unlike the Beatles, don’t grow up with their audiences, and so they become fond memories, or fond memories of other people’s fond memories (because I sure wasn’t alive during the Partridge Family’s time, and I was still spitting up and cruisin’ in a stroller when Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch was all the rage).

So although they’re here to stay, each boy band is going to lose its audience every three to eight years and rarely win critically acclaim, especially if they’re still singing lines like, “The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed.” (Say it out loud. Or go have Vanden Bosch say it out loud, and then you’ll really get how dumb it sounds.) They’re like Whack-a-Mole; when you bop one down, another one will pop up, with even doofier hairdos.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Love it – 98 Degrees is the oft overlooked grt 90s boyband! I’m glad you mentioned them. Do you think LFO was missing from the list tho?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Lyte Funkie Ones most definitely belongs. Anyone who in a band with an egregiously spelled name and who mentions “Abercrombie and Fitch” ad nauseum in a song is probably part of a boy band. (The second criterion rules out Lynyrd Skynyrd.)

      This blog post isn’t extensive; much more could be written about this topic. I’m sure someone has written a master’s thesis on it…or someone could do a master’s on it! Any takers?

      LFO, ladies and gents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHuGG_FsC20 (Did you get the “Billy” Shakespeare ref?)

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Great piece, Libby. Rather clarifying on a puzzling subject. Thank you. And yes, someone must write a masters thesis or dissertation.

    Reply

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