America loves its boy bands. We love the music, sure, but we also love everything else: the group chemistry, the dancing, the personality types (“Harry’s the cute one”) and, of course, the inevitable break-up and ensuing solo careers. The late ‘90s and early ‘00s were undoubtedly the prime years with acts like the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC swooning their way to the top of the charts. The roots of the genre date back as far as the ‘60s with The Jackson 5 (and one could argue, The Beatles) setting the foundation for the genre *NSYNC and New Kids on the Block would one day occupy. With the split of One Direction, there appears to be a vacuum in the genre. ABC attempted to manufacture the next hit boy band this past summer with its new music competition show, Boy Band. We’ll see if they succeeded with winners, In Real Life, but the show itself garnered mixed results. Follow us at No Coast Bias as we examine and commemorate the boy band’s place in American music’s past, present, and future.
To kick off this week’s theme of Boy Bands a few of us at No Coast Bias got together to discuss the genre of music that often gets the short end of the stick from critics. We asked all the important questions like “Who’s the greatest?” “What really makes a boy band a boy band?” & “Why does Robby insist on labeling Boyz II Men a boy band?”
So without further ado here it is.
What constitutes a boy band?
Derek: It’s simple. A group of 3-5 non-instrument playing singers that formed when they were pre-teens or during their teenage years.
Robby: Unlike some of my esteemed colleagues who have 871 requirements and restrictions for a band to be considered a boy band, I have a much more liberal and open approach to labeling. Is it a group of three or more male vocalists? Do they use voices instead of instruments? Do they also dance? If you answered yes to all three, congratulations, it’s a boy band. Those are the three qualifiers, no more, no less.
Heather: I’d define a boyband as a pop group that consists of four to five men — usually in their teenage years. Their songs, and overall image, typically cater to the young, female demographic. Attractiveness of the band members is also key.
Dan: While there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, a boy band in my eyes consist of 5 young men. Each of those 5 young men would need to fit a certain trope. You need the heartthrob, bad boy, shy one, older brother and the cute young one. These young gentlemen need to dance, sing top 40 branded songs that cater to a younger demographic and have a sleazy manager misguiding them at every step and taking their money.
What boy band trope do you normally find yourself draw to the most? (Heartthrob, bad boy, shy one)
Heather: I’m typically drawn to the heart throb. Each of my favorites, from the boybands I followed as a kid (and as an adult) were the heartthrob of the group. See: Justin Timberlake, Nick Carter, Nick Lachey, Ashley Parker Angel, and Jesse McCartney….
Derek: It’s pretty much the rule in all forms of entertainment that the villain, or in this case, the bad boy is way more interesting than the baby faces. Pro rasslin’, movies, literature, it’s a given.
Boy band bad boys aren’t even THAT bad if you place them in the real world, but compared to their angelic cohorts they’re as real as it gets.
Robby: Which one is Donnie Wahlberg? Whichever one he is, that’s my favorite. #Wahlbergs4Life
Dan: Like Derek, I find myself falling into the villain trap with most of my entertainment. The bad boy also was the one who usually spit a few bars on whatever song they couldn’t get a studio rapper for. Plus Donnie Wahlberg burnt down a hotel and younger me loved that kind of stupidity.
Greatest boy band of all time? Why?
Robby: Backstreet Boys. I went back and forth with this one. I’d argue that the boy band boom never happens without the popularity of New Kids on the Block. But then again, would NKOTB have ever happened without The Jackson 5 and The Temptations? (Yes, they’re a boy band, see question one for parameters). *NSYNC was great, but they’re more known now as the opening act of Justin Timberlake’s career than anything else. In the end, I just went with the most popular boy band of all time. If there is a heaven, I hope it’s the one from This Is the End.
Dan: I really fought with this one, wrote down a list of boy bands and dwindled them down to a final four. My final four consisted Jackson 5, New Kids on the Block, NSYNC & Backstreet Boys. I’m sure this is going to be said by everyone in this discussion but NSYNC is just a launch pad for Justin Timberlake, with the smallest run. Rinse & Repeat for the Jackson 5 who had more talent than NSYNC but still Michael’s launch pad.
This leaves NKOTB & Backstreet Boys and when everything was all said and done, the dust settled and Brian, Kevin, Howie, AJ & Nick were left standing. That’s the Backstreet Boys for those who might not know their first names.
Derek: They’re not even close to my favorite (that’d be New Edition), but NKOTB basically created the template we all think of when we hear the term “boy band”. Because of that, they get the nod here.
Heather: My opinion is extremely biased — I think the Backstreet Boys are the best boyband. They’ve lasted 20 years, and remained somewhat relevant considering that they’re now grown men in a boyband. I saw them in concert in 2014 — after not seeing them for 13 years — and they were still great. The dance moves and music (and everything I ever loved about them) was still there.
Favorite boy band song? Why?
Dan: This is another difficult call for me…Soul Decision “Faded” is a very close second for me. This song still has a heavy rotation in my gym playlist but at the end of the day I just can’t call it my favorite of all time. That honor goes to a song that might actually be my favorite song ever, not just under the boy band category. That song is the masterpiece crafted by the late great Rich Cronin “Summer Girls”.
Heather: If “Bye, Bye, Bye” doesn’t get you moving, then I don’t know you…. Anytime and every time this song comes on, I’m dancing — it ain’t no lie. N’SYNC’s “No Strings Attached” album is probably my favorite out of all that the group released.
Derek: Mr. Telephone Man, because it encapsulates what goes through your head as a kid when you get ghosted. Plus, it somehow romanticizes being a bugaboo, which I begrudgingly admit I totally was when I was younger. Sorry, Taryn!
Robby: “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men is the best song ever featuring a boy band, but because it’s probably closer to a Mariah Carey song, I’ll instead go with the incredible “I’ll Make Love to You”.
Why can’t Robby admit that Boys II Men isn’t a boy band?
Derek: Freakin’ millennials…
Heather: Simply, they just don’t fit the criteria of being a “pop” group.
Robby: First off, it’s “Boyz II Men”, with a Z. Second off, this is harassment. I’m filing a report to HR immediately. Oh, and what’s this? Billboard.com ranking Boyz II Men as the biggest boy band ever? Interesting. Well I’ll be, here’s Teenvogue.com naming them one of the best boy bands of all time. Looks like Buzzfeed wants to get in the mix. Also, The Chicago Tribune would like a word. The defense rests, your honor.
Dan: Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s not, but I’ll always view Boyz II Men (autocorrect in my email be damned) as one of the greatest R&B groups of all time and while I’m a huge fan of the boy band genre I just feel like they are above that label…but what do I know.