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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Return of the Boy Band

Written by Kyle Slagley

If you were a girl between the ages of 11 and 20 anytime between 1988 and 2002, there’s about a 67.3% chance you proudly displayed posters, cassettes, CDs, t-shirts, or other assorted swag that sported the faces of Nick Carter, Brian Littrell, or Shawn Stockman. Guys who had highlighted or frosted hair anytime before 2005 should bow down and thank Lance Bass for making it “cool.”

The ‘90s were, by and large, the decade of the Boy Bands; together they formed an unofficial cartel that ruled the Billboard charts and teen girls’ hearts. Of course, this was back in the days when MTV actually played music videos still, so I’m sure that had something to do with it.

Much to the chagrin of teenage garage bands everywhere, earlier this week New Kids on the Block (aka NKOTB), Boys II Men, and 98 Degrees announced their “Package Tour” that will begin in Uncasville, CT, on May 31 and conclude in Minneapolis on July 13. It’s a heck of a lot harder to get a girl’s attention when you’re competing against the likes of Nick Lachey and Donnie Wahlberg, not that I’m bitter or anything.

In honor of this summer’s Grand Boy Band Comeback (Attempt), let’s take a look at the biggest groups of the movement. You’ll want to make sure your collections are complete before the tour triggers the inevitable stampede of fangirls.

The Beatles – Those of you thinking, “Wait a minute!” can rest easy. I am fully aware that the Beatles were truly the fathers of the boy band – as well as a slew of other pop music trends. Combine fashionable clothes, youthful faces, a lot of actual musical talent, and the sheer magnitude of their fan base and you have the formula that is still the industry standard. Much more could be said, but we all know how influential the group has been.

New Kids on the Block – Widely considered the first group in the “modern” boy band age, these five guys epitomized the ‘80s. Heavy synthesizer beats, break-dancing, ripped jeans, and pompadours can all be found in their family album. Their first big hit, “Hangin’ Tough,” put them on the map in 1988 and they would eventually break up in 1994. They reunited in 2008 and have been working ever since; meanwhile, there are those among us who can still sing you the chorus to “You Got It (The Right Stuff).”

Backstreet Boys (aka BSB)– Kevin is the quiet one, Nick is the heartthrob, Brian is the boy-next-door, AJ is the bad boy, and Howie is the fun-loving jokester. BSB quite literally became the definition of “boy band” in the late ‘90s. They hit it big with “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” in 1997 and have been working together in some form ever since. Their spiked hair, meticulously groomed goatees, and pensive looks into the distance would be emulated in millions of senior pictures for years.

‘N Sync – The second quintet to appear in the ‘90s, the group was formed after band member Chris Kirkpatrick auditioned for the Backstreet Boys and failed to make the cut. The group blew up overnight after the Disney Channel aired a concert special in July of 1998 – a concert originally offered to BSB. ‘N Sync’s single “Tearin’ Up My Heart” became one of the biggest songs of the decade and by the time they released “Bye Bye Bye” they were fully out of the shadow of BSB. The group lasted a handful of years before breaking up in 2002 after member Justin Timberlake decided to go solo.

98 Degrees – Rounding out the boy band trio of the late ‘90s, 98 Degrees broke the five-man rule and comprised four guys from Ohio. The group’s story is similar to that of ‘N Sync in that they made it big in 1998. It’s interesting though that unlike BSB or ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees had some help in their early days. In 1997, they collaborated with label-mate Stevie Wonder to record “True to Your Heart,” the theme song to the animated Disney movie Mulan. They stayed together until 2002, and following Nick Lachey’s brief solo career and marriage to Jessica Simpson, reunited in 2008.

Boyz II Men – I hesitated to include Boyz II Men in this column, because I don’t consider them a typical boy band. After hours of contemplation, I (obviously) decided to include them because they are what a boy band should be: light on glitz and kitsch, heavy on quality and talent. They easily have the most staying power of any other modern boy band, and their tight harmonies are the envy of a capella groups worldwide. Having sold over 60 million copies of their 11 albums over more than 25 years, they are the standard for vocal R&B everywhere. Quite simply, these guys deserve every bit of praise they get because their ability speaks for itself.

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