A look at boy bands, past, present, future | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

One Direction: Nothing but a notch in the bed post of boy band history

"BSB, NKOTB, Boyz II Men, NSYNC, Hanson, 98 Degrees >>>>>> One Direction, The Wanted, Big Time Rush, and all those other new boybands. Here's 63 solid and totally legit reasons why [boy bands were better in the '90s]," wrote Matt Stopera of Buzzfeed two weeks ago. His reasoning for the clear dominance of '90s boy bands over all others? A lot of apparel-related items -- like the insistence of their design teams to dress them in over-the-top outfits full of camoflauge and ripped jeans -- and their fan base's devotion.

This isn't the first time Buzzfeed (and Stopera himself) has tried to claim '90s boy bands' domination over today's. But the repetition of his message doesn't make it true, or historically accurate.

The best-known boy band, one far more popular than any group from the '90s, is The Beatles, whose girl-fans famously screamed so loud during live shows the group had to stop touring. Just take this performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964:

My sense is that love for '90s boy bands is based largely in the general tendency millenials have to sigh heavily and wallow in childhood nostalgia. I say that with a heavy heart; there is a sort of crass, phenomenal quality to the boy bands of the 1990s that was really ushered in during the '80s by New Kids on the Block and Menudo. Of course, the field was dominated by the bitter rivalry between the Lou Pearlman-created Backstreet Boys and 'NSYNC, but there was also LFO, O-Town, Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees and Hanson. 

Boy bands are surrounded by such lore (though so are girl groups) that they've made great fodder for film and television, like in the Tom Hanks-directed romp That Thing You Do! featuring The Wonders, or in 2ge+her, an MTV movie about a satrical band of the same name. And let's not forget about my personal favorite fake boy band, Du Jour, from Josie and the Pussycats. Tension between members tends to be a dominant plot point, but that's something that has haunted bands known more for their musical talents, too. After all, what are The Band or the Rolling Stones but boy bands we took seriously?

Tension between members often leads to a boy band's final product: the really talented member's solo career. Many have had one: Justin Timberlake, Ricky Martin. I'd argue that the real longeivity of a boy band in pop culture history falls on the legacy of its most winning and popular member(s). For instance, 'NSYNC was the rising star of the '90s, but the band would have much less cachet without Timberlake's rollicking solo career (which, sadly, has stalled as of late). A star like Justin Bieber (through careful control by his mentor, Usher) did without his four back-up buddies and boy-banded to fame and fortune all on his own.

That's why I'll end by saying that though this doesn't square with my initial argument -- that all boy bands have their place in history, which is to be far better than boy band that came before them -- I just can't get behind bands like your Big Time Rush or your One Direction. They're somebody's boy band -- they're just not mine.

They are somebody's jam that'll come on the radio in twenty years and that somebody will scream to their kids "OMG this was the BEST song!" as they mumble through the words. Just ask my mom every time The Monkees come on. She may not remember the words, but boy, does she remember the melody.

Do WBEZ music critic Jim DeRogatis and host Tony Sarabia agree with me? Do you? Join in the conversation Wednesday as Eight Forty-Eight takes on boy bands.

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