From the Vault: Boy Bands Then and Now

From the Vault: Boy Bands Then and Now

Hannah McLaughlin

Through the years, the ever popular “boy band” classification has evolved, changing with every passing decade as a result of the infamously fickle and unpredictable music industry. However, there is one thing boy bands never fail to succeed in—attracting slews of teenage girls with love songs infused with poppy beats and melodies. Emerging as a whole new kind of music in the 1980s and 1990s, American boy bands swept the globe by topping charts and taking the music industry by storm. Enjoying massive success in the ’80s and ’90s, bands like New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and *NSYNC produced iconic singles and albums, proving there was more to them than matching leather jackets and synchronized dance steps. Of course, a band’s popularity doesn’t last forever, and each group’s popularity has depreciated significantly over the years. Yet, with up and coming stars like the British band One Direction gaining increasing popularity today, it makes one wonder if boy bands are making a comeback.


New Kids on the Block (NKOTB)

Formed in 1984 in Boston, this local Massachusetts band consisted of brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood, and Donnie Wahlberg. The group is considered one of the first of its kind, setting the stage for future boy bands. Their debut album, “New Kids on the Block”, was released in 1986 and featured their first single “Be my Girl” and other tracks that had a bubblegum pop sound.  The album proved to be unpopular, but despite the lack of attention they received, NKOTB tried again with their second album, “Hangin’ Tough.” This album, which was much more profitable than the first, helped the group get to the top with songs like  “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” and  “I’ll be Loving You (Forever).” However, no album made NKOTB more famous than their third— “Step by Step”—which was released in the early 1990s. The single “Step by Step” climbed the charts to number one on the Hot 100 Singles Chart and quickly became their best selling single. Other songs from the album like “Tonight” and “Let’s Try It Again” proved successful as well, making the group more popular than ever before. The album marked the group’s last moments of stardom, however, as their next album, “Face the Music,” did not sell as well as the ones that preceded it. New Kids on the Block broke up in 1994, but reunited in 2008, releasing a new single called “Summertime” in hopes of putting the band back into the public eye.  Though the song did not fully revitalize their career, “Summertime” did manage to reach slot 35 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking NKOTB’s first top 40 hit since 1992.


Backstreet Boys (BSB)

Backstreet boys, another infamous boy band, brought more pop hits to the music scene after being formed in 1993. Members Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean, Howie Dorough, and Kevin Richardson released their debut album “Backstreet Boys” in 1996, which became very popular thanks to several tracks, namely “We’ve Got It Goin’ On”, “Everybody”, and “As Long as You Love Me”. Next came their second album, Backstreet’s Back, which contained hits “If you Stay” and “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)”. Most of their fame can be attributed to Millennium—their third album—which contained worldwide hit singles “I Want It That Way” and  “Larger Than Life”.  In the U.S., Millennium became the best-selling album of 1999, selling close to 9.5 million albums total. Being the apex of their career, the only thing left for Backstreet Boys to do was to fade slowly into oblivion. Despite several more album releases, the band never gained as much hype as they had earlier in their career. Kevin Richardson left the group in 2006, and the rest of the boys recently reunited to do a joint tour with New Kids on the Block. The new supergroup, “NKOTBSB” recently released their comeback song, “Don’t Turn Out the Lights.”



A third band to bring forth poppy beats and smash hits was *NSYNC, formed by bandmates Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, and of course, lead singer Justin Timberlake. Assembled in Orlando, FL in 1995, *NSYNC soon became one of the most famous names in the music business thanks to a large fan base, catchy beats, and collaborations with other stars. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s *NSYNC released hit after teen pop hit. The songs had a sound that can only be described as a perfect combination of pop, R&B, dance, and soul. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1997, peaked at number one just two weeks after its release. In January 2000, the band released arguably its most famous single, “Bye Bye Bye”, which brought massive success to the group along with their third album called No Strings Attached. The album also brought well known tracks like “It’s Gonna Be Me” and “This I Promise You”, making No Strings Attached not only the top selling album of 2000, but also the best selling album of the decade. Throughout their seemingly endless stretch of popularity, *NSYNC sang or recorded with artists like Britney Spears, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, and more. Not long after releasing their third and final album in 2001, called Celebrity, the boy band called it quits, allowing Justin Timberlake to focus on his solo career as not only a singer, but an actor. Since then he has released his own singles, voiced a character for Shrek the Third, assumed the role of Sean Parker in The Social Network, etc. However, he and the other members of *NSYNC have yet to reunite.


One Direction

Today, solo artists like Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars dominate the American Top 40 and other charts, and songs by rising stars such as Carly Rae Jepsen and Karmin only add to the music industry that is lacking vitality and adversity. In recent years, boy bands have seemingly become extinct—absent from all music charts, their poppy beats and songs of love forgotten and left in the distant abyss of the 1990s. The truth is, the title of “boy band” has only been dormant for a few decades, as the UK is now introducing One Direction, a band composed of Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Maik, Louis Tomlinson, and Niall Horan. Formed by Simon Cowell in 2010 on hit show “The X Factor”, the group finished as a third place finalist in the competition, but has gained global attention even without the title.  Their first album, called Up All Night,” was released in November 2011. The album made One Direction the first UK group in history to debut at number one on the American charts, in March 2012. The band’s popularity increases day by day, causing one to wonder exactly what this means for boy bands in the future. Although the boys do not embody the boy band stereotype of the 80s and 90s—for instance, the perfectly synchronized dance moves like the New Kids on the Block or Backstreet Boys—One Direction seems to be bringing back a much needed and long forgotten aspect of pop music—the boy band.