Boy bands: the Golden Age

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am


With This Just In releasing their debut album, Cover Story, and One Direction finding chart-topping fame on both sides of the Atlantic, the sad fact hit me that many of our readers are too young to have experienced the Golden Age of boy band music.

Yes, you've probably heard of Backstreet Boys from karaoke trips; Westlife recently declared their split, so they've been in the news a lot; and maybe your mum (or gran) was a fan of The Monkees or Bay City Rollers.

But this doesn't mean you're fully aware of the awesomeness that I'm sure This Just In aspire to. In their honour (and to direct their future careers while I still have a modicum of influence over them), I'm going to lay some learnin' on you.

The term 'boy band' didn't really exist until the 1990s, even though the first boyband-as-we-know-it, New Kids on the Block, was formed in 1985. The quintet from Boston sang power pop songs with a rocky and swoonsome ballads that created the sort of fan frenzy that hadn't really been seen since girls fainted at Beatles concerts.

The (Western, at least) boy band glory days were really the late-90s/early noughties. NKOTB's style, sound and success resulted in an explosion of groups in the decade or so from 1995. The charts saw some of the biggest names of the genre appear, with daring dance moves, catchy choruses, cheeky grins and floppy fringes: Backstreet Boys, Take That, N Sync, 98 Degrees, East 17, Boyzone, Hanson, 5ive, A1, Blue (I could go on, trust me.)

These were guys who knew what a girl wanted from a boy, and could sing about it to her. Who had all the best dance moves, and could pull out the falsetto while still looking manly. Who you knew were tough enough to look after you (in your marrying-a-boy-bander dreams) but weren't afraid to cry. On stage. In front of thousands of weeping fans.

Golden-age boy bands offered songs you could easily sing along to (though you knew you could never imitate their five-part harmonies), a range of cuties to dream about, and more merchandise possibilities than even Justin Bieber has exploited.

But fans faced a drought in the mid-noughties, with DJs, girl bands, indie rock and 'boy band members going solo' making the news. These latter turned their back on their roots, releasing rock or dance CDs - but the faithful among us didn't give up hope. And we were justified: Take That reformed (even Robbie returned!), and NKOTB and BSB joined up for an album and tour.

The recent resurgence of boy bands (with actual boy-age members) is surely proof that, when it comes to making it in music, the only way is boy band.