90s Week: Boy bands

Hey, were just five guys of way different ages from five difference backgrounds and five different parts of the country who became really good buddies and, like, totally wrote all these songs and got famous. Oh, and Lance is totally not gay.

"Hey, we're just five guys of way different ages from five different backgrounds and five different parts of the country who became really good buddies and, like, totally wrote all these songs and got sickeningly famous. Oh, and Lance is totally not gay."

Musically, the 1990s were about three things:

1) Grunge (read: Kobain).

2) G-funk rap (read: Dre).

3) Boy bands (read: Lou Pearlman)

Pearlman was the manager and “creator” of N’Sync (please watch this) and the Backstreet Boys. According to Pearlman’s wikipedia entry, he “perpetrated one of the biggest and longest running Ponzi schemes in American history.” Also, he bilked investors out of millions by “investing” their money in a company that didn’t, you know, actually exist*.

*This false company, by the way, was a freaking airline. How do you get swindled on that? All you have to do is try to book a flight on Trans Continental Airlines and you’ll soon realize there is no Trans Continental Airlines.

It’s debatable whether this, or the Backstreet Boys, was the bigger crime.

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to mention that these bands didn’t totally suck. With the exception of Joey Fatone* and the tall guy in Backstreet, these guys could really sing (‘Nsync’s Christmas album is — and I’m not kidding here — the best Christmas album I’ve ever heard).

*What was Joey Fatone’s contribution to ‘Nsync, anyway? No girl I ever heard of thought he was good looking. He wasn’t a good singer. My sisters, 12 and 10 years old, would routinely lampoon his dancing. It’s like they kept him around just to rope in the New Jersey/Long Island demographic. It was kind of like McCain picking Sarah Palin for VP to get the women’s vote, except that it wasn’t like that at all.

The only megastar to come out of the Boy Band Era has been Justin Timberlake, who has had the greatest career possible for a Mouseketeer. He’s the ultimate. Think about this.

  • At age, like, 14, he’s an international sensation, irrefutably the most desired member of the most desired group in the world.
  • In 1999, at age 18, he starts dating the most desirable woman in the world, Britney Spears, when she was in her absolute prime.
  • In 2002, just before Britney goes crazy, she (probably) cheats on him, giving him a get out of jail free card, which he cashes in immediately. He promptly writes “Cry me a River,” one of the most devastating revenge songs of all time, totally re-inventing himself with an R&B album that is universally loved.
  • From 2002-2009, becomes one of the top three or four R&B artists in the world, accepted by black people as one of their own and generally compared favorably to Usher, the most popular R&B singer of his generation.
  • Meanwhile, Britney begins dating perhaps the world’s most unlikable hanger-on, Kevin Federline, even bearing his children, then getting fat, shaving her head and checking in and out of various mental facilities in a downward spiral that bottomed out with comedians making jokes about her vagina.

Can we say round one goes to Timberlake?

The ironic problem for the rest of the boy-banders was that their audience — preteen to high school girls — doesn’t actually give a rip whether they can sing or not. Some scientists maintain that adolescent girls actually have worse taste in music than the Germans. Others disagree, saying that’s like saying something is colder than absolute zero. But you get the point. As we’ve seen in the 2000s, having actual talent is not a prerequisite for popularity as a musician.

Its more about wearing weird hats and being black.

It's more about wearing weird hats and being black.

The boy band appeal was mainly, as almost everything is, about sex. The interesting thing is that boy bands became wildly popular and girl bands never really caught on, even though the basic appeal should be the same, right?

The difference is in the way men and women (boys and girls) feel attraction. It is almost impossible to get any group of women to agree on which man in a particular context (the entire world, for example) is the most attractive. Their feelings of attraction are subject to so many different factors — personality, mannerism, social background, women they’ve been linked to — that you can’t have just one guy and expect broad appeal.

The reason girl groups generally don’t succeed is that men base their attraction — at least as far as people they’ll never meet is concerned — on almost purely visual information. And this isn’t nearly as subjective as you might think, meaning that men will almost always universally agree on which member of, say, Destiny’s Child, is most attractive, and ignore the rest.

Ask 10 different girls who the best-looking boy in their school is, and you’re probably getting six or seven different answers with huge discrepancies in those opinions (a boy one girl thinks is ridiculously good looking another will describe as “gross”). Ask 10 boys about the girls, and you’re probably getting two or three different answers, but even among those three, there will be a general agreement that “it’s close.”

So your best bet when concocting a boy band is to cover all your bases, even if one of those bases is the New Jersey demographic.

Honestly. Really?


This is why 98 Degrees was generally a failure. The other two hosers were so out of place that nobody thought Nick Lachey wasn’t the best-looking guy in the band.

Well, that, and their being a blatant attempt to cash in on a hot genre, which, regardless of the genre, usually works well enough to sell one mediocre album (read: “G Funk Classics, Vol. 1: Ghetto Preacher,” Nate Dogg) but not two (read: “G Funk Classics. Vol. 1 & 2,” Nate Dogg).

And it is at this point that the whole thing comes back around to Pearlman, the first guy to craft a reality show about the making of a band that nobody would ever like. He called this show, “Making the Band.”

They made the band.

They made the band, and also crappy music. (Guy in the middle: "I can't believe they're making me wear this.")

This show, producing the boy band O-Town, which would ultimately murder the boy band genre, was interesting at the time because our society wasn’t used to reality television yet, so we thought that the stuff that happened on the show was, like, totally organic and that the ultimate goal of the show was to actually create a band.

Now we know that the “Making the Band” shows have virtually nothing to do with actually composing  a band. The band is little more than a theme around which the producers can assemble crazy people and have them tear their each other’s clothes off and throw up on the carpet. Other such themes are “love,” “learning manners” and “having sex with Bret Michaels.” If they accidentally sell a few records at the end, even better.

Once we realized that nobody actually wanted to listen to O-Town’s music, the jig was up with the boy band genre. It became obvious that O-Town and ‘Nsync were just different flavors of Lou Pearlman’s ball sweat. And it was all over, conveniently, in the year 2000.


4 thoughts on “90s Week: Boy bands

  1. insightful. you should teach a class; maybe you could prepare everyone for the next pop-culture-harbinger-of-death that’s sure to begin next decade.

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