hat does a bunch of boys do? It varies, but there are a few key ingredients. They are mostly made up of boys rather than men – from the early twenties to the oldest. They’re all the rage and, most importantly, marketable, often thanks to the industry bigwigs behind the scenes pulling their strings. They sing, they dance and they do crossover pop, tapping into the biggest sounds of the day – even if they don’t write their own stuff. Their sexuality, at least at first glance, is toned down and vanilla, but it is unmistakably straight: these lyrics are totally straight, aimed squarely at the hearts and minds of young women and girls.
It’s a formula that has been tinkered with for decades. Where it all started is up for debate, but most critics agree that things started in the 1960s with four mop-capped Liverpool guys. Although they would far outdo themselves with all of their experiences later in their careers, The Beatles laid the foundation for the modern boy group. Dressed elegantly and cut alike, they first gained popularity by doing covers of hit songs and drew a particularly rabid, female fan base.
From that point on, a wide line can be drawn through the decades – and that involves a lot of copying. Motown boss Berry Gordy recorded the success of Beatlemania and wanted to be a part of it. So in 1968 he signed a promising young band of brothers, The Jackson 5. Gordy and a team of musicians wrote a number of the band’s best-known hits, including I Want You Back. and ABC, which created a trend for faceless songwriters conglomerates.
Then, in the 1980s, it was Maurice Starr’s turn. The former musician ran into a fledgling band called New Edition and, inspired by the Jackson 5, tried to repeat the trick. They had moderate success, but nothing Starr knew was possible, so in 1984 he created New Kids On The Block.
“I honestly believe that if they had been white, [New Edition] would have been 20 times bigger, âStarr said in 1990. Maybe he was right: the new kids on the block were all white and they were huge. At the dawn of the 90s, the quartet was making more money than Michael Jackson.
The new kids on the block were essential for another reason. They were the very first group to be widely known as a boy group – until then, the phrase hadn’t really existed, and it created a new breed of pop acts on both sides of the pond. Take That and East 17 were assembled in the UK, and Boyzone followed a few years later, formed by manager Louis Walsh. He posted an ad looking for an “Irish Take That”.
Boy groups in the UK were roughed up in the late ’90s as the authenticity of Britpop revealed the supposed superficiality of these groups, but their popularity continued to rise. As things entered a new millennium, Westlife was one of the biggest bands on the planet. Around the same time, back in the US, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC topped the charts.
One thing shared by all of these bands is the fervor of their fans. There’s something about boy groups in particular that stirs up these devotions – of course their lyrics are designed to do just that, but with more than one person in the act, fan loyalty is divided and rivals. herself. It just makes things more intense.
Everyone had a favorite of Paul, John, Ringo and George, and everything is going on even today, maybe even more so. GQ staff received death threats in 2013 when some One Direction fans took offense after the magazine revealed five different covers featuring each member. BTS, the titans of K-Pop, have a global fan base, passionate online support, but also quick to attack in droves whenever they detect a bad word against the group.
As a group, however, BTS seems bigger than anything that came before. They had Korean songs topping the US charts and sold Wembley Stadium twice. In South Korea, their latest record has sold more copies than the other 20 best albums of 2020 combined, twice. Wherever they go next, one thing is clear: the boy group is here to stay.
Listen: Step by step through the new neighborhood children
To concern: I’m In A Boy Band (documentary)
Read: Goldy Moldavsky’s Kill The Boy Band