Boy Bands: The Everlasting Phenomenon

Wednesday, June 30

By Rocio Mourelos

If I had to choose a word to describe my preteen years, I would find it really hard to do so. But, there’s this aspect I believe most girls can agree with me: every one of us had at least one poster from our favorite boy band glued to our wall or to our wardrobe door. Dear centennial girl, we’ve all been there, even your mother. Boy bands have been hanging around for quite a long time now. You’ll be amazed to know how this band format transcended decades and still makes it to the most important worldwide charts.

The earliest forerunner of boy band music began in the late 19th century as Acappella barbershop quartets. They were usually a group of males and sang in four-part harmonies. Barbershop quartets were popular into the earlier part of the 20th century. The earliest traces of boy bands were in the mid-1950s although the term boy band was not used. African American vocal group The Ink Spots was one of the first of what would now be called boy bands. The term boy band was not established until the late 1980s.

But, in the meanwhile, bands like The Osmonds or The Monkees were already making the kind of music that would be called boy band music years later. It is considered that The Jackson 5 is the earliest predecessor: The Jackson 5 was a siblings group that established many musical conventions that boy bands follow. For instance, their music featured close harmonies from soul music and catchy pop hooks. The group also incorporated choreographed dance moves into their performances. All members of the band sang, which is a common convention of a boy band, as opposed to having a frontman; thus, they all dominated the stage equally

What’s important to a boy band group's commercial success is the group's image, carefully controlled by managing all aspects of the group's attire, promotional materials, and music videos. The key factor of a boy band is being trendy. This means that the band acquires the most recent fashion and musical trends in the popular music scene. Typically, each member of the group will have some distinguishing feature and be portrayed as having a particular personality stereotype.

As pointed out previously, the term boy band appeared in the 1980s. This was established at the same time New Kids on the Block took over the spotlight. New Kids on the Block, the first commercially successful modern boy band, was formed in 1984 and found international success in 1988. Maurice Starr's idea was to take the traditional template from the R&B genre and apply it to a pop genre. In the early 1990s in North America, with New Kids on the Block's continued success, boy bands became a continued staple of the Billboard charts. Continuing this success in the mid-1990s, the most prominent boy bands were African American and had R&B and gospel elements, such as the groups All-4-One and Boyz II Men. Although they had success on the Billboard charts, they were not marketed towards youth but more towards adults. It was not until 1997 and the change to pop-oriented groups such as Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and Hanson that boy bands exploded commercially among youngsters and dominated the market in the United States. This late 1990s marked the height of boy band popularity in North America, which hasn't been seen since.

Since 2001 and during the corresponding decade, the dominance of traditional boy bands on pop charts began to fade in the western hemisphere. They were still on the spotlight, being probably The Jonas Brothers the most popular among them. The three brothers, Kevin, Joe and Nick became a true mass phenomenon powered by the Disney factory. Due to the TV shows in which they appeared and the films they starred in, the Jonas Brothers became known throughout the world. Despite this, during the 2000s bands like Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, and Super Plan established themselves in the industry, and did not have any interest in being labeled as a boy band but as punk-pop/rock bands, a more insurgent format, far away from the boy band stereotype.

In the early 2010s, there was somewhat of a resurgence of boy bands' popularity in countries where the trend had not maintained, with the emergence of new boy bands like Big Time Rush, The Wanted, and One Direction, being this last one the most important one of the decade. The band was formed in 2010 when they teamed up on The X Factor, the show that propelled them to fame. Countless hits and sold-out stadiums have accompanied the five members in their professional careers as a group. This boy band demonstrated that this type of formation never goes out of style if they adapt to the opportune musical moment.

It is important to mention the rise of boy bands in Asia. In Southeast Asia, local boy bands also emerged as a result of the continued success of Korean and Japanese boy bands such as Super Junior, SHINee, Exo, and BTS. In 2013 Billboard started covering music releases in K-pop, though K-pop had been entering the charts as early as 2009, signifying the growth of the wave in America. By 2017, BTS crossed into the international music market, furthering the Korean Wave in the United States and becoming the first Korean group to receive a certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) with their single "Mic Drop". The band is also the first Korean act to top the U.S. Billboard 200 with their studio album Love Yourself: Tear. The music industry hasn’t experienced this fast escalation in years.

As far as I’m concerned, boy bands are a vital part of international music history. The opening and popularization of a determined genre is always a chance for underground bands to try to reach fame. Thankfully, boy bands are not going anywhere.

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