In 1990, when I was sixteen, I was at the supermarket when I saw the New Kids on the Block compared to the Beatles on the cover of People magazine. I distinctly remember saying “you’ve got to be f**king kidding me” loud enough for people in the checkout lines to hear.
Needless to say, I was not a fan of the New Kids. (Mind you, I wasn’t part of their target audience.) So why on earth did I read the group’s authorized biography? Well, I lived through the New Kids phenomenon, and the passage of time does make such things a little less painful. I’m even willing to concede that a few of their singles were pretty decent pop songs. (“Tonight” was probably their high-water mark.)
More importantly, I hoped Donnie, Jordan, Jon, Joe and Danny (God help me for now knowing all their names) would use this book to reveal some real dirt about what happened when they were the most popular group in the world. Despite their squeaky-clean image, you can’t tell me stuff worthy of The Dirt or Hammer of the Gods didn’t happen while they were constantly on the road from 1989 to 1991.
Alas, none of this made it into Nikki Van Noy’s New Kids on the Block: Five Brothers and a Million Sisters. This book might be directed at the New Kids’ now-adult fans, but there’s not much more substance here than in the Teen Beat magazine profiles they were reading back in the day.
The book does convincingly dispel one commonly accepted myth about the group: that producer Maurice Starr created them as a whiter, more “acceptable” version of his previous act, New Edition. In reality, Starr and CBS records inexplicably promoted New Kids on the Block to black radio stations, including an appearance at the Apollo Theater’s amateur night. The group’s first album stiffed, and the breakthrough Hangin’ Tough was doing little better until the ballad “Please Don’t Go Girl” caught on at Tampa’s Q105-FM, and quickly spread across the country. After then, the wild ride was on.
Van Noy made the interesting decision to feature commentary from die-hard New Kids fans (self-described “Blockheads”) throughout the book, and it does effectively convey just how insane New Kids mania got when Hangin’ Tough and Step by Step ruled the album charts. The portrayal of the group, unfortunately, is a whitewash.
An example: the New Kids started their first big tour as the opening act for Tiffany, and Jonathan Knight dated her for a while. As the group became more and more popular, the bill was flipped and Tiffany started opening for them. But Jonathan and Tiffany’s relationship, and the effect this must have had on them–a key focus of the E! True Hollywood Story episode about the New Kids–isn’t even mentioned in the book.
Jonathan Knight later admitted he’s gay–after being accidentially “outed” by Tiffany, if you can believe it–and the inner turmoil and confusion he must have felt as a teen idol must have been almost unbearable. That could also make some interesting material for the book, but there’s no sign of it here. (Knight’s sexuality, and his coming to terms with it, is dealt with in just a couple of pages.)
The New Kids’ fall was even quicker than their rise–by 1994, they were called “NKOTB” on the cover of their more “mature” album Face the Music, and split up shortly thereafter. Some members had moderately successful solo careers, branched into real estate and music producing, and Donnie Wahlberg followed his brother Mark into an impressive acting career. Rumours of a New Kids reunion kept coming up, but came to nothing–until 2007, when a new album and successful tour were launched.
Five Brothers and a Million Sisters actually spends at least as much time dealing with the group’s post-reunion tours and projects (including the “NKOTBSB” tour with the reunited Backstreet Boys, and even an annual cruise) as it does on their 1989-91 heyday. I’m glad to see the guys are still doing well, but this material just isn’t what I had in mind, and I think most readers would feel the same way.
I’m a sucker for books about the rock stardom and the music industry, and I really did start this one with an open mind. The adult New Kids seem like decent guys, and genuinely devoted to their longtime fans. But aside from a few interesting tidbits here and there, there’s nothing that anyone even moderately familiar with the group–not to mention dedicated New Kids fans–wouldn’t already know. My sixteen year-old self would have told me not to waste my time.Powered by Sidelines