A. The Happy Early Days
Listening to boybands is a guilty pleasure. Some might say it is a pleasure, others might find it guilty, and the rest would say it is both. But whether we like it or not, the boyband has become a part of the music growth. While literally the term means some boys who are committed in a band, nowadays it refers to a clean-cut vocal group of boys singing pop or R&B and targeted mostly to younger audience. It is in fact not a band for they do not really play instruments.
The form has actually existed quite some time ago; if you remember Bee Gees or Jackson Five. New Kids on the Block which was found in 1984 nevertheless was the first major group which really belonged to this category. In fact, although the term itself was made popular far after this group split, the latter boybands adapted the form from them with their typical easy listening songs and choreography which can make the audience ever so often ignorant about the quality of their live singing.
I am certain we all know about the fact I have just mentioned. However, let us see this matter from different point of view. In any case, New Kids was absolutely harmless compared to the successors, such as Backstreet Boys, *NSync, or Blue. Unlike those which fairly seem to expose more sexuality, New Kids were more consistent about their choice in targeting adolescents. Their songs, which were written by themselves, were mostly quite clean. You could hardly find even a kiss on their videos. In worse case, no other boyband could top the Forbes magazine’s richest entertainers list. These kids from Boston did take the place from comedian Bill Cosby back in 1991.
Following the success, in early nineties, a counterpart was born in the UK. And that was when boybands changed their appearance in the name of Take That. These boys, including major song writer Gary Barlow and the infamous Robbie Williams, pictured boyband in a more mature way, whether it was in the musical sense or their performance. They still had the classic boyish look, but they covered it with more sensual choreographies. Gary Barlow did write several brilliant tracks though, including “Pray” and “Back for Good”. I don’t know if they were known in the US, but they surely were in Europe and Asia.
And so, the boyband era was begun. They emerged not only from the US and UK, but all over the world; from big names such as Boyzone, Backstreet Boys, *NSync, 98 Degrees, Blue and Westlife to Human Nature, Caught In The Act, 5ive, Worlds Apart, O-Town, Plus One. To put it into addition, there has been F4 fever all across Asia within the last two year.
B. The Conflicts Within
Of course, a boy band cannot last forever. When the boy grows up, the band is practically finished. As kids’ role models at that time, particularly for New Kids’ , maintaining clean image was important: no alcohol, no drugs, no smoking. It was not easy, at least for bad boy Donnie Wahlberg who was arrested on an arson charge after setting fire to a hotel carpet in Louisville, KY using a bottle of vodka. The issue was a major turning point for the kids, I think. When they put their last effort on Face the Music, shortened the name into NKOTB and sang some sexual song like “Let’s Play House” to change their image from teen idols to mature musicians, it was too late.
Take That then faced the same circumstances. Wahlberg’s role was over taken by Robbie Williams. The difference is that, unlike Wahlberg who stayed in the group until the fans left them, Williams chose to leave. It was followed by the group’s splitting up shortly after.
The next generation learned from their previous associates. Nowadays, boybands showed more sensuality as well as sexuality. Whether it is good or bad, it depends on their market. But considering that they sing for teenagers, who are under aged, I suppose it is not good. Yet we cannot deny that fans’ attitude has also changed. When earlier bad attitude was not tolerated, nowadays it is the opposite. The worse the idols act, the cooler they would be in the fans’ eyes. Robbie Williams’ nonstop unkind remarks on ex partner Gary Barlow had put him into outer atmosphere that even Take That could not reach, and left Barlow far behind. Several more incidents occured relating to those teen idols, such as when Backstreet Boy Nick Carter was arrested after an incident at a Florida Nightclub, or in the “Justin-Britney” case which would not be a good model for kids.
The good thing is maybe that fans are becoming more grown-up, and they worship their idols differently. It is an advantage for those boybands, since they can act more freely without being afraid that they might be losing some fans. In contrast, it can be a bad news for parents, since most of those folks cannot control themselves. Frankly, I would be a little bit worried if my 10 year old daughter were to fancy today’s boybands. I surely would not want her (when I will have one) to stumble across news about her idol being given an oral sex by a striptease dancer on his bachelor party while his fiancée was expecting a baby, like what Bryan McFadden did.
McFadden, who recently changed his name into Brian instead of Bryan, walked out on Westlife last year. It is no secret that boybands are not the most talented musicians. Usually you can find one outstanding figure in a band who sings most (and McFadden was not that one), but that is all. To be honest he used to be my favorite among those Irish lads, but his action of stepping out of the group and dissed it on his solo record was a sign of immaturity. It was simply another pattern of Robbie Williams’ case. He had taken the advantage from Westlife making him popular. After he could get nothing else, he had enough of it and thought that solo rock record would perhaps fit more into his personality: an attempt which was failed by ones like Mark Owen and Nick Carter. No doubt Williams is a success and there is nothing wrong if McFadden wanted to reach something better than he was holding.
Westlife, on the other hand, is possibly the biggest group left in the legacy, apart from the fact that I have met these guys twice over press conference before their concerts in Jakarta and I did not find them nice. Fifty percent of their songs are cover versions of other artists and the rest are written by other people. Yet, they can sing well (not dance though). By singing mostly ballads, the band is practically the representation of a pure boyband. They broke their own record on Guinness Book of Records by scoring six consecutive number 1 hits on the UK chart. We will still have to wait whether McFadden can make it alone, but honestly his first single “Real to Me” does not sound too. Decent may be the right word, but I would not use the term impressive.
Talking about loyalty to boyband world, Jordan Knight is a perfect example. Listen to his New Kinds on the Block: The Remix Album. I know some people would force me to get back to 2005 for suggesting this stuff. But as I say before, New Kids are harmless. It might sound a little awkward to hear a 35 year old man to sing: “Step by step, ooh baby you’re always on my mind, step by step ooh girl I really think it’s just a matter of time…” But hey, I think the new arrangement is not so bad. Download the free sample from here and I would like to hear what you think. In my opinion it is as good as the real version, if not even better.
C. The Folks: Now
When the boyband era was over in the new millennium, it left question to many girls, and probably some guys who were no longer able to criticize them. What could have happened to the ex boyband members? There were plenty of them; surely it could not leave them all jobless!
Well, most of them went on solo career; the ones such as Robbie Williams, Ronan Keating, Stephen Gately, Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, and Brian McFadden, although not all succeeded. Some focused on song writing, like Gary Barlow who is now collaborating with major British musicians. Acting seems to be an alternative for them also. Donnie Wahlberg tried his luck by playing a minor character on Bruce Willis’ Six Sense. Not as successful as kid brother Mark, he did gain some recognition for his performance as Lipton on Band of Brothers. Lance Bass of *NSync had also played in several movies. The ex-98 Degrees lead vocal, Nick Lachey keeps his place on spotlight (or even more?) after marrying the pop princess Jessica Simpson and have their reality show Newly Weds.
That was it. Many things had been going on within the world of boyband which looked rather grey than black or white. Unlike in fairy tale, the good did not always win and the bad were not always bad. Anyhow, the trend seems to be slowing down now, and unlikely to boom again soon. However, I hope when it go on again, they would watch out their attitude more carefully if they still targeted to young audience.