Music at Large: BOY BANDS ARE BACK!

November 29, 2009

by

BSB | photo courtesy of wikimedia

BSB | photo courtesy of wikimedia

Just kidding. You may resume breathing.

In the course of the last twenty years or so, I have developed a fairly eclectic taste in music. From Coltrane and Coldplay to the depths of metal and hip hop experiments and independents, my library has grown substantially in size and scope. But before anything else, the genesis of my musical pilgrimage could only be marked by my discovery of the Backstreet Boys. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

You probably should listen to this while you read:

The likes of the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync may be proverbially sh*t upon by college students today, but in ‘96 ( if you graduated high school in 2007 that’s second grade!) the pop era was blasting  from radio frequencies and walkmans in full force. That was the year the Backstreet Boys’ first album hit the streets and elementary school playgrounds everywhere.

Perhaps the abrasive arrival of grunge a few years prior could be held responsible for this massive trend. Maybe it was the arrival of GI Joe or a democrat in the White House; maybe it was just an addiction to the Mickey Mouse Club. Whatever the case, echoes of the pop monolith are embedded deeply in today’s college youth culture and still very much apparent.

I think there’s a mechanism at play here. Those of us who were young enough to be entranced by the boy band craze are now the arbiters of American pop culture. We are calling the shots in mainstream entertainment, and there’s a lot of fallout from our earlier love affair with boy bands.

For one, Justin Timberlake is still very much in the public eye after all these years, although it does seem that he fell out of the limelight for a short time between ‘N Sync and becoming a regular on Saturday Night Live. Maybe he had to grow up a little to be taken seriously by a maturing audience. Maybe we needed to grow up a little bit, too, to gain the power to redirect the camera back to Timberlake’s new image.

Old 'N Sync promo photo, note Timberlake's curly mug

Old 'N Sync promo photo, note Timberlake's curly mug

Britney Spears’ career has gone through a similar progression, although her media resurrection has been more of a barrage of bad publicity and tabloids than commercial success. I think all of that Hollywood stuff is a  bunch of garbage, but it does raise an interesting social commentary that athe pop princess’ poor life choices made it on to CNN’s lineup alongside the War on Terror.

Take a good look at your friends. I’d wager 2 out of 5 people you know have a boy band song or album on his or her iPod. And that person is probably a girl. Even so, I’d guess 4 out of 5 BU males know most of the words to a few songs and could probably sing along (pending, perhaps, a few drinks).

And I know more than a few people who have picked loyalties – particularly between the Backstreet Boys and N’ Sync – and are willing to argue to the death the dominance of their favorite.

I’ll have to side with the BackstreetHeads on this. If ever “Quit Playin’ Games (With My Heart)” hits the speakers I feel a pretty strong wave of nostalgia smack my brain. Its probably just memory tied to the music that keeps me from changing the song. Those guys are really talented singers, but I feel like there’s just something off-putting about all of that mushy stuff.

Maybe those guys are just so completely white-bread that the whole thing has become a horrible caricature of itself. I definitely think that the eventual death of the boy band era had to do with some anxieties surrounding a changing society. Perhaps the boy band era was a necessary stepping-stone for hip hop to become as mainstream as it is now, sacrificing a generation of overzealous suburbanites for the good of music-kind.


This is the first installment of Music At Large, an attempt to best cover the expanse of the modern music scene by following author Kevin Beaty’s musical discoveries from elementary school onward. Stay tuned for future installments.