Boy-bands have dominated mainstream music for the last 20 years, but have they changed and are they always going to be with us?
Boy-bands have been, and look to be, one of the leading factors in popular music. They make huge amounts of money and command huge numbers of fans around the world. Their songs are always incredibly catchy and their boyish good looks attract the women, and a few men. Both on and off stage, these boys are worshipped like deities, with fans queuing for hours just to glance upon the back of their heads, and pay hundreds of pounds to watch them perform. How have boy-bands evolved over time? As underground music has been increasingly encroaching the music scene, it is questionable whether boy-bands can hold their dominant position in mainstream music for much longer.
When did 'the boy band' become prominent? It could be argued that boy bands go back to the Barbershop quartets in the 40s and 50s, perhaps one of the earliest styles of boy band. Although, they didn’t have the same panache and heir of superiority, which boy-bands of today seem to possess.
Then there were acts like The Jackson 5 or the Osmonds. These groups established many conventions that boy-bands follow today, for instance, their music follows harmonies from soul music and catchy pop loops.
The Beatles though, can be seen as setting the precedent for boy-bands in terms of marketing to young girls, having a certain aesthetic appeal, and musical conventions. Their marketability was based on the idea that there was something for everyone in the band, whether it was the music, their personalities, or even sex appeal.
Fast forward to the 90s and you get what today can be considered a boy-band. This was the era of Boyz II men, Take That, Backstreet Boys and N Sync.
At the start of the 1990s Nigel Martin-Smith created 'Take That', who were very shortly followed by East 17, the edgier rival. Take That were the first band to completely dominate the charts and only one of their singles failed to reach number one before they split. The precedent had been set and Louis Walsh, in Ireland decided to create his own, and formed Boyzone. However, with the emergence of Britpop many of the ‘boy-bands’ lost out criticised for their music. Oasis and Blur now took centre stage. Although in the late 90s a few other bands did find fame, such as Five and Westlife. Despite differentiating themselves from the ‘boy-bands’ groups such as Oasis and Blur, were still to some extent Boy-bands. There was no real stand-out figure and in Blur the musicians have remained just as well known as Damon Albarn. In Oasis I guess this was helped by the fact there are two of them.
The US didn’t really catch on till a little later, Boyz II men did form in 1988, but it wasn’t until 1997 that groups such as Backstreet Boys, N Sync and Hanson exploded onto the world. The late 90s saw the height of boy-band success in North America that has not been seen since.
Shows such as the X-Factor and Pop-Idol are influential in the creation of many of these bands, who through managers such as Simon Cowell were put together to create what they though would be ‘dream-groups.’
The 2000s saw the rise of a new style of boy bands, seeing Britpop groups taking the the boy-band title. X-Factor helped the boy-band come-back as they helped form bands such as JLS and One Direction. The new world fame and power that these groups received was huge. The scent of fame and money again must have been enough to bring back groups such as Take That, Boyzone and Westlife, attempting to enter the spotlight once again. For now, it seems that the boy-band is safe and continue to emerge.
Are they safe though? Will the glorious light that shines from every orifice of One Direction continue to bathe in the glory of fame? I’m not so sure. Looking back at pretty much every single constructed boy-band ever they have failed and split-up. It is as if the record labels put a use-by date on them. A lot of them never knew each other and therefor tensions will eventually begin to mount. There will always be that stand-out star so, the others are surely going to get jealous. What then makes One Direction different? Harry Styles' flowing locks and his horrendous tattoo covered body could be the downfall of the group. The others seem pretty unified, but Harry has to try and be the rock star. They made the silly error of not finishing school and with a career that is more than likely going to fail, what will they do?
So if the constructed boy-band is doomed to failure, what else is there? Well boy-bands don’t have to be constructed. The Beetles were not, the Jackson 5 were not, and the Brit-pop bands like Oasis and Blur, although probably not calling themselves boy-bands, did last a long time. Maybe though in this era that seems more and more defined by electronic music there is going to be a new type of boy band.
Swedish House Mafia may have already become that group though. They are a collection of house DJs and have gained a huge success around the world. Disclosure is the young, British duo that could be Britain’s new ‘boy-band.’ And why not call them a boy-band, they are a band, and they are both boys, and at the moment their global fame is rapidly rising.
Boy-bands have been around for a long-time and I don’t really see them disappearing any time soon. However, perhaps the age of the constructed boy-band is over. It seems music is being more and more determined by dance-music and maybe then this is where boy-bands will evolve to. I am not sure this is a good-thing for underground dance-music at all, but perhaps there is no way of stopping it so might as well roll with it, and admit that you love boy-bands.
Words: Jim Roberts