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But Why Boy Bands

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Friday, February 4, 2011

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a boy band enthusiast. I drooled over Justin Timberlake in *NSync. I tacked up posters of Nick Carter and the Backstreet Boys on my walls. I know the origin of the name BBMak. I watched every episode of Diddy’s first “Making the Band” and own both of O-Town’s CDs.

But as much as I love boy bands, I have always known they were a trend of the 90s. I was content listening to old CDs, feeling waves of nostalgia wash over me as I went back to the glory days of brightly-colored leggings, oversized sweatshirts and scrunchies. And because I have always seen them firmly in the 90s, the recent comebacks and reunions of these bands have taken me by surprise.

The comebacks and reunions themselves have not taken me by surprise; man has been making comebacks for thousands of years. Grover Cleveland, our 22nd and 24th president, overcame a defeat by Benjamin Harrison in his second bid for the presidency only to return and win his third campaign. In the realm of music, Eminem came back from his three-year musical hiatus in 2009, after many critics thought he retired from music, to release 2010’s highly acclaimed “Recovery.”

The marginal popularity of these comebacks surprised me. Children around the same age I was when I fell in love with BSB were unmoved by their music, preferring other artists. Instead, 20-somethings contributed the majority of ticket and CD sales. Call me naïve, but I did not understand how kids only 10 years our junior could so easily pass up the pinnacles of pop music from our youth. Could 10 years really make such a difference?

I realized the real question behind my surprise concerns the relevance of boy bands in today’s pop music culture. Or, as Derek Zoolander would eloquently put it, “why boy bands?” Can boy bands achieve the same popularity today that they did in the 90s? After much deliberation, I have arrived at the conclusion that boy bands simply do not fit into the current music scene, as much as it pains me to admit this.

I know some may immediately want to disagree with my conclusion, pointing to successes like BSB’s 2005 platinum album, “Never Gone.” Or you may possibly point to the success of Justin Timberlake, who exemplified our boy band generation and still does, to some extent. I would agree; these are stories of success. But they do not point to the relevancy of boy bands today.

Rather, the Billboard success of the Backstreet Boys results from nostalgia and a deep desire to return to the innocence of our childhood. To our generation, boy bands represent the carefree years when our biggest problem was being placed in timeout. In these times of uncertainty when we have no idea if there will be jobs for us upon graduation, the younger years appear perfect. There was no worry about the future, only concern for the present. And so we strive to regain that mindset through our music choices.

And Justin Timberlake’s phenomenal success perfectly represents the new pop music culture in which boy bands have no place. Solo stars completely dominate today’s pop music scene. Taylor Swift. Ke$ha. Lady Gaga. Taio Cruz. Beyoncé. The Jonas Brothers tried to bring back the boy band genre, but despite early success they have not succeeded. They tried to catch the attention of an audience unused to pop bands, only pop stars. I do not have the expertise to attempt to explain the causes of this shift away from bands, all I can do is observe its occurrence and try to postulate about it.

My best guess is the highly competitive nature of American society today, but it may be an oversimplification. Who knows, maybe in 10 or 20 years my kids will be enamored by some hot new boy band that has just launched onto the scene. I’m wearing leggings again (though thankfully not scrunchies), which I never thought I would ever do, so I won’t rule anything out.

It’s a scary thought that Britney Spears may have been right about something. Perhaps her career, solo since The Mickey Mouse Club, was an inspired act of genius, foreseeing the music industry of the future. Or maybe she was just lucky.


The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Observer. Mary Claire O’Donnell can be reached at [email protected]