Boy bands: you love to hate them and hate to love them. From the endearing to the heartbreaking, from the breakups to the rebirths, boy bands have captured the hearts and minds of teens and adults alike in generation after generation. What is it that makes them so appealing? Is it the boyish charm, the painfully catchy choruses and danceable rhythms, or simply the undying need for popular music to be revamped every few years with some fresh voices over old tropes? Whatever it is about these rabble-rousing young bands, we can’t seem to get enough of them. I know what you’re thinking―I’m hip! Pop music sux! I’d never listen to some trash boy band! However, the definition of boy band is ever-changing, and I guarantee that you either love some of these bands below or, at the very least, you won’t be able to get their annoying lyrics out of your head (BACK STREET’S BACK, ALRIGHT!). For those of you thinking Damn, what about that girl power though?? Never fear, I’ll be putting out articles covering our favorite girl groups and the Queens of Pop soon (Kate Bush, I love you). Anyway, without further adieu, here are the boy bands that for better or worse have defined their times and will forever be cherished in popular culture.
That’s right, y’all, The Beatles were a god damn boy band, and you can’t change my mind about it. In fact, they’re the OG boy band. Well before The Beatles rose to musical mastery with the drug and emotion infused likes of Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, The Beatles [The White Album], and Abbey Road, Beatlemania had taken over the US and UK. Popular songs, like I Want to Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, and Can’t Buy Me Love, had teens all over the world wanting either to be like The Beatles or to be with them―seriously, folks even gleefully adopted that dopey mop top bowl-cut look . . . yikes. The list goes on and on, including my personal favorite pre-Rubber Soul Beatles’ cut, Twist and Shout, which my friends and I embarrassingly croon whenever we get our shot on stage during a good karaoke night. I could probably write about this band until my fingers fall off (I haven’t even discussed how they’re also the best and perhaps most influential band in human history, despite what “modern science” has to say), but, for the sake of us both, let’s move on.
Check out this playlist for some of the best jams from The Beatles’ early years.
The Jackson 5
Have you ever wanted to learn your ABC’s and feel wanted simultaneously? Same, and here’s the boy band that gave us that. The young Jackson 5, led by the eventual King of Pop, Michael Jackson (ohpe, sorry Jermaine), brought us hits like I Want You Back, ABC, and Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground). The Jackson 5 blessed us with a funky twist, simple, uplifting melodies, and, praise be, MJ’s falsetto. Unfortunately, The Jackson 5 lost its eclectic status slowly and surely, but in its prime the band gave us 16 top 40 hits and managed to create a sound that has lasted long enough to be played at frat parties to this day.
Check out this “best of” collection for a taste of what the 5 have to offer.
The Golden Age
Ahh, the 80’s. The decade of nostalgia and cringe-worthy fashion that we can’t seem to let go. New Kids on the Block, hailing from Boston, took the popular music scene by a storm of horrible 80’s music stereotypes: monotonous electronic drums, whispering to emphasize their need for you, and 5-blend cheesy lyrics. I don’t have much to say about this band, as I have a hard time getting through what is arguably their most popular track, Hangin’ Tough. NKOTB peaked in the early 90’s, laying the foundation for what would become the Golden Age of boy bands.
I dare you to make it through this whole NKOTB playlist. Good luck!
Boyz II Men, *NSYNC, and Backstreet Boys
The 90’s and early 2000’s were weird, but not in the fun 80’s way. Lawd, did they deliver on the boy band front, though. Boyz II Men is my personal favorite of the Golden Age crews. The band brought the smoothness of R&B and soul music to the boy band aesthetic. Mowtownphilly is undoubtedly a banger, and who could forget when they were at the top of the Top 100 for 16 weeks when they killed it on One Sweet Day with Mariah? One of their most famous songs, End of the Road, is unfortunately indicative of the band’s current state, but, hey, we’ll always love them.
Perhaps the best things to ever come out of Florida, *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys are probably the first bands that come to mind when you think of boy bands, and for good reason. This dynamic duo (I have no doubt that they colluded to reach mutual acclaim, which in my mind is proven by their 2011 post-peak tour together) graced the people with everything from softboi ballads to quintessential dance jams. Both bands reached worldwide success with their bro-y lyrics, whiny voices, and poppy instrumentation that could (and still can) get anyone shuffling. The list of hits is seemingly never-ending. BB melted hearts on I Want It That Way and As Long as You Love Me, and will forever get white people hype at parties with Everybody (Backstreet’s Back). *NSYNC’s discography goes just as deep and catchy, from the breakup classics Bye Bye Bye and Tearin’ up My Heart to the holiday classic Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. Most importantly, *NYSNC blessed us with Justin Timberlake, who launched his career from the group and has remained a pop and sex icon ever since.
It’s the Beginning of a New Age (No Disrespect to VU)
1D skyrocketed to fame in 2011, back when Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber were still dominating the pop charts (for me, a noted dark time in popular music). One Direction is the first band that I actively despised, as did many teenage boys at the time who couldn’t stand hearing 1D songs on the radio, but mostly just hated how badly they wanted Harry’s hair and how many of their female peers adored the band. I was still busy repping Nickleback and Lil Wayne in those days, so it goes without saying that I was being a little hypocritical in my disdain. Regardless of my opinion, One Direction rose to prominence due to the intimate atmosphere of its songs, the mom-approved, G-rated lyrics, and, yes, it helped that the members had beautiful boyish looks out the wazoo. Rising to fame concurrently with the rise of music streaming, One Direction quickly ascended to the top of the pop charts with songs like Story of My Life, Drag Me Down, and Perfect. Though I may always senselessly hate this band, it is without a doubt one of the most, if not the most, adored bands of the 2010’s.
Check out the *official* playlist of your favorite 1D jams.
BTS and Brockhampton
The way of the boy band has changed a lot since The Beatles and has changed considerably in recent years with the rise of K-Pop and self-proclaimed boy bands like Brockhampton (aka the #1 BOY BAND IN THE WORLD). A deep dive into K-Pop merits its own article, so, for now, I want to highlight the most popular boy band in the genre, BTS. Take the lushness that is common in Asian pop music, combine it with the punchiness of bass-driven electronic music, the occasional Latin rhythm, top it off with auto-tuned vocals reminiscent of American trap and pop music, and you have BTS. FAKE LOVE, DNA, and Blood Sweat & Tears emulate this sound painstakingly well. I’d be lying if I said was a fan, maybe I’m just scared of the band’s purported emotional resonance, sincerity, and army of fans.
Brockhampton, though. Wow. Talk about coming onto the scene and taking over. Founded in San Marcos, TX by hip-hop artist Kevin Abstract (previously best known for his 2016 project, American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story), Brockhampton took over the music scene in 2017, releasing 3 top-notch albums that collectively make up the Saturation trilogy. The first time I listened to Saturation, I was blown away. I’ve since seen them perform at two phenomenal shows at fairly small venues in Detroit, and was impressed by the rapid growth in the crowd’s numbers and rowdiness from the first show to the second. Now selling out large venues and performing on the festival circuit, Brockhampton is the most exciting thing happening in music. The boys bring the edginess of hip-hop in their lyricism and delivery, are backed by fantastic experimental production, and come through with insanely catchy hooks. Their cult of personality and penchant for great songwriting curated a following that carried the band’s 2018 album, Iridescence, to the top of the charts. If they’re a sign of the boy bands of tomorrow, count me in.
I highly recommend all of Brockhampton’s music, but these 31 songs are a good place to start (YES, all of them, trust me).
Get ‘Em while You Can
Through all their greatness, boy bands aren’t without faults, so enjoy ‘em while they’re hot. All of the bands above, excluding BTS and Brockhampton, either broke up or washed up eventually. Even Brockhampton, though, isn’t without its problems, as one of the founding members was booted from the group following allegations of sexual assault. Moral of the story: sing those catchy choruses loud and dance your ass off while you can because, before you know it, the next generation of lovable boy bands will be here to replace them.
The Osmonds, The Monkees, A1, Westside, 98 degrees, Jonas Brothers, Big Time Rush