A History of Boy Bands in the U.S.: From Beatles to One Direction
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What makes a band a "boy band"? We know groups like 'NSync, Backstreet Boys, and One Direction are definitely boy bands.

But what makes them so unequivocally boy band-ish while groups like Blink-182, who also sing semi-pop-friendly songs (sometimes) and are comprised of boys, aren't technically "boy bands"? Is Blink-182 a boy band? Is Slipknot a boy band? Is Flight of the Conchords a boy band? According to the trusted source, Wikipedia:

Boy band - A boy band (or boy band) is loosely defined as a vocal group consisting of young male singers, usually in their teenage years or in their twenties at the time of formation. Being vocal groups, most boy band members do not play musical instruments, either in recording sessions or on stage, making the term somewhat of a misnomer. However, exceptions do exist. Most boy bands dance as well as sing, usually giving highly choreographed performances.

The truth is most "boy bands" do not like to be referred to as such. There's a stigma attached to being a "boy band" — that they really exist to be poked fun at, that they aren't making serious music, whatever.

Some argue that bands don't qualify as a "boy band" if they play their own instruments. But does that then make it so that Hanson and the Jonas Brothers aren't a boy band? I don't think so. To me, you know a band is a boy band just by looking at them. They're all boy bandy. (Quite frankly, I don't see anything wrong with boy bands.)

Fan, anti-boy band enthusiast, or just someone who accidentally ended up here: check out some boy band history below.

1900

That's right: the first instance of boy bands was in the early 20th century. It was then that barbershop quartets first emerged in popularity, when U.S. barbershops served as community centers where men gathered. Who knew men were actually the first boy band fans?

Sample boy bands: Haydn Quartet; Local barbershop quartets.

1920s

Capitalizing on the barbershop phenomenon, male vocal groups like The Mills Brothers began to emerge. The Mills Brothers, made up of four brothers, sang in their father's barbershop starting in the late 1920s.

Sample boy bands: The Mills Brothers; Local barbershop quartets.

1930s

As time went on, music sung by male vocal groups started to evolve. The Ink Spots, who became famous in the 1930s and 1940s, helped create a bridge between barbershop quartets and the rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, and doo-wop music that came later.

Sample boy bands: The Ink Spots; Delta Rhythm Boys.

1940s

Bands during this time furthered the work The Ink Spots did with their music. Ensembles here paved the way for the doo-wop and rock 'n' roll music to come.

Sample boy bands: Four Tunes; Four Vagabonds; Orioles; Mel-Tones.

1950s

Although the barbershop quartet phenomenon started to quiet in the 1920s, it was revived in the late 1940s/early 1950s with doo-wop music. These bands began to sing about love and other pop music themes, a pre-cursor to what boy bands in the '60s would capitalize on.

Sample boy bands: The Clovers; The Cleftones; Ames Brothers; Drifters; Du Droppers; Flamingos; Four Coins; Four Aces; Four Freshmen.

1960s

The 1960s certainly created the most iconic "boy bands," with The Beatles, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, and The Monkees. These larger-than-life groups helped pave the way for later boy bands and the 1990s/2000 boy band senstation. But they were huge successes in their own right, with The Jackson 5, The Osmonds, and The Monkees among the top 10 best-selling boy bands of all time.

Sample boy bands: The Beatles; The Jackson 5; The Temptations; The Foundations; Coasters; The Osmonds; The Monkees. (I kind of want to argue that the Beach Boys belong here, too, but I guess 'boy band' would be a term more fitting for their later music, like "Kokomo." I digress.)

1970s

The music industry was still riding high from the last decade's boy bands, but there was room for another — Menudo! The Puerto Rican was marketed to young Latina audiences.

Sample boy bands: Menudo.

1980s

This was the decade in which the term "boy band" first emerged — at least 80 years after the first boy bands actually existed. But New Edition is arguably the band that most contemporary bands were modeled after. In fact, the creator of New Kids on the Block is known for wanting to create a pop version of the R&B group New Edition. It worked.

Sample boy bands: New Edition; New Kids on the Block.

1990s

The early '90s were dominated by R&B groups like Boyz II Men and All-4-One, both of which experienced great success. But it was the mid-1990s when boy bands as we know them today started to emerge — squeaky clean, bubblegum pop, manufactured, and typically all white. First came Backstreet Boys, followed quickly by 'NSync, 98 Degrees, and others.

Sample boy bands: Boyz II Men; All-4-One; Backstreet Boys; 'NSync; 98 Degrees; Hanson; The Moffats; LFO; BBMak; Westlife.

2000s

The boy band craze was beginning to die down by this point, but that didn't stop boy band extraordinaire Lou Pearlman (who had created Backstreet Boys and 'NSync) to put together a last ditch effort to capitalize on the genre. Thus came the reality TV show "Making the Band" and the creation of O-Town. They were around for a few years until everyone decided, "Okay, enough with the boy bands!" At this point, "new" boy bands who sang songs that were less bubblegum pop emerged (think Good Charlotte, Simple Plan). In the late 2000s, boy bands were back with the JoBros.

Sample boy bands: O-Town; 2gether; Good Charlotte; Simple Plan; Jonas Brothers.

2010s

Here we are, still in the midst of boy band phenomenon. It's almost like it never went away, right? Lucky us! These days, One Direction is dominating the boy band scene — no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Other groups like Big Time Rush and The Wanted hold their own, too. Meanwhile, '90s boy bands (sometimes embarrassingly called "man bands" because people are weird) are back in full force!

Sample boy bands: One Direction; Big Time Rush; The Wanted.

What do you think? Are there some of these groups you'd nix the "boy band" label from?

Comments (1) -

Jett
Jett said...

The Wanted is actually not a popular band because their songs just repeat themselves and they copied the old boy band 'N Sync in their music video "Walks Like Rihanna". Therefore The Wanted is just a wannabe boy band trying to get attention.

March 25, 2014 at 9:18 AM Reply

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