By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. January 20, 2015
When I talk about boy bands, I’m talking specifically about the bubblegum pop genre. We are looking at the frosted tips, the heartfelt ballads, the cringe-worthy lyrics, the addictive tunes, and the incredible marketing mechanism that is boy bands.
When I was young
Around the time I was old enough to like girls, I was influenced by those that girls gushed over. Professional athletes, Nickelodeon teen sensations, and of course, “musicians.” How can I be more like Justin Timberlake and Kevin from the Backstreet Boys? That was the question that kept me up at night. Naturally, I reached high school before I found the answer and the ultimate quest was lost forever.
Boy bands shaped my life (significant is the wrong word) in significant ways. The fact that I once idolized them on television and purchased their cassette tapes says a lot about the power of mass media. Like Pokémon cards and Pogs, I fell for it; I had to keep up with the stupid Joneses. I was tricked.
Rounding out the end of my teen years, whenever a classic ‘90s boy band song came on someone else’s iPod, I’d cross my arms and protest, “Nope, this isn’t me anymore, this is not what I like now.” I was ashamed. The stigma of appreciating pop music for what it was made me self-conscious. But it remained a guilty pleasure.
Then I got a bit older. And set my iTunes on shuffle. Randomly, old favourites started to play. It was the same garbage but I had a different frame of mind. Like looking at old photographs and being embarrassed, but also seeing the importance of them. This was my history. I once found pleasure in this, and nobody should take it away from me.
Kids these days
Sometimes I find myself mocking the younger generation for new boy bands like One Direction. It sometimes hurts me viscerally just to think of them. I guess the problem with getting older is that I witness the mistakes I have made before repeated by someone else. I see the same delusion of grandeur in the eyes of young boys and girls watching the latest music video I had when watching “Bye Bye Bye” for the umpteenth time.
Still, times have changed significantly; the ‘90s boy band craze has diminished significantly. The bubblegum pop bubble has burst. Boy bands today are predominantly from the UK and other international markets. The selling value of boy bands has become a harder enterprise. After decades of satire and parody, boy bands have lost their trendiness. What replaced it? Solo artists.
Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas, and—why not—Bruno Mars show that it is now easier to promote a solo act than a group. Unless every member is playing an instrument, boy bands have no reason to be. To say that kids these days are dumb is untrue. Even they know that backup dancers and singers should not get the prestige of stardom. There is a lot of music today. It’s not easy being a Lance Bass or a—you know, Kevin from Backstreet Boys any more.
When I was young, boy bands started a movement, but the capitalist machine saturated the market. Kids these days are still being fed the same jumbled-up tunes, just with slightly different packaging.