Boy Bands have a peculiar way of defining a generation. Usually the scope of who enjoys them ranges from the typically imagined superfan consisting of tween girls to their younger siblings imitating the enthusiasm, and all the way up to teen girls and young women who are actually closer in age to the young men dancing and lip syncing to music that will surely be dated as it tries to capture the sounds of right now in a safe and marketable way. Each generation had “their” band of boys who they had to pick favorites from and beg their parents to purchase every piece of mass marketing that wise men were able to stamp with the faces of the young dudes before the ability to rake in the dough diminished and all the girls moved on to the next fad group, as always inevitably would happen.
For the children of the late sixties and seventies it was a series of young Motown groups, some manufactured and others a family affair like the arguably most famous early Boy Band: The Jackson 5. Other families like the Partridges would also follow and when the trend fizzled, as it always did, the torch would be picked up by another producer with dollar signs in their eyes, the template would be unearthed and dusted off to be used by the next round of groups that would follow:
The group would be anchored by one member who seemed to have the whole package. He was the one who could sing best, dance the best and who the most girls would gravitate to. Sometimes this might be the “cutest”, but that wasn’t too important as long this front man was on average the best all around with an emphasis on singing.
While later boy band crazes would feature binary groups that provided choices and ensured that no one group would reign supreme, the brief period of the late 80s into 1990 would be dominated by one group of young men dancing and singing their ways into the wallets of parents and into the beds of their young daughters (literally in the form of bed sheets and comforters): New Kids On The Block.
You see, this piece isn’t about boy bands or eras, but about the New Kids On The Block, specifically the video for “Step By Step”, the eponymous track from their 1990 album.
I’ve always likened this album to Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion albums, however crazy that may sound. Both records find young groups fresh off of monster albums and looking to prove that they could exceed their previous high marks and make a bazillion dollars in the process. The efforts to continue their cultural significance and for some reason prove that they deserved all the fame and fortunate economic situations showed an eclectic brew of styles reflecting a scattered mindset desperate to show off influences and how they were down with other seemingly foreign types of music. New Kids’ reggae colonial abomination’ “Stay With Me Baby” is Guns N’ Roses’s techno abomination “My World”.
Where Guns N’ Roses made one of my all-time favorite albums, Step By Step blatantly came across as the attempt that it was. Maybe not at the time to those who were fully infected by the cultural virus that boy bands spread like Ebola (TOPICAL), but in hindsight it is just a disaster. Whereas Use Your Illusion were a collective effort that showcased a diverse agglomeration that was most likely influenced by one man, Step By Step was more of the same as Hangin’ Tough, though muddied by a collection of individuals struggling to be more than the whole. Still primarily written by Maurice Starr, who also was the Svengali behind New Edition, Step By Step showed the cracks starting to form that would eventually lead to implosion.
It was as if each member was struggling to prove that they weren’t just a part of the whole and that the many pages of biography detailing all their likes and dislikes being sold to their fans were true and not just a giant marketing ploy to establish a variety of archetypes that ANY girl could latch onto. Perhaps, this was an attempt to further establish the mythology. I don’t know.
I know it makes complete sense that a bunch of young people facing the typical identity issues that young people go through, yet magnified by their fame, when combined with a marketing strategy that needed to capitalize on the perceived individuality of each member of the group would lead to something that looks so calculated. Exactly who is doing calculating is not entirely apparent (and I would imagine its probably both parties), but the results are pretty ridiculous.
Because, as I have already stated, this isn’t about Guns N Roses or Use your Illusion. This is about New Kids On The Block. More specifically, this is about “Step by Step: The Video .
Let’s break down the absurdity in the order that it appears:
Step 1: Danny Wood – “We Can Have lots of Fun.”
What does Danny Wood even do in this god damn group? Like really. He is the weirdest looking guy in the whole bunch and because of that he apparently works out all the time. If Joey Fatone had any drive to better himself he would be Danny Wood. So that is something I guess.
This video actually makes it clear how unimportant he is. He has almost no screen time aside from the group shots, and when they do show him he is pumping iron bro. Or wearing an animal print jacket or something equally grotesque. Girls who like Ronnie from the Jersey Shore probably loved this guy. I guess when you need five guys and some have to have deep voices to maintain the illusion that the group is legitimate it has to be someone, but did it have to be him?
Step 2: Donnie Wahlberg – “There’s so much we can do.”
Now Donnie is possibly the most important member, definitely top two at the least. He is THE founding member, sings the second most number of solos after Jordan and was wholly responsible in getting the group back together in the 2000s. But as the “Bad Boy” of the group, he always seemed torn between the success he was experiencing and proving that he wasn’t a teenybopper lameoid. Hence: hotel room arson cases.
Here we see this full force. He arrives on a motorcycle, and then politely nods to the security guard who lets him in. It’s okay to have manners when you are edgy after all. Then there is the Public Enemy shirt. Listen, I completely believe that the Wahlbergs were down with Public Enemy. I’ve heard “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The influences are plainly laid out for those with an ear for it. Plus, lest we forget, this wasn’t assemblage of Mousketeers like later boy bands. These guys were Hangin’ Tough in the mean streets of Boston before they were capturing the hearts of young girls and boys who were starting to realize things about themselves. But when you are doing choreographed dances on stairs in your Public Enemy shirt it is hard to think of you as anything more than a member of a group named New Kids On The Block. All the reminders end up having the opposite effect by reinforcing his place in culture (a place that would briefly change with a small but powerful role in The Sixth Sense, before becoming that increasingly more hokey actor who used to be in New Kids On The Block).
Plus it’s never badass to litter and waste food. I don’t care how ballin’ your lifestyle is. It as if he is trying to say “In my life this shit just grows on trees.” We know man, we know.
(I wonder how many Donnie fans found themselves super attracted to litterbug thugs when they grew up?)
Step 3: Jordan Knight “It’s just you and me.”
There is no denying that Jordan was the face and voice of the Kids. He was the one hitting those falsettos and selling the dances hard. In this video he even gets a solo dance that is the most 90s looking dance this side of the MC Hammer Criterion collection, hammer pants replaced by ever so classy Z Cavariccis.
If there was one New Kid that was going to transcend the shackles of the arrested development that is the perpetual youth of being a professional kid it was going to be him. And everyone could kind of tell.
Yet after the whole racket fell apart following the inability to rebrand as a more mature group known as NKOTB, there was no immediate push for a solo career. Not until the very creepy and very date rape-ish “Give it To You” took the tingle out of the nether region of his former fan base at least.
Let’s pause for a second here and take note of how the breakdown seems to be a pretty aggressive come on by five dudes and how Jordan’s line is that reminder of how there is no one else around except for the woman the singing is directed at and Jordan himself. It is pretty much Dennis’ “implication” from Its Always Sunny, but with four other dudes.
15 years after his band that had created what could be called a legitimate frenzy, there he was, appearing on a reality show with other has-beens, not even interesting enough to be the star. Even Nick Carter got his own show…sort of.
I like to imagine that the AJ Macleans, Nick Carters and Jordan Knights of the world sit around and talk about how “Justin Timberlake ain’t shit” and other things that make them feel better about tumbling from the public eye so quickly.
I know deep in my heart though that Jordan Knight prank calls JT on a regular basis.
Step 4: Joey McIntyre “I can give you more.”
More than who or exactly what…Joey doesn’t say. As long as it isn’t more twirling. Seriously. Joe may be the younger brother that nobody wanted (he replaced a member who was a friend of the other Kids but who became unfocused on the group after his father’s death, and there is no time to grieve in the world of pop music) but does he have to act like it? Half of the shots of him that aren’t group shots show him twirling and twirling like a little girl amazed at the way her dress moves. Except he is a teenager in a tuxedo jacket dancing in front of a wall enthralled by his own shadow. Even when he is not spinning, you get the feeling they all want him to bring it down several notches. Look at his reaction when the group is WAITING for a staged shot of Donnie “SOA” Wahlberg riding his badass motorcycle in to the theater. Rehearsal space? Soundstage? Seriously where is this taking place and what the fuck was supposed to be happening there? Was this all done on the same day as the photo shoots that produced all pictures that graced the oversized buttons that were so popular back then? But I digress.
His reaction to the motorcycle is to jump up and down like Cleveland Brown Junior before he got fat. I imagine he is saying “Yeahhhhhh boyyyyyyyy” like Flavor Flav because Donnie likes Public Enemy and Joey wants Donnie to like him. Guess what Joey? Nobody besides a bunch of lame ass girls who aren’t into the star, the bad boy, and who have realized that Danny is just an orangutan with muscles in a cheetah print tuxedo jacket like you.
It pains me to think that if Donnie hadn’t had the brief success as an actor, Joe McIntyre would have had the best post New Kids career. The world is horribly cruel place and nothing is fair.
Step 5: Jonathan Knight “The time as arrived.”
So far the lady who the song is being sung to has had plenty of warning: how much fun she can have, how much she can do, how alone she is, how much more she can get.
But now the time has arrived.
And it is completely understated by “the quiet one” of the group, Jonathan Knight.
Jonathan Knight might be the worst member of the group but at least he has a reason, suffering from a social anxiety that led him to sleep three years of his life away and actually walk off a stage just a year ago (after checking his phone mid song).
Still, he pulled in Tiffany, who was a prize back then, showing sensitive men of all ages that giant muscles won’t change your personality (Why would ANYONE like Danny Wood?)
Nothing stands out about Jon from this video because he is barely in it. Aside from being harassed by other guys for reading what appears to be script of some sort (that will help his issues guys!), and telling the girl that her chances to free herself have passed now that the time has arrived, he only appears in the group scenes. He literally melts into the background like the depressed cartoon people in those commercials for Abilify.
So there you go. The lesson here is that if you liked something from your past never revisit it; it will only make you sad and remind you of how lame you used to be. Everything looks like shit after enough time, and the only solution is to never ever look back.