We Miss the 90s: Boy Bands

The Backstreet Boys blazed the trail for the Boy Band resurgence (courtesy ryanseacrest.com)

The Backstreet Boys blazed the trail for the Boy Band resurgence (courtesy ryanseacrest.com)

In this regular column, Justin Rozzero and Jen Engle exchange emails reminiscing about the greatest decade in history: the 1990s. Justin & Jen have been friends since 1997 and have been trading emails and instant messages about 90s nostalgia since the day they met. Now, they take it public. If you have suggestions for future topics, please email us at the addresses below!

Jen: New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits, Chinese food makes me sick…

Justin, our next We Love the 90s topic is obviously 90s Boy Bands!

My first concert ever just happened to be New Kids, at the Providence Civic Center when I was in 5th grade. The whole family went and my dad even got a limo. It was during their prime, when their cartoon was out. I remember being so in awe when they put their cartoon images on a screen and then poof! There they were right on stage! The dancing! The special effects! It was great back then.

You were either an N’Sync fan or the Backstreet Boys were your thing. What were the most memorable boy bands for you? What kind of creep must Lou Pearlman be?

Justin: Ok Jen, great choice here.

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s guaranteed you to live in a New Kids World. The fact that I spent a lot of time with my female cousins ensured I would be sucked in even further.

I may or may not have taken part in the re-creation of the Step by Step video in front of a large number of family members at age 10.

Of the late 90s boy band editions, I always preferred Backstreet Boys, even though I am a huge Justin Timberlake fan. I just thought BSB’s songs had more staying power and they generally seemed to be in the pole position when it came to air play and coverage. I never cared much for 98 Degrees, they always seemed to be third in the power rankings to me.

Jen, did you ever own the NKOTB Christmas Album? I swear we played the shit out of that from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

I am bringing in Ben Morse here too because he is a boy band junkie. Ben, rank the groups and share your NKOTB embarrassing moment with us.

Also, for both of you, who was your favorite New Kid?

STEP ONE!

Ben: I am an unabashed boy band junkie, no shame. I dig fun music that I can memorize and dance moves that essentially just pantomime the words, what can I say.

I was born in 1982, so I was a bit young when NKOTB was in their full glory. My most vivid New Kids memories were that my cousin Julie, who’s six or seven years older than me, was crazy into them and my dad always gave her a hard time about it. All my cousins and I would go to my grandparents’ place in New Hampshire most summers and she would blast New Kids. I definitely dug The Right Stuff–which Wikipedia just told me was actually officially titled You Got It, go figure–but I was a seven year old boy, so I wasn’t going to let anybody know that.

Once I got a little older and realized NKOTB was from Boston like me I thought they were way cooler–well, they’re legit from Boston, I’m from the suburbs, so even the New Kids probably would beat the crap out of me for saying that. I liked Donnie just because he was Marky Mark’s brother, but I think Joey was actually my favorite.

Boy bands came back into my life around 2000 when I was a camp counselor and four of my buddies and I decided we’d form our own by lip syncing to Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, buying matching outfits at the Salvation Army nearby and coming up with badly coordinated dances. I’ll look for a pic to attach to the next e-mail and maybe get into some embarrassing/awesome stories.

Rankings-wise, yeah, it was a two horse race between BSB and ‘N Sync. I’m with you, Justin; I always thought 98 Degrees was bush league. Tough call on which group was number one. The Backstreet Boys were better across the board whereas ‘N Sync was basically Justin Timberlake and four other guys, although I maintain J.C. was way underrated. I wore out a No Strings Attached CD, but I’ve still got Millennium in my car to this day. So yeah, BSB gets the narrow nod.

You know what song doesn’t get nearly enough love? Spanish Eyes off Millennium. I always kind of wanted to date a Spanish girl just so that could be “our” song. It never happened; but I got my wife to agree to When I See You Smile by Bad English for the first dance at our wedding so it all worked out.

Any hidden gems for you guys?

Jen: I was a big fan of Joey, he was the youngest, closest to my age and damn, that New Kid could sing (according to my 11 year-old self anyway). I definitely owned the NKOTB Christmas Album. I owned a lot of NKOTB gear, so much that it’s a little bit embarrassing now. Around 6th grade I was starting to get over them and into better music. As a big as a fan as I was, I still prefer the boy bands of the late 90s, BSB and N’Sync over NKOTB. I’m going to have to choose N’Sync in the battle between them and Backstreet Boys. I have always been a big JT fan, but I do agree JC was totally underrated. And not to mention I used to watch the two of them on The New Mickey Mouse Club once upon a time.  Yes, a lot of their songs were pretty corny, but you can’t deny what a great song Girlfriend is. I wouldn’t really call it a hidden gem, but they really showcased JT on that track and they kicked it up a notch and added in Nelly! I have Millennium but I Want It That Way was definitely my favorite song off that album, I don’t really remember Spanish Eyes (I did just listen to it, not bad!).I don’t think that 98 degrees was ever up to their caliber, but out of all of the other random boy bands to pop up back then they had the most promise. I only know the few hits that they had, but I Do probably stands out the most. They were a little more soulful with slower music, BSB and N’Sync always got you up dancing. Alright…how about your favorite small-time boy bands? There was 5ive (When the Lights Go Out), LFO (Summer Girls), All 4 One (I Swear), Take That (Back For Good) and even a band put together on a TV show by Puff Daddy – O-Town (Liquid Dreams).And although I know Justin doesn’t remember them, MTV put together the super group…2gether. U + Me = Us (Calculus) has been in my head all day. It’s a terrible, awful song but Chris Farley’s brother was in this group!

Ben: I totally remember 2gether! Their first TV special came out my senior year of high school and the girl I was dating and her friends wanted to watch it, so I did too. Now that I think about it, that may have been the genesis of when I started liking boy bands…or at least some assurance that I could proclaim so publicly and still have a girlfriend.

I had their album; it was a lot of fun. I think I stopped listening to it when the youngest one who had the plot of being terminally ill on the show died because he was actually terminally ill in real life. In retrospect, it’s not that big a deal, but I think at the time I felt like it was exploitative.

All those other groups you mentioned…yeah, they each had at least one good song, but what separated them from the big guns were that the true boy bands had whole CDs you could listen to all the way through and not skip over tracks. I liked Summer Girls and I Swear, but did those groups do anything else?

Justin: I can’t believe you dug through the Salvation Army clothes rack to make boy band outfits! Pictures are a must, Morse.

Can’t say I had any hidden favorites, I was more of a hits guy when it came to boy bands.

My favorite NKOTB was Jon… I always felt bad that he got zero coverage and was always fifth wheel. The forgotten New Kid that nobody seemed to like. I guess those were the early days of me rooting for the guy everyone shit on because of guilt.

98 Degrees definitely had promise but they came out at a tough time because BSB and NSYNC were just ginormous. That said, I think 98D still did pretty damn well all things considered. This girl that was friends with my college girlfriend was a 98D freak, paraphernalia everywhere in her dorm.

I agree with Ben in that the smaller boy bands didn’t have as many consistent hits as the big groups. Most of them were one hit wonders. LFO had some promise but they never really got out of the shadow of Summer Girls.

We are forgetting one Boy Band in particular…a group that makes you go mmmmmmmmBOP! Hanson!!

My sister’s friend was obsessed with those little bastards. I mean, crazed. Just walls covered and Hanson everywhere. I was like…”they have one song, what else do you listen to?” And she would work to convince me that their whole catalogue was just as good as mmmBop.

So, thoughts on Hanson? Did you know anyone that was crazy over the top on any of the bands?

What are your boy band power rankings as far as influence on the genre?

STEP TWO

Ben: We were out in the middle of nowhere in Western Massachusetts and worked at a summer camp; the Salvation Army was our go-to place any time we needed costumes for any activity, so this seemed to fit the bill (I’m the last one on the right in the light grey tank top and sky blue shorts).

It started as a gag when we were coming back from a day off and heard Bewitched on the radio (remember them?). For some reason that girl group made four pals of mine and myself think we needed to form a boy band–for the summer at least. We’d choreograph routines to BSB and ‘NSync songs and lip sync to them during camp events then run out the back of the dining hall. It was glorious.

Some female counselors dared us to go to an ‘NSync concert in Foxboro on a day off that summer and we had no problem taking them up on that. Let me assure you that a father driving his teen girls to a boy band show can see no more reassuring sight than four 20-year-old guys who haven’t shaved and are covered in dirt (our camp showers weren’t the best) honking at their car whenever they see an “‘NSync Rules” sign in the window and prompting their daughter to shriek.

Long story short, we had a great time–Pink opened!–then got caught in hardcore traffic leaving the Foxboro traffic lot. My friend Brian got a crazy gleam in his eye, and before I knew it, we were cranking the songs we had just heard at the show and jumping out in front of our car doing our terrible dances to the cheers of a makeshift half circle crowd of bored people also stuck in traffic. This gave me and one other guy enough puffed up bravado to go to New York City that fall and try out for MTV Say What Karaoke; they ran out of time before our audition, but the dude lining it up liked “our look,” took down our names and called us to be extras in the Mariah Carey movie Glitter, but I had a test the weekend they shot, and so my career as a teen idol ended.

I never gave Hanson much thought as a boy band, though I guess they are. They struck me more as a novelty act. mmmBop never even really ear-wormed me that badly. I can’t remember anybody I knew being that into them either.

Power rankings based on influence? Well, technically the Jackson Five or even the Beatles would be the original boy band, right? But as far as the modern age, NKOTB was the template. I think ‘NSync had more influence than Backstreet Boys, even if BSB may have been technically superior, because they set the precedent of needing just one or two front men if you could fit the others into background roles with quirks.