Oh My God, We’re Back Again: Comparing Boy Bands Then and Now
The second coming of Radio Disney pop acts has come to a head with the rejuvenation of the boy band, a five-headed beast spawned in the fires of the ’90s with the us vs. them mentality of Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, as well as New Kids on the Block and the proto-boy band New Edition. Though the trend died in the mid- to late-2000s, two different acts — One Direction and The Wanted — burst onto the scene in 2011 with a renewed fanbase and a fresh crop of pouty, gorgeous faces. The comparisons were simple: one was Backstreet, the other ‘N Sync, and both were to incite the next boy band craze, with choices of allegiance tougher than Coke vs. Pepsi or Drake Bell vs. Josh Peck.
Now that’s it’s easier for new bands to find its footing and audience on social media, we take a look at the latest boy band update to find where their influences truly reside. Which group has the bad boy, a la AJ McLean? The rapping? The baby of the group? And which bands actually seem more like their own thing, defying callbacks to the past?
There’s certainly room for interpretation and there’s more boy (and girl!) groups out there the we omitted, but here are a few of the heavy hitters to start.
ONE DIRECTION IS… BACKSTREET BOYS
One Direction may seem like a freak combination of BSB and ‘N Sync, mixed with a little Dream Street, but the group’s closest cousin is the top-selling boy band of all time.
One of the primary distinctions between Backstreet and ‘N Sync during their prime was, quite simply, everybody in BSB got a piece of the pie. Admittedly, each had its figureheads (Justin Timberlake for ‘N Sync, a combo of either McLean, Carter or Littrell for BSB), but Timberlake and co.’s group didn’t exactly feature its secondary members much, if at all. Did Lance Bass even get a solo at all? Nope.
On the other hand, Backstreet’s members got their turns in the spotlight, with varying frequency. Kevin Richardson and Howie Dorough were often shunted off to the side, but at least they got some parts. In that way, BSB and 1D are kindred spirits; oftentimes, each singer gets a turn in a given single, which further defines each’s personality. Plus, though Harry Styles might arguably be the prevailing hero, the standing of most popular One Direction bandmate is ever-changing, something that falls more in line with BSB’s group-centric feel, rather than ‘N Sync, which often felt like the Justin Show through and through.
Take a listen to the music, too. 1D might find its softer moments occasionally (see: the Ed Sheeran-penned “Little Things”), but its best-known tunes are upbeat, fun and have certain rock undertones. The same could be true of both BSB and ‘N Sync, but the former often took the title of those-about-to-alt-rock, especially with the loud arena rock of “Larger Than Life.” Where The Wanted specializes in tighter, dancefloor pop, One Direction has an unabashedly fun side to the group, something you got with BSB’s first two albums especially.
Plus, if Nick Carter was 17 or 18 around this time, wouldn’t you expect him to be in 1D, too? They kind of seem like kindred spirits at the same age.