At least, Duran Duran write their own music and play instruments. How do I defend a band like the Backstreet Boys, supergroup from the late 90s, who have sold over 130 million albums worldwide, were important enough to have Millennium as their album title in year 2000, and are fresh in recent memory to be still looked at with distaste by certain music lovers and critics? We’re talking about things greater than image or the perception of pop music as something kitsch. We’re talking about boybands, for Cher’s sake. The biggest one from the age of boybands overload.
Even some of the people who like them are either embarrassed of the fact, or profess an ironic appreciation for them. But, that period of music, the late 90s to early 2000s, is special because unlike other eras of popular music meant for teens, right from rock and roll bands in the 60s to teen-centred artists today, it was more focused on that age group than ever before. One boyband worked so, in the words of contemporary rapper Eminem, “Twenty million other…” emerged. All were accused of exploiting young girls’ raging hormones – offering young men with angelic faces, sometimes (but not always) singing skills, seamlessly choreographed dance routines, and a constant impression of the perfect teen boyfriend, with cheesy lyrics of undying love.
But, I’m only talking about the clones. The ones which stood out had something different. Backstreet Boys have (for they still release albums and go on tours) everything you need to make a perfect pop group: vocal ability, distinctive personalities, loads of charisma, and just the right amount of edge to imprint themselves in your psyche, whatever your gender or age group. It is impossible to sit still (rather, dance inside, in your heart, if not with your limbs) when watching their iconic video for “Backstreet’s Back”:
It is so effective, that the first recorded case of a non-human animal breaking into a spontaneous gig is that of a cockatoo, who had to move too, when listening to this infectious beat:
And yet, despite having all this going for them, some fans still fear disapproval at professing their appreciation (myself included) simply because teen pop of this era is not considered at par with the best of pop music. Perhaps, because there was a lot of it. Perhaps, because fans really lapped it up, and critics worried (and rightly so) about the future of pop music when what was mostly around was a manufactured, unabashed and uncomplicated, method of pop music making that had no seeming endurance, or intentions towards any serious musical achievement. An album with a lyric such as “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate…” can win the Album of the Year Grammy now, but not fifteen years ago.
It is sexism. And not just sexism towards female artists, which is prevalent even at a time when female artists dominate the charts, but sexism towards female fans. Female fans were accused of liking music that wasn’t real music, but only hormonally satisfactory. Because, male fans wanted to read poetry with Beyonce. And Mick Jagger, has always been Mick Jagger, because he takes too much sugar in his tea. As I have discussed in the blog post Of Fangirling, female fans are an intimidatingly large consumer group who are continually devalued. Women, both as consumers and performers, do not get the mainstream recognition to the extent which they deserve, nor do they find themselves represented in the critical literature on pop music.
This article suggests having more female critics of pop music. While that is highly desirable, I’d go one step further to ask from critics, male or female, to consider the female listener in their reviewing of albums and artists. They’re canon now in popular music and culture, but female fans made The Beatles happen. And countless other artists, beloved of both men and women, as countless, iconic images show. You can’t just dismiss it as a sex thing. Or an age thing. A “when I was young and stupid, with no taste” thing. If it meant something then, enough to make you spend hours listening to the same album, watching the same videos, then it is substantial enough to mean something, always.
What sexism do you see in pop music culture? Any particular favourite numbers by boybands?
Related Blog Posts: