Posted in Of Musicals

Of Boybands

Backstreet Boys: puppy love

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:

Of Music and Image

Of Fangirling


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

9 thoughts on “Of Boybands

  1. In high school I was a HUGE BSB fan. Let me emphasize, HUGE BSB fan. I was particularly fond of AJ and his rough voice and tattoos. I’d even gone so far as to make a video and submit it for a show on MTV (at the time) where if you were picked as a big enough fan, you got to meed said artist. On the other side of the coin I was also a huge fan of Nirvana, Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Tupac, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Lil’ Kim, Foxxy Brown, D’Angelo, and so on and so forth.

    Music was huge for me in high school, it’s how I expressed myself, it’s how I vented my feelings, and it was how I found an ability to cope and/or relate with life.

    But you’re right, there was always a tinge of embarrassment admitting that I liked BSB, let alone admitting how MUCH I liked them. I don’t listen to them anymore, but I can still say that I love their music. I absolutely felt like they had the upper hand over all of the boy bands out at the time – heck even today I’d say. Boy Bands may have been a dime a dozen, they may have always had the same ingredients, but there was something about BSB that made them shinier, more appealing, and obviously retain longevity.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. I don’t know why I grew out of them, or of boybands in general. I guess, it was life and changing musical directions, and though I wasn’t ashamed at the time, I did check myself from discussing boybands with ‘serious’ music lovers from college and so on. I came back to BSB last week when my friend here on WordPress, Tamara, reminded me of them. Since then, I’ve been enjoying them, assessing them through my adult ears and eyes, and I give them my full critical approval (not that they need it!). Sure, they were undeniably huge back in the day, bigger than many contemporary artists, and a number of their songs were instant classics. They were not just a dance band, or a vocal soul band, but could do it all, in their trademark way. There were other competent boybands too (I did like NSync!) but they were as good as it gets.

  2. I agree. Anything that predominately women like (or preteens) gets bashed horribly.

    I was too old for Twilight, but there are plenty of crappy books written for men with bad role models for relationships. You don’t hear people complaining about them, like it’s an elitist religion.

    It’s got a rather hipster feel to it. And I like it when people are enthusiastic about things they love. I’m not going to mock anyone.

  3. I think even the most curmudgeonly music fans can appreciate BSB’s I want it that way – if someone sings it at a Karaoke, I appreciate that they go for the high note towards the end!

  4. I know I’m late to the boy band party, but I’m here! I’m here! I’ve been house sitting for my aunt and uncle for the week and the wifi here is a bit sketchy. But, yay! A BSB blog post! I remember being into BSB before anyone else in my class even had them on their boy band radar 😀 And then one day all the popular girls in my class started to listen to them, squealing about how awesome they were. Hear in Canada we don’t have MTV, but rather MuchMusic, and back in the day (when they actually used to play music videos non-stop and not t.v. show garbage) I used to wait and wait for them to air a BSB music video so that I could record them on a VHS so that I could play the videos whenever I wanted! Ha ha! I was such a geeky fangirl, but I look back on those days with fond memories.

    1. So glad you came! You made this happen! I’ve been meaning to write an essay on music and sexism for a long time. Only wanted to use BSB as an example, but ended up making a case for them! Not that they need it. If the label of boy band didn’t go with them (man band? vocal harmony group with sense of humour and sex appeal?), they’d have amassed even more enduring critical and commercial appeal.

      I came into it rather late. It was peer pressure lol. EVERYBODY (pun intended) was listening to them. I think Millennium was already out, but the first one I watched was “As Long As You Love Me”. My favourite then was “Shape of My Heart”. ‘Now and then’ favourite would be “Drowning”. Love everything about that song, and Howie looks rather like Javier Bardem in the video!

      Did you have a favourite member? I was deeply in love with Nick Carter, as much as is possible for someone you can never meet. Even had his solo album!

      1. I was a huge Nick Carter fan! Which is odd, because I usually don’t go for blonds! Ha ha! But he was the youngest of the group. And tall. And, well, I like them tall. 😉

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