Ah, the ’90s. That special time when fully grown men who couldn’t sing or dance released cheesy pop tunes and drove teenage girls crazy. We take a look at the almost inexplicable rise of the ’90s boy band – and the ridiculous photos that will make you wonder why we ever found them so hot.
Cast your mind back to the ’90s. It was a strange era when teenage girls around the world lost their minds over boy bands with highly questionable musical abilities and seriously bad hairstyles.
Girls would plaster their bedroom walls with goofy posters of fully grown men in ridiculous poses and argue passionately over which boy band member was the cutest. And despite their matching sweaters, neon jumpsuits and weirdly themed photoshoots, the rise of the boy band in the ’90s was unstoppable.
Of course, all-male bands had been popular in the past. “Beatlemania” gripped the UK and then the world in the 1960s, when fans notoriously screamed and fainted at the sight of The Beatles. And The Jackson 5 had a similar effect on American teens.
But it was during the ’90s when boy bands really took off. And it was also when they became known for singing and dancing, rather than actually playing musical instruments.
Sure, it’s hard to see now why girls fell for groups of guys with spray tans prancing around in skin-tight pants. But to really understand the boy band phenomenon, we actually have to go back to the ’80s.
That’s when Boston-based New Kids on the Block got together and started making perky pop music. And women everywhere – and quite a few men – went wild.
Indeed, members Danny Wood, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre and brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight were hugely popular until well into the ’90s. Not only that, but they also influenced a ton of other boy bands in the making, too.
Arguably the most significant year in the evolution of the boy band, however, was 1993. That was when the Backstreet Boys formed and took hold of TV screens, bedroom walls and Sony Walkmans everywhere.
The Backstreet Boys became recognizable for their coordinated dance moves as well as their outfits — think overalls, ski pants, Hawaiian print shirts and a criminal overuse of denim. And that’s not to mention their random accessories, which included deeply unstylish fedoras and inexplicable goggles.
Of course, the Backstreet Boys were also famous for their brand of pop ballads – which even now we have to admit were pretty darn catchy. There was a period in the mid ’90s, in fact, when it felt like everyone was singing “Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)” into their hairbrushes.
But Nick, Kevin, A.J., Brian, and Howie weren’t kings of the boy bands for long. Because in 1995, quintet *NSYNC appeared and blew everyone away with their sugary sweet dance-pop.
And then, just when teenage girls thought nothing could top the Backstreet Boys’ bowl cuts, along came Justin Timberlake and his hysteria-inducing blond ringlets. Chris Kirkpatrick even had a braided ponytail – it was almost too much to handle.
And it wasn’t just in the U.S. that the boy band fad was taking hold of crazed young fans – Take That, with their topless posing and suggestive lyrics, went on to become the most successful boy band in British history. Plus – after a hiatus – they’re still around today.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, guys took inspiration from American bands to launch their own groups. The influence of these early groups, including H.O.T and Shinhwa, led to the current craze for K-pop.
However, towards the end of the decade that style forgot, some boy bands tried to emphasize the fact they could actually sing rather than just perform synchronized dance moves. 98 Degrees, who rose to fame around 1997, were among them.
And let’s not forget the scene-stealing trio of brothers that is Hanson. Not that many people can: after all, “MMMBop” has tortured generations of radio listeners ever since its release in 1997.
As the millennium approached, though, boy bands phased out the crazy matching outfits and got slightly better haircuts. And the formerly raucous photoshoots (tug of war with a pug, anyone?) got a bit more sensible.
The boy band phenomenon certainly continued into the noughties, with the likes of the Jonas Brothers sending fans into paroxysms of lust worldwide. Perhaps, though, they didn’t have quite the same crazed following as their ’90s counterparts.
Undoubtedly we’re seeing a bit of a resurgence in boy band popularity, with One Direction dazzling young female fans around the world. But people have argued that they don’t have anywhere near the same edgy appeal as ’90s groups.
So just why were the boy bands of the ’90s so insanely popular? It’s hard to tell, but one website has nevertheless come up with an intriguing theory. FiveThirtyEight’s Data Lab examined 1,290 boy band songs and found that the most used word was “you.” So perhaps young ’90s girls thought that the guys were literally singing direct to them. Swoon!