The New Generation of Boy Bands

It’s time for teen girls to recycle their back issues of Bop magazine and pack away the posters of the Backstreet Boys, ‘NSYNC and O-Town that previously lined their bedroom walls. Gone are the matching, flashy jumpsuits; choreographed dance moves and harmless lyrics characteristic of the last generation of boy bands – say hello to the new age of “boy band”: vintage rock T-shirts, jet-black hair and pale-skinned singers.
They integrate an overabundance of profanities into everyday conversation, embrace collective non-conformity and pride themselves on being dysfunctional. They expertly apply pasty white foundation and black eyeliner, and have even managed to bring back the Mohawk.
They take on names like Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, My Chemical Romance, Sum 41, Dashboard Confessional and New Found Glory. You’ve heard them on the radio, seen their music videos and have unknowingly found yourself tapping your foot to one of their breakout singles – they’ve penetrated the music industry and are showing no signs of fading.
It was only a few short years ago that yesterday’s boy bands ruled all facets of pop culture. The innocuous serenades of four- and five-member ensembles proved as popular among teenyboppers as Phish is to dreadlock tie-dyers who spend their summers following the band’s tour from city to city. ‘NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, not to mention acronym-friendly B2K, O-Town and LFO, not only ruled the airwaves and consistently secured their position on the weekly Billboard Top 40, but also left teenage girls screaming and swooning at sold-out concert venues across the country. The mere thought of locking eyes with Justin Timberlake or Nick Carter’s sweat ricocheting a face in the crowd was enough to bring pre-pubescent schoolgirls one step closer to cardiac arrest.
It’s no wonder the music industry took advantage of what would have otherwise been an unprofitable portion of the market. It only made sense to market boy band personalities to hormone-crazed, soon-to-be-adolescents. Pre-teen girls could fixate on an unattainable “musician” with a Y-chromosome, sweet face, perfect teeth and the ability to “keep it real” by breaking it down with a few dance moves.
But times change. Beats become dated, choreographed dance moves become stale and teenyboppers who once pined for melodious boy-next-door groups mature. Former boy band aficionados denounce the cheesy song lyrics and vocal chord resonations of cookie-cutter groups that once topped the charts. It’s been years since any one of a multitude of pop group deities graced the presence of the “TRL” studio, appeared as a musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” or received any sort of publicity.
As ex-Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC enthusiasts quickly moved further from the sugary pop sounds of their youth and their boy band paraphernalia continued to depreciate in value, record labels were faced with no choice but to circumvent plummeting profits by introducing a new wave of bands intended to rouse record sales among an aging teen generation.
It doesn’t take a music industry tycoon or rock journalist for Rolling Stone to understand the logic behind the recent saturation of the airwaves by “edgy” pop-punk bands into mainstream music. As kids move into their teen years, they typically rebel against anything shoved down their throat, especially when it comes to music. Think back to your late middle school and early high school years; as you neared adolescence, you probably noticed that your parents condoned your listening to inoffensive pop-rock (I’ll openly admit that I purchased the Hanson album featuring the single “Mmmm Bop”). However, once I realized that my mom enjoyed the tune as much, if not more, than I did, I threw the CD in the trash and started listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Most teens do the same; they seek out freakier bands that fail to receive their parents’ seal of approval.
So it only makes sense that aging teen girls would eventually grow weary of cliché all-male pop posses and go off in search of edgier groups who claim to understand the drama and perils of adolescence. Hey, Simple Plan knows what it’s like “to be hurt, to be lost, to be left out in the dark.” What better way to entice rebelling teenage girls to buy records, than by marketing pop-punk, all-boy bands who boast rebellion, in a conformist sort of way, and have likely invested more money in Hot Topic than the retail chain’s primary stockholders?
However, not since the late-‘90s onslaught of sweet-voiced, kid-next-door ensembles have the rock gods deemed this pathetic attempt by bands to achieve “punk” status sacrilegious. You’ve heard of the seven deadly sins. In my opinion, production of crap punk-rock is the often overlooked, and commonly forgotten, eighth deadly sin. Needless to say, the majority of the pop-punk bands that have inundated the music market are guilty of this cardinal offense.
Not surprisingly, the Internet is chock full of blogs where die-hard pop-punk teens spew their thoughts about these bands being nothing short of musical geniuses. However, it’s obvious to most of us that the Good Charlottes, My Chemical Romances and Simple Plans of the music industry are far from musically innovative and certainly cannot have their share in category-holding legends such as The Ramones; The Clash and, to a lesser extent, Green Day.
These groups are simply recycled versions of the last generation of boy bands and they’re filling a niche in the music industry. It’s become cool to avoid what is conventional in music in search for something different, until of course, what’s “different” becomes conventional. But the formula is the same – there’s a guy in a band a girl can fixate on. Whether it’s former ‘NSYNC member Justin Timberlake, 98 Degrees heartthrob Nick Lachey or Good Charlotte brothers Benji and Joel – it’s always some baby face white guy in his late teens-early 20s.
It’s likely that the current alternative to last decade’s boy bands is here to stay. And the question remains, will the cycle of boy bands ever end?
In the words of Lou Pearlman, the evil marketing mind behind the Backstreet Boys, ‘NSYNC and O-Town (I’m sure he was sitting in a La-Z-Boy, stroking his malevolent cat when he made this statement), “I know exactly when boy bands will be over: When God stops making little girls.”

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Natural Disasters

It’s only a matter of time before Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones recruit a cavalcade of stars to churn out natural disaster-influenced prose, chocked-full of over-schmaltzy, digression-filled ramblings in wake of the massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean that galvanized sea surges, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of individuals residing throughout Eastern Asia.
[lighter] Now, the first overproduced ballad, instigated by R&B crooner Brian McKnight and P.O.D. vocalist Sonny Sandoval, will raise funds for the tsunami victims. The duo has enlisted the assistance of a handful of musicians in assembling the track, “Forever in Our Hearts.” (Godhead guitarist Mike Miller and Trapt’s Simon Ormandy will be accompanied by bassist Marty O’Brien of Disturbed, as well as drummers Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction and Josh Freese of A Perfect Circle.)
Kelly Downey, a recent MSU graduate and modern rock connoisseur at 89X radio in Detroit, said she’s fine with the tribute lineup. “That’s not so bad. They’re artists from well-known bands who are just trying to incorporate music and songs into our lives after a tragedy.”
However, there is one caveat to the all-star lineup of artists lending their musical expertise to the “Forever in Our Hearts” production. Surprise, surprise: a few less than talented individuals have been added to the list of vocalists, many of whom are ‘80s & ‘90s rock and movie stars who’s brief stint with stardom ended years ago.
Nuno Bettencourt, (true ‘90s-music devotees should remember the band Extreme for their sexually-charged love ballad “More Than Words” that gave thousands of hormone-crazed middle-schoolers the go-ahead to grope their crush for the first time at a dance), Ming Na (better known for her 1995 role on NBC’s E.R. as “Dr. Deb Chen”) and, prepare yourself for this one, Corey Feldman (you know, “Mouth” from The Goonies) will all lend their vocal chords for the tribute.
After revealing slated vocalists for the tune, Downey interjected. “I retract my previous statement.”
Leave it to musically-challenged rockers and washed-up movie stars to hitch a ride on the tribute song bandwagon, in one last attempt to snag a Grammy nomination or jumpstart their nose-diving careers. Not surprisingly, the music industry is the first called upon, and the most eager, to respond with shameless, over-publicized and artistically awful ballads when disaster strikes. The AIDS epidemic, African famine, September 11th, teen pregnancy rates, hell, even the death of former first lady Barbara Bush’s Springer spaniel, Millie – you name it, a tribute song has not only been written about it, but it’s also been picked up by a record label.
And it doesn’t stop at Hollywood icons and rock stars. There are thousands of weepy, lackluster lyricists who think that their stairway to musical stardom lies in a tribute song.
Actively avoiding T.V. and radio airwaves is the only conceivable way anyone could have missed the overabundance of tribute songs released throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and even today, slated to heal the wounds of the world. Characteristically, tribute songs are tunes that have been written and recorded over the course of a few days, featuring a star-studded cast that belts out a chorus filled with sappy and intermittent news clips intended to make a tear roll down the listener’s cheek. Of course, immediately following a tribute song’s release, a 2-disc CD/DVD including “rare footage” of the recording sessions featuring the project’s contributors diligently composing the ballad in a team effort is made available for purchase (for only $29.95!).
[weare] The 1984, British charity ballad “Do They Know It’s Christmas” instigated the onslaught of the all-star tribute song formula now rampant in the United States. The melody even won a 1985 Grammy award-winning song of the year “We Are the World.” (But, remember, a Grammy does not signify talent.) Orchestrated by Quincy Jones, and featuring the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Bette Midler and Michael Jackson, “We Are the World” was released to generate funds for famine in Africa. While the notorious charity song raised millions for hunger and even snagged academy accolades, the reality is that this and the majority of charity songs are devoid of artistic merit.
It’s not uncommon for talented musicians featured on a charity track to voice their opposition to the flat, artistically awful lyrics they are asked to chant, and some fear that collaborating on a charity song will compromise their credibility.
Think about it: as a musician asked to sing the lyrics for psychic-advocate Dionne Warwick’s ‘80s tribute ballad, “That’s What Friends Are For,” you will inevitably be making an appearance on any one of the multitude of the “we’re rich and famous, but we care” ballads, bobbing your head to the tune with their eyes closed as you hold onto the side of a gigantic pair of headphones to make it all look real, while standing next to former child star, Dustin Diamond (aka “Screech” from Saved By the Bell). At this point, you would probably question the song’s generic sentimentality.
“For good times, for bad times/
I’ll be on your side forever more/
That’s what friends are for…”
Wow – that’s, um…uh…very enlightening.
But tragedy after tragedy, these musicians keep the songs coming. Even more sadly, the public devours and digests the over-processed tripe fed to them: we stand 20 minutes in line at Best Buy to purchase the new release, along with the digitally re-mastered subsequent re-releases, only to have them collect an inch of dust three weeks later. Why? Because, we fear the wrath of the music industry who urges us to contribute in the name of charity.
The question here is not whether the tribute songs are a blatant self-promotion of the music and movie industries—this is quite evident—but rather if these tributes should be received by the public simply because they have been released for a “good cause.”
I see no problem with artists establishing charities intended to collects funds from individuals interested in contributing. Take for example Linkin’ Park’s response to the recent tsunami. Instead of joining the masses and re-releasing a less-than-heartfelt rendition of “We Are the World” with the potential to generate millions, the band set up the Music Relief Fund that funnels donations contributed by fans to the Red Cross. The band is making a difference by resisting the urge to contribute yet another tribute song that will share the headlines of yesterday’s news with the Ugg Boot craze.
And I’m not implying that tribute songs can’t peacefully exist within the music industry and be played across the airwaves. And I know there are musicians gifted enough to dedicate an emotive tribute song exuding passion and dignity– hello, John Lennon (“Imagine”) and Bob Marley (“The Redemption Song”) did it.
I only ask that artists refrain from generating less than poignant songs lacking artistic vision with out-of-the-frame stars. Please, haven’t the victims suffered enough?

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