Boy Bands

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Boy Bands
Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

They say Frank Sinatra was the first ‘teen idol’ (although history tells us Franz Liszt, the 19th-century piano composer drove women to hysterics). Elvis had the same effect and then in the early 60’s Beatlemania. Swooning, screaming, crying, hiding in hotel cleaners cupboards, climbing through windows and fighting police officers, for decades, young women have done all of the above and more, in pursuit of their teen heartthrobs.

When The Beatles arrived in Australia in June 1964, on their first world tour they were greeted by absolute mania. For the journey from Sydney airport to their hotel, The Beatles were placed in an open-topped milk truck to wave at the thousands of fans who lined the streets. Nearing the Sheridan Hotel in the centre of Sydney, a woman ran alongside the truck and threw her six-year-old mentally handicapped child into the arms of Paul McCartney. The driver, having seen the event, slowed down, enabling Paul to hand back the child to its mother, who was still running behind. “He’s better! Oh he’s better!”, sobbed the woman, whose child had been touched by a Beatle.

Scenes like this continued; when they arrived in Melbourne over 20,000 fans lined the route from the airport to the hotel, army and navy units were brought in to help control the crowds, cars were crushed, hundreds of girls fainted and over 50 people were admitted to hospital with broken bones. Their first shows were in Adelaide, and the reception they got there remains the high-water mark of Beatlemania anywhere in the world. Over 300,000 fans turned out to see the band drive in a motorcade from the airport into the city, while tens of thousands more were at the Town Hall for a brief glimpse at a civic reception.

Record companies and managers have since strived to create a bunch of handsome all-singing and all-dancing pop groups with terrific hair in the hope they might claim the hearts of teenage girls. Fantasising about a celebrity from a distance is a perfectly delightful way to explore your sexuality. That’s just one of the reasons we scream.

Sociology professor Michelle Jennings told the Washington Post that fan screams are “the embodiment simultaneously of collective identity and individuality. So if you’re chanting with fellow fans at a soccer game or booing a politician or yelling amen at a church service, you’re using your body and your voice to show that you’re part of a larger group with a common identity.”

By the mid 60’s the concept of boy bands evolved. The Monkees, initially created for a television show, became a manufactured yet immensely popular boy band. The Jackson 5, fronted by a young Michael Jackson and energetic performances captivated audiences, making them a global sensation. The Jackson 5 not only appealed to teens but also crossed racial boundaries, becoming a pivotal force in the diversification of popular music.

The Monkees

The American pop rock band formed in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, originally a fictional band created for the NBC television sitcom of the same name which aired from 1966 to 1968. A pop group specifically created for a television show. The Beatles‘ films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! inspired filmmaker Bob Rafelson and producer Bert Schneider to create a TV show. Micky, Mike, Peter, and Davy were four young men in mid-1960s LA, members of a struggling country-folk-rock band looking for their big break. John Lennon likened The Monkees to the Marx Brothers, and it’s not hard to see why. The show caught the mood of the time; it was colourful, daft fun, just what the world needed as the Vietnam war raged. The Monkees’ first single, “Last Train to Clarksville” was released in August 1966, just weeks before the TV broadcast debut. In conjunction with the first broadcast of the television show on September 12, 1966, the record label had a major hit on their hands. The single topped the Billboard Hot 100 and The Monkees’ debut album, The Monkees spent 13 weeks at No. 1 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 78 weeks. The Monkees pioneered the music video format and paved the way for every boy band that followed. The show was a stylistically ambitious show, with a distinctive visual style and an absurdist sense of humour.

The Osmonds

The American family group from Ogden, Utah started as a barbershop quartet and then reached the height of their fame in the early to mid-1970s. With their clean-cut image and pop-rock sound, the Osmonds were known to millions in the US from their appearances on The Andy Williams TV Show. “One Bad Apple” released as a single in late 1970 hit the top of the chart on February 13, 1971 and stayed there for five weeks. The following year “Crazy Horses” was top 5 in the UK and the Osmonds had broken through in the UK. Counting group and solo recordings, members of the Osmond family charted 13 singles on the UK charts in 1973. Some observers coined a new word, “Osmondmania”, to describe the phenomenon. The group also had their Saturday-morning cartoon series in 1972 and 1973 on ABC-TV.

Bay City Rollers

In the early 70’s The Rollers were enormously successful in the UK. They played in front of thousands of adoring, tartan-clad fans and twice reached number one in the singles chart. They had their own 20-week UK television series, Shang-a-Lang. The Scottish teen sensations turned the world tartan. Music mogul Clive Davis of Arista Records picked “Saturday Night” as their first single in the US, and on 20 September 1975, the Rollers performed at London Weekend Television and were beamed by satellite into the homes of 30 million unsuspecting Americans. The song climbed to the top of the US Billboard chart selling 12 million copies. With 12 UK top 40 hit singles, and two UK No.1 albums, they were also extremely popular in Australia scoring seven top 10 singles.

New Kids on the Block

The late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed the resurgence of the boy band phenomenon, with New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) taking centre stage. The group was signed to Columbia’s black music division and originally marketed to black audiences. With brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, and Danny Wood, the group formed in Dorchester, Massachusetts, during the 1980s. New Kids On The Block, have sold more than 80 million records worldwide. Originally, the group was called Nynuk (pronounced “na-nook”). Columbia Records demanded record producer Maurice Starr change the name of the group. Subsequently, they settled on New Kids on the Block, after a rap song that Donnie Wahlberg had written and arranged for their first album.

Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men’s crystalline harmonies marked them out as one of the finest proponents of soul-infused R&B in the early 90s, helping to take the genre to the mainstream at the time. Members Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Michael McCary represented some of the most naturally gifted vocalists of the decade, perfectly showcasing their romantic material. The group gained early acclaim with their song “Motownphilly” in 1991 but went on to become pop royalty with their anthems. Their 1992 single, “End of the Road” peaked atop the chart and set a then-record for spending 13 weeks at the position. Boyz II Men later broke this record twice more with the singles “I’ll Make Love to You” and “One Sweet Day” (with Mariah Carey) which, at 14 and 16 weeks respectively, set records for most weeks at number one.

Backstreet Boys

As the 1990s unfolded, the boy band landscape saw the emergence of groups like Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. In 1992, American talent manager (and scam artist) Lou Pearlman placed an ad in the Orlando Sentinel to compose a vocal group with a “New Kids on the Block” look with a “Boyz II Men Sound”. Pearlman held open casting calls and hundreds of young performers auditioned at his blimp hangar in Kissimmee, Florida. The Backstreet Boys performed their first show at SeaWorld Orlando on May 8, 1993 and then continued to perform in various venues during the summer 1993 including shopping malls and restaurants. In February 1994, Jeff Fenster and David Renzer from Zomba Music saw the group performing at a high school in Cleveland and signed them. In order to fight the boy band stereotype and the backlash from New Kids on the Block’s lip-sync scandal in the beginning, they would sing a cappella every chance they could get to prove they could sing. The Backstreet Boys released their debut single “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” in 1995, which peaked at number sixty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100. As of 2019, they have sold more than 130 million records worldwide, becoming the best-selling boy band of all time


Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club helped launch the careers of stars like Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling and Britney Spears in the 90s and also played a crucial role in the creation of *NSYNC. Cast member Justin Timberlake became the star member of the band who went on to become one of the biggest acts of their generation. A contemporary rival of the Backstreet Boys, the *NSYNC boys were teenage heartthrobs that were talented dancers and performers. Their album No Strings Attached — featuring “Bye Bye Bye”, “This I Promise You” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” sold over a million copies on the day of its release in 2000, which remained a record for over 15 years.

Take That

The brainchild of Manchester-based Nigel Martin-Smith, Take That had swept all before them during the mid-1990s, topping the singles charts eight times over a three-year-period. Take That’s back catalogue is packed with a rich variety of perfectly constructed pop songs and Gary Barlow’s songwriting remains as impressive as ever. Gary, Howard, Jason and Mark called a press conference confirming the fans’ worst fears and broke a million hearts confirming that they would be hanging up their microphones. The Samaritans and Childline set up special helplines to offer counselling to fans distressed by the split. After filming a 2005 Take That: For the Record about the group and releasing a new greatest hits album, a four-piece Take That without Robbie Williams officially announced a 2006 reunion tour around the UK, entitled The Ultimate Tour. Take That have continued to release records and tour.

One Direction

The X Factor has created some of the most successful groups of recent times (Little Mix and JLS) as well as some of the very worst (Same Difference and Jedward). However, One Direction are undoubtedly the biggest success story connected with the show. The group became a worldwide phenomenon after forming as contestants in 2010, going on to become a hugely successful global brand and selling more than 50 million records worldwide. Their cheeky personas, a consistently strong series of singles and indefatigable interaction with fans around the world made them the most popular group of recent times. Their hiatus in 2016 caused heartbreak among millions of fans around the world. One Direction were often subject to fan hysteria. The band’s Where We Are Tour, in support of Midnight Memories, was the highest-grossing concert tour in 2014, the highest-grossing tour by a vocal group in history, and the 15th highest-grossing concert tour of all time, grossing $290.2 million. Harry Styles is considered to be among the most successful solo artists who have emerged from a band.


BTS (Bangtan Boys), began performing in 2010. They are one of the most famous active boy bands in the world. They are larger than most boy bands, with seven members (Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook). BTS produces K-Pop, Korean pop music that incorporates traditional pop elements with hip-hop. Like their boy band predecessors, BTS includes elaborate dance routines in their performances and music videos. The group topped Billboard 100 and Global Billboard 200 with their single “Dynamite.” Since then, they’ve sold more than 30 million albums and were the worldwide top-selling musical act in 2021. On June 14, 2022, the group announced a scheduled pause in group activities to enable the members to complete their 18 months of mandatory South Korean military service, with a reunion planned for 2025.

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