Art by Stella Engel
In 2011, “What Makes You Beautiful,” by One Direction climbed to No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 music chart upon its release. The success of the single signified One Direction’s status as a rising pop artist and serves as a recent example of the reign of boy bands.
The term “boy band” originated in the 1980s but the idea of male singing groups has been around for decades, according to Billboard. Since then, groups like New Kids on the Block, *NSYNC and the Backstreet boys emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. Pepperdine students who grew up as fans of boy bands said they love the groups and desire to look into the evolution and phenomena of the bands.
“I feel like ever since I was little, I’ve just been drawn to music and boy bands,” junior Kaila Crouch said.
Settling on a true definition for boy bands is its own challenge. In a 2014 NPR segment, host Jason King said that he defines them as an all-male vocal group whose songs are typically written for them — and they don’t play instruments.
“I do think that there’s a difference between a boy band and a band of boys,” junior Caroline Pennington said.”They’re [boy bands] usually not playing instruments. They’re more out there for a show. And I feel like, a majority of the time, you find that they don’t write their own songs — they’re more constructed by the music industry.”
The Beatles, who gained popularity in the 1960s, stand out in the boy band evolution King said. Although they played their own instruments, King said their style can be seen as a template for modern-day boy bands.
The Beatles’ fanbase revolutionized audience craze over musical groups. The band created a cultural reaction, known as “Beatlemania,” of overwhelmingly ecstatic female fans both in the UK and the United States, according to History.com.
The fans would scream and faint at concerts as a result of their adoration for the Beatles and their music, according to the Museum of Youth Culture. This shift in fan behavior served as a gateway for other groups and boy bands to receive similar attention from their fans.
Following the era of the Beatles and proceeding groups, Pennington said the 1990s is an important decade for boy band history.
“There were some groups after in the 60s and 70s, but I think there was a resurgence in like the 90s,” Pennington said. “You think of Backstreet Boys and MTV, televising and all that kind of stuff.”
As the Backstreet Boys’ popularity trickled into the new millennium, more bands, such as the Jonas Brothers and One Direction, paved the way for the continued resurgence of boy bands, according to research by Tamia Braggs in 2019.Thus, the 2000s ushered in a whole new wave of boy bands Pennington, Crouch and sophomore Allison Johnson said they remember from their childhood.
“One Direction is definitely my favorite, but I also love the Jonas Brothers,” Crouch said. “I grew up listening to their music, even watching Camp Rock and their show on Disney Channel as well. I just grew up in that era, and I love them now.”
The majority of a boy band’s fanbase is comprised of young females according to Vice. Young females are drawn to boy bands for several reasons Hubpages writer Michelle Liu said. These include mob mentality, overexposure to the music on the radio, addicting catchy music and teenage hormones. Johnson said she remembers becoming a boy band fan around fifth grade.
“Through puberty, you start to have crushes on boys, and then you’re interested in boyband bands and stuff like that,” Johnson said.
In these bands, PennLive wrote it is common for the boys to adhere to specific archetypes to compose a distinct but lovable group of singers. The band and television show Big Time Rush serves as an example, according to Tulane Magazine. The audience meets Logan, the smart one, James, the pretty one, Carlos, the funny one and Kendall — the glue of the group.
“You put young, attractive men all in a band together and the different archetypes are like, ‘Oh, he’s a bad boy. He’s the flirt,'” Pennington said. “So every girl has a guy that she can choose and be like, ‘Oh, he’s the one.’ That’s so easy to market.”
The excitement surrounding boy bands made them especially successful in their concerts and tours, according to Vivid Seats. Irish Mirror wrote One Direction made $282 million in ticket sales during their “On the Road Again” tour for their fourth studio album, Four. Crouch said she attended a concert during this tour as well as Five Seconds of Summer concerts.
“You can just feel all the energy, and it’s really fun because you’re with a bunch of people who feel passionate about those bands as well,” Crouch said. “It’s a really good time.”
On an international level K-pop boy band, BTS remains one of the biggest groups after their 2013 debut album according to Grammy.com. Four of BTS’s albums landed on the charts faster than any group since the Beatles and have broken 25 Guinness World Records.
Today, the popularity of boy bands has decreased as solo pop artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift become more popular, according to The Irish Times. Pennington said with time, her music taste shifted — but she still has love for the boy bands that shaped her childhood.
“I just became more appreciative of what goes into music and the process of making music, and I think boy bands are a little outside of that circle,” Pennington said.” But, I still think it’s fun, and I’ll still listen to One Direction every now and then.”
Despite the rising lack of interest in boy bands, groups such as the Jonas Brothers, Big Time Rush and even the Backstreet Boys recently made a comeback, according to PlanetRadio. Students said, as dedicated fans, they still follow the careers of their favorite boy band members. Johnson said she still listens to Harry Styles, the most successful solo artist to come from One Direction.
“I was a huge One Direction girl all of middle school — I went to a concert,” Johnson said. “I still love Harry Styles to this day.”
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