What goes around comes around. The universe is made of cycles. Lately pop music has been dominated by women — female solo artists like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift and Adele. But after a few years — a short hiatus — boy bands are back.
Rolling Stone reports that after topping charts in the UK and Ireland, The Wanted, "a quintet of hunky Irish-British dudes who sing romantic party music," have now made leaps and bounds on the American charts with their double-entendre single "Glad You Came."
The guys — Jay, Tom, Max, Nathan and Siva — have teen-dream-ready clean-cut ethnically ambiguous good looks and frighteningly perfect eyebrows. And that's what America can't get enough of right now, apparently.
Meanwhile, another British-Irish group, One Direction, will be taking their clear skin, floppy hair and tight trousers to the Today show next week, cementing their US invasion. (They're on tour with Big Time Rush, a California-based boy band with a Nickelodeon show.) One Direction — Liam, Louis, Niall, Harry and Zayn — all auditioned on the UK show X Factor in 2010, and formed a group at the suggestion of of Simon Cowell and guest judge Nicole Scherzinger. Smart move.
If you're as old as I am, you've lived through quite a few incarnations of the boy band. When I was in 5th grade, we had buttons on our jean jackets featuring Menudo and New Edition. Later, The Monkees were on Nick at Nite; and by high school, New Kids On The Block and Boyz II Men were making girls scream. But things really got crazy in the late '90s and early Aughts: Backstreet Boys. 98 Degrees. 'N Sync. Hanson. O-Town. I worked at a tween mag in 1999, and it seemed like there was, quite literally, a new boy band every single day. The music got slightly heavier — Simple Plan, Good Charlotte — but the formula remained the same: The heartthrob, the baby-faced one, the bad boy, the older one, the shy one. (See 2gether if you have any questions.) These days it seems at least one of these dudes is vaguely brown, just to keep things ethnically intriguing. The point is, as a male solo artist, if folks don't like you, it's a tough climb. But when you're a group, there's something for everyone, a pu-pu platter of options, and all kinds of different ways to obsess: Siva's favorite color is pink. Max loves Brokeback Mountain. Niall's hair is perfectly mussed. Zayn is, in the words of a fan, "omnomnomnom soooo edible!"
It's tough not to wonder why now? After a few years of ladies on top? Why the neutered, safe, sexually unthreatening mostly beardless floppy pups singing not even love songs but crush tunes? Maybe as we hurtle toward the apocalypse, we're longing for more pure, innocent, joyful times. Maybe in the age of raw, raunchy, sexually explicit tweets and iPhone hacks, something light and sweet feels like a pleasant change. Or maybe, to a younger generation, for whom the boy band thing is all new and fresh, it's as simple as a (paraphrased) Backstreet lyric: They want it that way.
On the Charts: How About the Return of Boy Bands! [Rolling Stone]