In the 90s, most young men had one pure, simple dream—to perfect synchronized dance moves and harmony with other young men so they could some day join a boy band. It was natural to assume, judging by the masses of screaming young girls that followed them around and the lavish lifestyles they flaunted, boy banding was the stuff of dreams.
Turns out, being in a boy band was mostly a bullshit, unholy experience. In an AMA for Reddit, Kevin Yee explained what it was like to be part of Youth Asylum, a 90s era boy band. I know right now you're probably saying "Kevin who?" or "What the hell is a Youth Asylum?" That's for good reason. While the group had plenty of hype and hair gel behind them, they managed to fail spectacularly in the music business. On Monday, Yee (now a stand up comedian) explained what it was like to almost make it as a boy bander in the 90s.
This isn't the first time we've heard ex-boy banders describe what a nightmare it was trying to ride the Tiger Beat gravy train. Just thinking back on the horror stories that teen boys endured working under creepy boy band hitmaker Lou Pearlman makes my skin crawl.
In what should come as absolutely no surprise, there was a pervasive homophobic element that surrounded the group. Yee, who is openly gay, said management put pressure on him to act less gay so that teenage girls wouldn't have their dreams shattered. They even taught him how to walk straight (oh, UGH).
My management guessed that I was gay pretty early on even though I wasn't out. One day they had a closed door meeting with the record execs and told me that I was coming off gay and that I had to change how I acted. They didn't care if I actually WAS gay, it was more how I was being perceived. We were marketed towards teenaged girls so there couldn't be a gay member. That's when they started to style me and control what I said and did. They used to teach me how to walk "straight" up and down the aisles of a grocery store. It was a very homophobic environment including the members of the group.
He said when the group went bust he came out to his family and friends, finally done with giving a shit what a bunch of record executives thought about the way he "acted."
When asked what kind of control he had over his image, Yee answered "absolutely none." Management executives controlled every aspect of how he appeared.
We were told how to talk, dress, act. I was pretty geeky when I started, but they bleached my hair, pierced my ears, and tanned me. Most of our clothes were forced on us by whatever designer was sponsoring us. Music wise we were never encouraged to write our own music since our manager did and made all of his money that way. We were also coached what to say on certain subjects if we were coming off too "(not sexy enough...etc)".
While you may not have ever heard of them, like most of the boy bands (even the smaller, less successful ones), they had their share of die hard groupies and fans. Yee said fans would travel from all over to bring them presents, aided by parents who "enabled" their batshit crazy fan obsessions.
Most were very respectful but screamed a lot. They were SO loud. Never underestimate the vocal chords [sic] of a teenaged girl....I did witness some of my cohorts take advantage of the situation, but personally I never did. I also think 'the people taking care of us' were letting the fans get close to us, bringing them backstage and such, enabling the situation. I think they figured the happier the fans, the more money will come in. It does seem a little strange in retrospect.
For all those who scoff that people who sign up to be controlled and used by record management in this way for the glory of fame and fortune, keep in mind Yee made barely $4,000 during his entire time involved with the band and often had to cough up money for their own expenses. In addition to that, money earmarked for tutoring the young members went elsewhere.
We weren't always provided with food or non-performance clothing especially when we weren't on tour. My mom ended up paying for a lot of my living expenses. I had to work at a clothing store to stay afloat afterwards. I remember a few times there would be customers that would come in and recognize me. Once I was recognized when I was mopping the floor....I have to be a little vague on this one, but people who were supposed to be taking care of our well-being were keeping the money that the label was giving us for education (for their own lavish lifestyle), and giving us occasional subpar tutoring not up to Los Angeles child performer standards. Halfway through our three years with the group 'someone' (probably the union) found out and the label got in trouble. Only then were we provided with an education (the best tutor money could afford... he ended up traveling with us), but by then many of us were too far behind…My diploma was basically bought for me.
Things ended badly, some of which had to do with trouble the members had singing live. The rest is just the typical sad, shady bullshit associated with taking advantage of young people eager to give up their basic legal rights for a shot at fame and fortune.
There were some shady music business dealings behind the scenes. Ultimately what ended us was a change at the record label. Our label was an offshoot of a larger label and they decided to shut it down. They gave our management the option to keep us, but our managers thought we could shop the album to another label. We were all sent home after a very unfair settlement and told that we'd hear from our managers when they found us a new label.
"It's been 14 years and I'm still waiting for that call," Yee said.
So excited about that New Kids on the Block reunion tour now, aren't you?