Friday, December 14, 2007
I suggest that the economic model (which it truly is) that is the boy band is one that is not native to the 1990s: it is in fact a model that seems to come and go in waves. We know that this formulated style of popular music largely dominated the late 1990s with groups such as the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, etc. Often compared to the “machine-generated” popular music found in George Orwell’s 1984, boy band acts were manufactured and destined for commercial success (“Boy Band,” 2006). There is a common accusation of boy bands as seemingly lacking legitimacy as a genre. This accusation is typically made by members outside of the boy band youth culture. Because we are talking about the mainstream youth culture, it doesn’t receive nearly as much study or interpretation as counterculture, or subculture. It seems that people would rather discuss popular music in terms of cultural theory already in place than to conduct ethnographic research to define popular music as its own social practice and process (Frith, p. 199). The absence of a proper analysis and observation of popular music and boy bands in particular suggests the illegitimacy of the genre. It is of the highest importance that this assumption be overturned, not in spite of this fact, but simply because of it.
So, now onto my point… [Wait, Doug! Wait!!] Yes? [How is this a reoccurring model when you said that there really aren’t boy bands today?!?] Well, what may be new to consider is that the 1990s boy bands aren’t the first time we’ve seen this model. If the scope of exploration is broadened to include more than just the 1990s, groups such as The Jackson 5, Menudo, The Temptations, The Monkees, perhaps The Beatles in their early work, and others can be seen as boy bands (“Boy Band,” 2006). I will focus on The Monkees as the original boy band in a way. The similarities are too pertinent to deny.
The band was assembled in 1965 as a result of an audition for a weekly comedy TV show of the same name. (sound familiar??) The four members of the band were chosen in a large part due to their looks as opposed to their musical ability (Stahl, p. 310). The comparison to more modern boy bands is apparent, as they seem to share the same level of authenticity. The Monkees sang professionally written songs and were able to broadcast their music, looks, and style to an immense audience via the television. Just as music videos did for the 1990s boy bands, fans were able to put a face to the sounds they heard without having to undergo the expense of attending a concert. Seeing the faces of the music “emphasize[d] the importance of visual spectacle to the communicative “pacts” between boy band performers and their audiences.” (Wald, p. 3) The young fan base received the aesthetically pleasing appearance (due to no mistake) of the Monkees with intensity and near-hysteria. As you can see in my interviews in a previous post, 1990s boy bands seemed to draw in their audience with an undeniable attraction. He or she obviously [Clare] couldn’t help it [Christian], even if it was for a short period of time [Alexa]. It is also clear from these interviews, however, that all the interviewees felt strongly that dance played a big role in what constituted a boy band. I feel that this emphasized the young, energetic, and fun-loving characteristics of boy bands that made them so well received by a similar young audience. Take a look at this video for the Backstreet Boys’ song “As Long As You Love Me”:
The boys are dancing, but more importantly they’re displayed as young boys, just having fun
Now in this video for The Monkees’ song "I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet," there is some choreography involved (0:30 and 1:15 to mark a few spots), but The Monkees were most commonly known for their fun-loving attitude, just “monkeying around.”
I conducted a more recent interview with Chris, a 53-year-old Connecticut resident, who was 11 at the time that the Monkees were most popular. Chris was roughly the age of the pre-teen target market of the Monkees, and now with a daughter who is 21, he witnessed her go through the same experience 10 years ago with the 1990s boy bands. When asked about the similarities between the two, Chris responded: “Wow, that’s really interesting.” [yes… I know] “Well, The Monkees definitely had hits, they were around for about 3 years, and they were a little goofy and crazy, but they were safe enough that parents weren’t worried about their kids…. The safe aspect was important for parents… [but] I remember feeling like, this is our music.”
There are so many parallels in his experience as a youth to that of my generation’s experience with 1990s boy bands. For one, Chris touches on the well-crafted marketability of the group. They were targeted at an audience in which parental acceptance is necessary for profitability, but the kids still needed to feel like it was by no means their parents’ music. Chris also directly mentions the shelf life issue of boy bands, as we have seen in the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync who didn’t remain popular for more than half of a decade either.
To fully develop my theory of the boy band cultural model as cyclical, coming-and-going, the going must be addressed. So if the boy band model reoccurs, and is equally received in different periods in time, why does it disappear at all? Lou Pearlman, the mastermind behind a slew of 90s boy bands including the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, was quoted saying, “I’ll tell you exactly when it’ll be over, when God stops making little girls. Until then, we’ll keep going.” (Hiltbrand, p. 1) But there is a never-ending supply of young female audiences, and the boy band fad seems to come and go. The audience grows up, but is replaced by the aging of a younger audience. So why does the trend disappear? This comes back to the aspect of authenticity, or lack thereof, of boy bands and the contradictive nature of boy bands to “express themselves personally” while “suppress[ing] themselves musically” (Stahl, p. 313) In his article entitled, “In Search of Authenticity,” Richard Peterson says: “To be sure, authenticity is not equally important in all contexts. For example, in the case of opera and theatrical performances, the criterion of excellence is not whether an actor is authentic but whether she can sublimate her own personhood in order to act the part demanded by the particular role” (Peterson, p. 1086). Boy bands are accepted because their audience disregards, whether consciously or not, the fact that they are constructed. When I asked Chris whether he ever thought about the fact that The Monkees didn’t write their own songs, or were ‘manufactured,’ he responded, “Oh, God No! We didn’t think about it, or didn’t know, or didn’t care!”
This lack of authenticity, however, cannot be accepted by a performer forever, nor can it by a consumer. As groups strive to be more authentic, the consumer longs for something more genuine as well, hence the rise and fall of the boy band model. What takes its place is something on the other pole of authenticity. The wax and wane of commercial versus an undermining underground portrays the persistent desire for something new, even if it is not necessarily new. The Monkees’ fabricated authenticity gave way to the originality of “real” rock, where songs were written by members of the band themselves. The polished boy bands of the 1990s stepped aside for the raw grit and brutal honesty of gangster rap and the aggressive new-metal of bands such as Limp Bizkit and Korn. The authenticity of popular music groups was really only challenged after The Beatles became famous for singing their own songs (Peterson, p. 1085). The Beatles (whose early work and mania-like fan reception can be seen as very boybandish) are a rare example of a group that was able to showcase their authenticity and immerge triumphantly from a cloud of inauthenticity.
True, the formula behind the creation of The Monkees was much more veiled than that of 1990s boy bands… Case and point… but boy bands mark instances in time where the awareness of inauthenticity by the public does not hinder their commercial success, at least for a few years. Consumers get sick of too much “candy-coated,” “bubble gum” pop over time and performers search for more depth within themselves. Even “haters’” perception changes over time.
Just as the style of a particular boy band can change to fit minor adjustments in the niche market of public over time, the boy band model of formulated and fabricated authenticity in music changes on a larger scale of time. The Monkees emulated the catchy rock sound of other groups of their time such as The Beatles, while 1990s boy bands replicated the blend of R&B, dance, and rock influences that was popular at the time. For more than half of a century, the ebb and flow of this model, like waves, has come for a moment in time, and then left. George Lipsitz is quoted from the book, Footsteps in the Dark:
"In places where the ocean meets the beach, most waves rise, crest, and fall in the space of a few yards. They are visible to the eye for only a few seconds. The life of a wave seems to be short, both spatially and temporally… [but] the short life of waves is an illusion. … Waves appear abruptly and immediately, but they have a long hidden history before the human eye notices them" (Lipsitz, p. vii).
In his book, Lipsitz discusses multiple genres of music beyond popular music and their hidden histories, but boy bands appear to exemplify his philosophy. By the time the boy band wave reaches the stationary, shore-like receiver that is the public, it has already been in production, even as an idea, for some time. Presumably, as an economic "product," it is of no mistake that the two greatest eras of reception of this model occur during the early teenage years of the “baby boomer” generation, and that of their children.
As my exhausting extensive utterance of a blog post comes to a close, I’d like to offer some closing remarks. Through my research of a youth culture that I was once a part of, I have realized its true ingenious combination of industry and aesthetics. I never could have imagined how much there is to this seemingly surface level phenomenon, and I really want to convey that as best I know how to others who presumably feel the same way. Even the timeliness of its arrival (and departure) were crafted to perfection. “In the late 1990s, the pop industry brought in several new artists to revive sagging sales in the wake of grunge” (Mayer, p. 310). This model was so carefully created and extensively received that it’s almost scary. As my interviewee Chris put it, “music from 60 to 63 was like, “where are we going here???” Then The Beatles…and The Monkees [who] followed in their steps… came along and it was like, “Holy Sh*t!” [The Beatles] had a new Number 1 hit every month and it was ours, no one else’s. But if they came in 58, it might not have worked, you know? We needed it.”
If there's anyone out there reading my thoughts here, please leave some comments, and thanks for making it this far. As a reward, I give you this video:
"Boy band." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 27 Nov 2007, 07:32 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 27 Nov 2007 [http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Boy_band&oldid=174091543].
Frith, Simon. “British Popular Music Research.” 1982. IASPM UK Working Paper, No. 1. 1991. Review of The Hidden Musicians by R. Finnegan, in Sociological Review, 39, pp. 199-201.
Hiltbrand, David. "Boy Bands Battle Back for Fans, Respect." LJWorld.Com. 12 Oct. 2007
Lipsitz, George. Footsteps in the Dark: the Hidden Histories of Popular Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota P, 2007.
Mayer, Vicki. "Pop Goes the World." Emergencies: Journal for the Study of Media & Composite Cultures 11.2 (2001): 309-324. 6 Nov. 2007.
Peterson, Richard A. "In Search of Authenticity." Journal of Management Studies os 42.5 (2005): 1083-1098. 5 Nov. 2007.
Stahl, Matthew. "Authentic Boy Bands on TV? Performers and Impresarios in the Monkees and Making the Band." Popular Music 21.3 (2002): 307-329. JSTOR. 8 Nov. 2007.
Wald, Gayle. ""I Want It That Way": Teenybopper Music and the Girling of Boy Bands." Genders 35 (2002): 1-15. 5 Nov. 2007 [http://www.genders.org].
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
In order for us to talk about boy bands, to really trace their lineage, we must think about what actually define as a boy band. While the term “boy band” wasn’t coined until the 1990’s, early antecedents exist. Of course there was New Kids On The Block, New Edition, latin group Menudo, dating back a decade before, but I’m talking about other groups. The Beatles have been referred to as the boy band of their generation. Certainly we must include The Monkees, who were assembled based almost entirely on their looks for a 1970’s TV show of the same name. Sound familiar? So, what constitutes a boy band, and are there any around today? I would classify any group of young males with overtly generically poppy music, good looks, and most importantly the overarching desire for success, up for nomination as a boy band. This severely broadens our study group. Of course there is something to be said for multiple vocalists, the ability to dance, and the lack of song writing skill that make our 90’s boy bands who they are. This opens the door for me to observe what I will call boy bands of today: the extremely poppy generic “pop/rock/emo?” bands such as Cartel, and Hellogoodbye.
There is no doubt that people will not agree with my overgeneralization of what constitutes a boy band. How dare I include some of his or her favorite groups today. The negative connotations that arise from calling a group a boy band stem mainly from their inability to write their own songs. That being said, a lot of boy band songs, even some co-written by members of the group itself are more complex in terms of musical structure than songs by pop/rock bands today. And what about the audience? Still targeted at pubertal girls, Cartel has been all over MTV, or at least I can recall them being so last year. (I won’t even go into detail about the lead singer’s undeniable resemblance to Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys) What of the shelf life of these bands? Like boy bands, there are so many similar sounding groups, that fan step on and off of the band “wagon” at the next metro stop.
The fans are those of the MySpace culture. Hellogoodbye is currently co-headlining the MySpace music tour, which I attended last Thursday, November 1st at Lupo’s in downtown Providence. I will only speak briefly and from memory on the details I saw. I wasn’t expecting to attend this concert, regarding it as a boy band showcase, and ethnographically analyze my experience. This realization only came to me after the show. I went to see the other co-headlining band, who, due to many reasons I would not classify as a boy band. (Even if my reasons are just, look at me defend a band I like from the boy band tag!) Anyways, upon first walking into concert hall, my first realization was that the majority of the crowd was younger than I. When Hellogoodbye took the stage, it became obvious that younger portion of the crowd was there to see them. Fans of the other co-headliner (who was playing after Hellogoodbye tonight) refrained from pushing forward to obtain a better view, and mingled more towards the back where I was. For those who don’t know Hellogoodbye, they are an extremely “feel-good-pop-rock” band. They use a fair amount of dance beats and synth blips and beeps in their music. While watching them play, it was apparent to me that the band was not playing all of electronic noises in all of their songs. Some songs had a backing track to which they played along. The singer also uses voice effects on a lot of their songs such as an intense auto-tune, which is found in a lot of 90’s boy band and pop songs, as well as a vocal harmonizer. Hellogoodbye’s set was comprised mostly of up-tempo, danceable (which most of the crowd did), pop songs with a few mid-tempo ballads, also typical of boy bands. “Baby, It’s a Fact,” Hellogoodbye’s latest single resulting in an eruption of high-pitched screams of joy from the female audience. The song is a radio-ready pop hit about young love that doesn’t exactly have “soul-searching” lyrics. They ended their set with “Here, In Your Arms,” a dance song with a pumping synth drum beat: the biggest hit off their newest cd. When the concert was over and I walked out to where I had parked my car, I chuckled to myself seeing what I assumed were Hellogoodbye fans on their cell phones on the corner of the block. They were calling their parents to pick them up.
Official music video for Hellogoodbye - "Baby, It's Fact"
Music video for Cartel - "Lose It" (He is Nick Carter)
Monday, October 15, 2007
-Did you ever get into boy bands?
-On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your interest?
Probably an 8 or a 9
-Looking back, do you feel embarrassed about that at all?
No, they’re still on my iPod. Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. And the other one.. with the show? Oh yeah, O-Town.
-Now you are 22? What would you say the major demographic was at the time?
Well… I was in like… 8th grade, so middle school, 15 years old, like “teeny-boppers.”
-So would you say your age approximately?
I was in 8th grade, but there were kids in 6th grade, and kids older than me too. So, I would say I was about in the middle.
-So now that you’re grown up you wouldn’t say there are any boy band acts around right now?
No, but the Backstreet Boys are making a come back, supposedly.
-Well, what happened to them being in the spotlight? Any ideas?
Justin Timberlake went solo [laughs]. N’Sync is gone, I don’t know. I just feel like people got over it. It got “not cool” any more. Rap and hip-hop took its place.
-There were some pop acts, such as the Monkees and the Beatles, that people considered “boy bands” before the huge success of boy bands in the 90’s. Is there band or anything today that would consider boy bands?
They have to be pop. Well I guess those were, pop. But there are no poppy boy bands today, at least not that successful.
-Any really poppy rock bands that you might consider called boy bands?
Well, they’d have to be mainstream; I don’t know I thought about that.
-Fall Out Boy is pretty mainstream, and Timbaland helped to produce they’re cd along with Justin Timberlake’s cd…
They’re a band, but they’re not a boy band. There’s a difference.
-What is that difference?
Well Fall Out Boy plays their instruments. I guess that’s the difference.
-OK so, be honest, did you ever get into boy bands?
Yep. Only for a very short period of time though.
-When you were into it, how would you rate your interest on a scale of 1-10?
-Do you feel embarrassed about it all?
-Now when you say for a short period of time, exactly what grades or ages was that?
Ummm. Oh, I dunno. I guess maybe when I was like eleven or twelve. But whenever it was, I remember being pretty into the backstreet boys for like, a month or two and then not really at all from then on. I think I was in fifth grade. so eleven.
-What is your opinion on what happened.. like what provoked their fall from grace out of the spotlight?
I think there just got too be too many of them and too much of the same sound and the same look until everyone was just tired of it and moved on. And also, cause rap kind of took over around then, didn’t it? I liked ja rule and nelly a lot more than the backstreet boys.
-Well there are still pop acts like them around, remnants of boy bands, like Justin Timberlake. So why is that still popular?
I didn't know it was still popular. I think justin timberlake is popular because he changed his look and sound, or at least pretended to and people bought it. If it was him and four other guys, people would probably be less interested, because it would just be a boy band and people don’t want that any more.
-There were some pop acts, like the Monkees and even the Beatles that people considered "boy bands" before the huge success of 90's boy bands. Is there anything today that you would consider a boy band?
There are groups that are a bunch of boys, but I think its different because today, for the most part, these groups play music and are more than just a pretty face and silly dance moves
-Ok, so Fall Out Boy sells massive amounts of records, is on all the 'pop' radio stations and is covered in tabloids, etc. and they’re new cd was helped to be produced by Timbaland who also did the entire Justin Timberland cd. What makes them NOT a boy band?
Umm I don't know very much about them. Do they play their own instruments? I would say that, keeping in mind what I consider a boy band to be, fall out boy isn’t one cause they’re not all pretty boys who do coordinated dances and lip sync to music that they don’t play themselves. Just the not dancing and being pretty, really.
-Did you ever get into boy bands?
Yeah I did. I couldn't help it.
-You say, I couldn't help it... Looking back do you feel embarrassed about it?
I feel a little embarrassed but it was the thing to do at the time. And come on, the music was so catchy. It still is.
-How old were you when you were in the peak of your interest?
I was probably about 12 or 13.
-Were you the target demographic for these boy bands or would you say it was a little older or younger?
I think I was the target demographic. I mean, all my friends were into them. But they also were probably primarily targeting girls.
-If you were to put a song on now, describe what the experience would be like, that is to say, would it feel the same, or reminiscent of then. or would you not listen at all?
There are some songs, mainly the singles, that it's only really possible to listen to while reminiscing. They were just played too much and now all I can associate with them are you know, the 90s. But then there are some songs that were actually kinda good songs that got less exposure that I still listen to and enjoy as I would any new song.
-What happened, would you say. I mean, there are still pop acts like them today, even remnants of Boy Bands, but how did they get phased out of the spotlight?
I think maybe boy bands were just way too big way too fast. The boy band craze was just too big for it to last for more than a few years. For me, it really just comes down to the overexposure. Towards the end, new groups were just popping out from everywhere left and right, and I think it just became apparent that a lot of the members in the bands didnt have much talent.
-There were groups that some people consider boy bands of our parents generations, such as the Beatles, and the Monkees. Is there anything that you would call a boy band today?
No not really. Today popular music is really made up of solo artists, girl groups, and rock bands. I don't know why girl groups are still around.
-Fall Out Boy sells massive amounts of records, is on all the 'pop' radio stations and is covered in tabloids, etc. Also, their new cd was helped to be produced by Timbaland who also did the entire Justin Timberlake cd. What makes them NOT a boy band?
They play their own instruments. They write their own songs. They formed themselves (they weren't manufactured). They don't dance. They aren't the classic hearthrobs trying to keep a squeaky clean image. They really just don't have the same qualities as equally famous Boy Bands.
Monday, October 8, 2007
World Views: Daily News/Christian Views, The Boy Band Formula, April 21, 2004.