It began with The Beatles. In 1963, when Beatlemania began in Britain, the four young men from Liverpool paved the way for a new dynamic in music: the boy band. Although The Beatles were not the first official boy band, with predecessors such as the Jackson 5 and The Osmonds (both of which were family music groups), they are certainly the model for the modern version.

The popularity of the boy band is based mostly on the band’s ability to stay on top of the latest trends and appeal to an audience largely made up of teenage girls. This target market is not chosen randomly. A survey conducted by Jupiter Research of 1 800 teenagers in an online consumer panel found that teenage girls spend 15% more money buying music online than their male counterparts. Approximately 50% of the girls surveyed were also more likely to stream music online and make more of an effort to find out about the tour dates of their favourite musicians or bands. The researchers referred to these girls as “music influencers”, meaning that they represent the teenage population and act as “musical taste-makers” for their age group.

The group dynamic of the boy band has not changed over the years. From the days of the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC to newer boy bands such as Big Time Rush, The Wanted and One Direction, the fashion may have changed but the principle remains the same. While maintaining their own individual personalities, the members of a boy band sport a generic look (think *NSYNC in baggy leather jackets and One Direction in tailored suits). In order to cater for a bigger audience, every boy band is comprised of a set of distinct personalities. The “bad boy” in every group will appeal to one section of their audience while the “shy one” will appeal to another. Needless to say, all members of the group will be good-looking by most standards.

According to MTV, boy bands appear in five-year cycles (for those of you who want to avoid it altogether this time around). Every five years, the new kids on the block appear and saturate the airwaves with their own brand of pop music, making sure that you learn every word to every song and that you will be singing “Bye Bye Bye” in the shower. Courier Mail, an Australian newspaper, published a study which reveals that a boy band will be popular for approximately three years, with an average of three studio albums being released. After this time, the group will “pursue solo projects”. More often than not, only one member of the group will go on to have a solo career matching that of the band.

Talking about the rate at which boy bands in the age of social media have become successful, Ernie D., creative director at Radio Disney, said, “Back then, you had to build your fan base [to] get a following. Now, with all the social media, you have a fan base immediately. As soon as you nail that fan base, you’re on the rise for sure.”

The fans are a large part of the boy band’s brand and image. Certain fans, like the “Directioners” who follow One Direction, have coined terms for themselves to identify which boy band they are enamoured with. Even to this day, any person who was a diehard fan of the Backstreet Boys would pay good money to see a reunion tour. In a New York Times article about One Direction’s performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Maura Johnston states, “The varying personalities of boy bands’ members could be seen as a testing ground for attraction, and the resulting fantasies projected on the idols can be chaste or X-rated.” The idea of a “testing ground for attraction” is one which is especially relevant to teenage girls, who take their cues of what is attractive from pop culture idols such as Harry Styles of One Direction or Max George of The Wanted.

Lou Pearlman, the man behind the success of the Backstreet Boys and O-Town, had this to say about boy bands, “I know exactly when boy bands will be over. When God stops making little girls.”

Whether you like them, don’t like them, or only pretend not to like them when you’re with your friends, boy bands seem to be making a comeback. Their boyish good looks and catchy songs ensure that no matter what form or decade they appear in, boy bands will always be popular, especially with the teenage female audience. This timelessness of the boy band model is what makes them larger than life.

Photo: Hendro van der Merwe

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