Boy bands are a curious thing – they’re engineered in a very specific, clinical way designed to achieve success, and they often do. Not always, but when they hit, they hit big. What’s funny, though perhaps not surprising, is the formularity with which these bands are constructed: Three members young enough to appeal to a broad range of fans, one a little older to reel in an older demo, and one younger member perversely marketed as the “heartthrob” of the group. Here, look at the starting ages of boy band du jour, One Direction (I’m including Zayne because for me he will always remain in the band, as he will in my heart). This is how old they all were in 2010, when they won “X-Factor:”
- Niall – 16
- Liam – 16
- Zayne – 17
- Louis – 18
- Harry – 15
Pretty reasonable! A group of teenage boys marketed at teenage girls, with one technically legal adult in there so your mom didn’t feel bad about getting itchy britches, and young Harry the inevitable sex symbol. That’s about how these things should run, which makes it all the more remarkable what happened in the late 90s/early 2000s, when the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync were tearing up the charts. Here’s a table showing the birthdates and ages of the members of each band when their respective first big singles came out:
Backstreet Boys – “Quit Playin Games (With My Heart)
N’Sync – “I Want You Back”
|Brian Littrell – February 20, 1975 (21)||JC Chasez – August 8, 1976 (21)|
|AJ McLean – January 9, 1978 (19)||Lance Bass – May 4, 1979 (18)|
|Howie Dorough – August 22, 1973 (23)||Joey Fatone – January 28, 1977 (21)|
|Kevin Richardson – October 3, 1971 (25)||Kris Kirkpatrick – October 17, 1971 (26)|
|Nick Carter – January 28, 1980 (17)||Justin Timberlake – January 31, 1981 (16)|
Obviously, there are some spooky similarities there, down to the months of their births. You’ll note the two old geezers in there, and both groups de-facto “cute ones” were two years younger than the next youngest member (younger betches – I promise you, at one time Nick Carter was legitimately considered a sex symbol. It was a weird time). What should jump out, though, is that there’s nary a “boy” to be found in either of these so-called boy bands outside of the two youngest. In fact, both bands had a member who was no longer eligible to be drafted into military service by the time they found success.
Compared to One Direction, the boy bands of yesteryear may sound a little odd – so maybe that’s how they used to do things, right? When they were putting together One Direction, they wanted to follow the same formula, but felt safer skewing a little younger, maybe? Not even close. To see why BSB and N’Sync were such a weird fucking anomaly, look no further than their predecessors, New Kids On The Block. Here are their birthdates and ages at the release of their first hit single, “I’ll be Loving You (Forever)” in April, 1989:
- Jordan Knight – May 17, 1970 (18)
- Donnie Wahlberg – August 17, 1969 (19)
- Danny Wood – May 14, 1969 (19)
- Jonathan Knight – November 29, 1968 (20)
- Joey McIntyre – December 31, 1972 (16)
Yes, yes, the formula is similar, though NKOTB is grouped a little closer together. What makes it bonkers, though, is the years they were born. Check them, and then look back at the birthdates of the guys in BSB and N’Sync – they practically overlap. For a group that hit it big nearly a decade earlier, Joey McIntyre could have waited for either N’sync or BSB, and still wouldn’t have been the oldest member! Jordan Knight could have fit right in, and would have been a monumental improvement over fucking Kris Kirkpatrick!
It’s proof that the turn of the century was a weird-ass time. A time for worrying about our computers when our clocks struck midnight, a time for cell phones having buttons, and a time for groups of singing men old enough to drink to hang out with teenagers barely old enough to drive.