In ‘Overrated, no,’ we revisit things that were so good, they quickly turned bad, and explain why they deserve a comeback.
There was a brief moment in time, in what seems like an eternity, when the return of one particular boy band caused a tidal wave of nostalgia and joy. the Jonas Brothers the reunion provided fodder for many celebrations about the return of the “boy band”, a culturally changing musical group.
Boy bands, a hitherto dying and dead breed of musicians, are reviled and loved in equal measure. Their musical prowess is considered both prodigious and shallow – depending on who you ask. But while their Western counterparts have seen a decline, the pop spectacle itself has seen a new birth in the form of BTS: a South Korean K-pop group whose legions of fans around the world would populate a small country. to moderate and more. But as with the BTS armies, self-proclaimed music fanatics deride boy bands as too much cotton candy pop — not serious music, in other words.
The common denominator that ties all boy bands together, however, is the makeup of their fanbases: largely teenage girls.
The demonization of interests of teenage girls is a well-documented phenomenon. It’s an all too common experience to have hidden her love for boy bands as a young girl; publicly roll your eyes at them while privately playing to their music, carefully out of reach of civilization. Sometimes the hate that boy bands received prompted me, personally, to profess my undying love for Led Zeppelin or some other band certified as “cool”; neatly queue classic rock tunes into a playlist if handed the aux cable and generally keep within a safe 500km radius of any mention of boy bands. A direction? No thanks.
Additionally, an oft-cited criticism—again, by metalheads or guardians of “good” music—of boy bands is that they are “manufactured.” Comparisons between A direction and The Beatles have, for example, drawn the hellfire of the wrath of many who loved The Beatles but wouldn’t touch a A direction album with a barge pole. The music industry, as the critics say, parades handsome young men who can all match but are otherwise unremarkable, and commercializes them thoroughly. And as a British boy band with legions of screaming fans (teenagers, again), A direction was a prime suspect for charges of a Beatles impersonator.
What undeniably connects the two bands, however, is the cultural impact they’ve had, making millions of hearts flutter with their boyish charm. It’s not so much the music that inspired the supposedly absurd comparison but their effect on the fans (are The Beatles the first big boy band?). And therein lies the catch: the musical prowess of boy bands is undermined because of the charm offensive they unleash on girls.
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The music is then considered deprecated. Boy bands themselves are victims of this perception: when they break up, their individual members set off on individual trajectories, pursuing careers as more “serious” musicians. It’s kind of like how child stars or members of an ensemble cast aren’t considered serious actors in their own right – their fame and public image are consummated, and their talents are presumed non-existent otherwise.
But what, exactly, separates boy bands from bands? The key is in the word “boy” – indicating a rudeness and an “it” factor that is unmistakable and hard to replicate. Boy bands sell more than their music – they sell an idea of alternative masculinity in a toxic heteronormative culture, celebrating love, attraction and feelings rather than suppressing them. Boy groups are made up of men who make the effort to groom well, take care of their appearance and look their best – for the girls. They sing about being in love, serenading the girl of their dreams in a way that pays homage to her attributes and personality. They exude sensuality, rather than raw rockstar sex appeal. In every aspect of their songwriting and vibe, there’s a tenderness hard to find in the “real” world. Think Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You,” a sappy, corny anthem featuring everything from candles to wine and, most importantly, attention and care. Or, the most recent “What Makes You Beautiful” which catapulted A direction to success and fame overnight. Uncomfortable “you’re not like other girls” vibes aside, the song does what boy bands do best: they make the listener feel like a main character. , offering a suspension of disbelief in his own life. In a culture so used to ridiculing, sexualizing or repressing teenage girls, the feeling of being at the center of someone’s world for who they are can be intoxicating and powerful.
And yet, this fantasy of “human desire,” as cultural critic Jane Ward calls it, is derided as unserious music. The success of boy bands has always resided in their unique attention to the fantasies of teenage girls and young women whose evolving sexuality is so often appropriated to them. Boy bands offer a fantasy that does not exploit this sexuality, but nourishes it gently. The underlying impetus behind the intensely and criminally hummable tunes is the respect it affords listeners, who can feel wanted without feeling belittled by it. What’s more, it’s often those who are most comfortable with their masculinity who aren’t shy about celebrating the music of boy bands either – Jake Peralta, of Brooklyn 99 may have single-handedly popularized “I Want It That Way” in the mainstream for quite some time, making it acceptable to indulge in the eminently karaoke-worthy chorus.
Boy bands offer countless odes to girlhood, to femininity, in any way they want, uncorrupted by a sexualizing gaze that tears agency away from sexuality. In short, boy bands give girls what they crave, but are so often denied. Music lovers are therefore wrong when they denounce the vibe of boy bands: it is precisely the “more than” of their music that makes them not overrated.