The Evolution of the Boy Band

Pete Simpson

When you’re stuck in in the car on the M6 for three hours on a Sunday afternoon, you’ve lost your iPod and your phone is running out of battery, the radio is the only option for a little company. Flicking through the radio stations you realise that most, are of course playing out the UK Top 40.

Now, shoot me already, but, I’m not one for this modern fandangled pop, so to me I wasn’t that bothered that One Direction didn’t get their fifth number one with ‘Story of Our Life’. It has to be said though, I’ve heard a few Westlife ballads over the years, and with the bells and seasonal chimes, 1D could be Brian, Shane, Kian, Mark and the other one. Like most boy bands, in 10 years time, we’ll be hearing their hits sang solo in a reality TV show and they’ll be attempting a reunion tour. But how has the entity of a boy band evolved over the years?

Let’s go back to the 1940s. We’re in the middle of depression, world war and quite frankly, what everyone needed was a song or two to lift their spirits. The barbershop quartet was born. Four men singing a-cappella harmonising their melody with their bass, tenor and baritone, they were the original boy band.

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Then came the swinging sixties, the fab four released ‘Please Please Me’, and Beatles mania went global. The band is often referred to as the most influential ever, setting the trend for the boy band sound to come that decade. Drawing on a wide range of American influences soul, rhythm and blues and chilled out beach, the Beatles set a president of new emerging boy bands such as The Rolling Stones, the Animals and The Hollies. Back then though in the decade of free love the boy band were simply that, a band made of boys, who all played instruments. Skip forward 25 years and a new type of boy band is born.

In the 1980s, new romantics, electro and pop were taking over the UK music scene. With that some of the most iconic boy bands of the era were being played on gay men and teenage girls tape decades across the country. From Bros to New Kids on the Block a new breed of boys, dancing around in matching outfits and not playing any instruments touches on the 1940s style of the barbershop quartet with added speed.

Now I’m pretty sure the decade the boy band as we know today, really came about in the 199’s. Take That burst onto the scene with their homoerotic dancing and their bare, pubescent chests busting out of their shirts in videos like ‘Pray’ and ‘Do What You Like’. Throughout the late nineties we had bands that were renowned for a good strong cheesy ballad like, Westlife. This was to be followed by a new type of boy band, a new sleek looking group who for all intents and purpose dressed and swaggered like wannabe gangsters, yes people, you’ll remember Another Level?

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‘Bands’ like Another Level and 5ive made girls and gays weak at the knees for their more edgy, rough look than their boy band predecessors. 5ive the dream child of Simon Cowell, smashed up hotel rooms, got naughty with the ladies and dabbled in a bit of you know what! They were anything but the squeaky clean bunch of lads, Grandma would approve of listening to on the Sunday teatime wireless.

In the 00s the charts began to be swamped with boy bands, and the evolution ramped up. Busted, and enough said about them the better, followed by McFly, had the perfect mix of cheesy pop, real instruments and a squeaky clean image. Although McFly continued pushing out the hits throughout the last decade, the boy band was no longer dominating the chart, until X-Factor brought us JLS. The boy band was back. Since then we’ve seen more super clean, shaven baby faced groups come from the talent show including the Wanted and of course One Direction. Yes Harry Styles is in the press every day for being spotted in London’s celebrity haunts, has a way with the ladies, but his record of smashing up hotels, drinking binges and affairs is nothing like those we’ve seen from boy bands in the past.

So in the pop evolution of the boy band, where are we at? Poster boys, with inoffensive lyrics, jumping around like your little brother on Karaoke at a family wedding. One Direction may need to get their tops off more in their videos, and rub up against each other like the days of Take That’s early videos but the evolution has taken us back to the 90s, and with all the hype around them at the moment, let’s hope if they split up anytime soon, a help line is set up to heal the nations teenager hearts.


About Pete Simpson

Pete is a 20 year old (and some) guy who describes himself as a social entrepreneur. He is an LGBT charity trustee and was voted best dressed male 2004 at sixth form college. Often found with a beer, in Birmingham, London or Milton Keynes. Twitter @cardboardcakes