The "Hey girl" shaped hole in our brains?

By Razib Khan | August 23, 2012 2:51 am

One of the positive aspects about interacting with the rest of the world in more than a professional or nerd capacity is that sometimes I find out what’s happening in popular culture. Therefore I’m now clued in to the fact that a new generation of boy bands seems to be rising up, born at the turn of this century, tempered by pop doldrums, disciplined by a hard and bitter ascendance of hip hop. We’ve all seen this before, haven’t we? And we’ll see it again.

I can only think back to the fall of 1996. My roommate at the time was an Anglophile from Singapore, who was well connected to the British pop culture scene. He introduced me to a joke called Take That. Or at least I thought it was a joke. Little did I know that that British boy band was simply a forewarning of what was to come in the late 1990s, thanks to the evil machinations of Lou Pearlman. With only a vague consciousness of the boy band craze of the late 1980s, I was totally taken dumbfounded by the power of the formula in those years. Boy bands became such a phenomenon that MTV even created a fictional show, 2gether, which highlighted all the stock characters typical of these groups.

But what rises, also falls. It is as if the structural conditions of modernity and early adolescent psychology entail the rise and fall of boy bands. Why? Tweens in 1999 exhibited strong demand for the boy band product that they did not in 2005. And yet since the late 1960s there have been these secular cycles of boy bands which come and go. Waning interest ultimately waxes at some point. In fact these new groups are the fifth generation over the past 50 years. All female bands don’t exhibit this regularity from what I can tell.

As for me, I’m not a big fan of the music, but I’m taking more than a passing interest now. If my model is correct, my daughter should reach her tweens during the next trough of the boy band cycle. She’ll be too old to have much interest when One Direction and The Wanted announce their reunion tours, and signal the revival of the genre.

MORE ABOUT: Boy bands
  • Razib Khan

    so…ok, at least the late 1990s boy bands seemed to balance the number of dudes with their video girlfriends. what’s up with this bizarro one direction video?

  • Alan

    I’m so glad you included Fingerbang in this article. That’s the first place my mind went.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I see a lot of the Boy Band videos at the gym when I’m working out. I have to admit that I find The Wanted song Chasing the Sun to be somewhat catchy – and I find it interesting that there’s a British boy band with a Desi in it now.

    That said, the new generation is odd, because they seem younger, more clean cut, and less sexualized than the last flare up. I wonder if it shows that pop culture is actually becoming a bit more innocent again, or if it’s just a fluke?

  • Darkseid If you’re getting into music i can recommend radiohead and patty griffin…and Gunther :)

  • Naughtius Maximus

    If you thought Take That was a joke, then you should see who filled the vaccum when they broke up.
    The real good stuff starts at 1.45

  • Razib Khan

    and I find it interesting that there’s a British boy band with a Desi in it now.

    one direction and the wanted both have half-brownz

  • Sandgroper

    What about this:

    It’s got boys in it.

  • Dallas

    Your analysis of music never fails to remind me of Patrick Bateman. I like it.

  • Tom Bri

    Daughters, 13 and 15, love One Direction. They also love this parody, and came running down to sing along when I played it.

  • Sandgroper

    No, sorry, they weren’t boys, they were men.

    Maybe try Amber’s buddies:

  • Chemical Brothers

    And don’t forget the “Hey Boy Hey Girl”-shaped hole in our existence.

  • Dwight E. Howell

    Every generation of tweens seems to have their own music groups and pop stars most of which vanish after a few years as the tweens that supported them grow up and enter the adult world. The sad thing is the has beens are young people just entering the prime of life in most cases when their fan base falls away and they often do a total crash and burn.

  • Geack

    Ah, yes, the eternal debate over has-been vs never-was… the Wahlbergs seem to have made it through ok, and I hear Lance Bass’s name occasionally for one reason or another. And that guy from Cincinnati was on tv for a while. Heck, Davy Jones just kept playing the same songs for 40 years and made a living of it. So it’s possible to survive the crash.

  • Pam Swanger

    I just realized that most boy bands have had five members when they would probably need only four different voices. Is there something more appealing about odd numbers? Hey, there were also five Spice Girls.

  • Darkseid

    good, now i’ve had that song in my head for at least 48 straight hours. THANKS A LOT, RAZIB.

  • Larry, San Francisco

    Seeing all these boy bands together makes you appreciate how good the Jackson 5 were. My younger (13 year old) teenage daughter really likes One Direction although she also likes the satire on South Park (especially the episode with the Jonas Brothers and Disney).

  • GC

    I see you forgot to post videos of N’Sync and Menudo (although they sang in spanish).


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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