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.