This is how I remember New Kids On The Block: The girls in third grade had buttons of them pinned to their winter coats.
“Buttons!” I told my mother after school one day. Why would you need a button of a band? I had NKTOB’s cassette tape and posters of Madonna, but I didn’t wear my fandom as an actual, physical badge (which wasn’t so easy to do back before the internet).
I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. They sang that one decent song, “The Right Stuff,” and that was about all that interested me about the whole endeavor. I think my mother might have liked them more than I did. And then, not so long afterward, they were gone – and Madonna remained.
That was my first and last exposure to boy bands in my youth. If there were any in the 90s, they were invisible to me (aside from Boyz II Men, of course – I am from Philly) and I was headed to college by the time Backstreet Boys and NSYNC broke. I remember the summer after freshman year – just a few short weeks shy of the birth of this blog – dancing with the incoming students to “Bye Bye Bye” during their orientation party, bobbing and weaving across the dance floor with my broken collarbone sending twinges of pain through my body with every choreographed wave goodbye.
Weirdly, that’s a positive memory, and so NSYNC has always benefited from a bit of unearned goodwill from me even though I have – and this is the honest truth – never again heard a single verse of a song by them in the intervening fifteen years.
Unless last week. Last week I liked to “Bye Bye Bye” a lot. Probably not enough to make up for my decade-and-a-half of abstention. Certainly not as much as a girl with a button on her winter coat might in a single 24hr period. But, a lot. Enough to have it mapped out cold in my head so we could rehearse it today as a result of sustained requests for more “boy bands,” plus the avalanche of cheering and drunken singing along that greets our cover of “I Want It That Way.”
Here’s the shocking discovery I made about boy bands along the way: most of their members are not really so much better at singing than the rest of us plebes (again: aside from Boyz II Men).
Okay, maybe it’s not so shocking for you. For me – brought up on non-stop Doo Wop on every car ride – it came as a bit of a revelation.
Sure, you need a tenor or two in there to fill out the chords, but there’s a reason that Justin Timberlake is the one one of the two guys in those two bands with a significant solo career – most of their voices aren’t all that interesting or amazing on their own. There’s no David Bowies or Freddie Mercurys in the bunch or else all of their songs would be as fucking weird as “Under Pressure.”
As it turns out, I can deliver perfectly serviecable versions of both “I Want It That Way” and “Bye Bye Bye” songs. The Backstreet Boys tune is on the high side for me, but I can nail the NSYNC without much strain. Even the harmony – which I had always assumed the whole point of assembling five good-looking guys to be a singing group – is easy enough that Ashley can jump into it and easily teach it to me.
This made me a bit curious about my original boy band: those New Kids. I listened to that seminal album on my way to work one day and made it two songs – just far enough to hear the first ragged and somewhat tuneless attempt at falsetto.
That will probably be my last listen to NKTOB for at least another fifteen years. I’m open to hearing some more NSYNC, though.