Boy bands pretty much ruled the 1990s and early 2000s. On stages everywhere, groups of young men crooned while doing synchronized dance steps, dressed in all-white suits or long, dramatic trench coats. There were some successful boy bands before the 90s explosion and after the 2010s with the massive popularity of One Direction and lately the even more popular band BTS. This list is a throwback to the golden age of boy bands and their peppy songs.
I dare you to defy the urge to hum that very well-known East 17 tune or dig out your forgotten Backstreet’s Back album and put the title track on full blast.
10 The Ink Spots
In 1934, The Ink Spots were formed in Indianapolis. The band consisted of Hoppy Jones, Deek Watson, Jerry Daniels and Charlie Fuqua, and would become one of the first so-called boy bands, even though the term was only established in the late 1980s. Their song “If I Didn’t Care” became the 8th bestselling single of all time and sold over 19 million copies. It never reached number 1 one on the US Pop Charts however, hovering at 2 for a number of weeks. The Ink Spots were also one of the first African American groups to demolish the racial barrier when it came to radio airplay and live performances, and broke attendance records wherever they performed.
9 New Kids on the Block
NKOTB have sold more than 70 million records worldwide, and the band is as well known for their music as they are for having had Mark Wahlberg as a member in its early days when it was called Nynuk. Wahlberg was 13 when he joined the group and left after only a few months. The name Nynuk was taken from the name of the dog in the movie, The Lost Boys. The band’s new name, The New Kids on the Block was inspired by Mark’s brother, Donnie Wahlberg, who was the first member to be recruited.
In 1989, then governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, designated 24 April as ‘New Kids on the Block’ Day and by 1991 the band had beat out Michael Jackson to top Forbes’ list of highest paid entertainers. In 2010, NKOTB joined up with the Backstreet Boys to form a boy band supergroup called NKOTBSB.
8 Take That
‘Kick It’ might not be a name that anyone recognizes today, but it was the original name of popular group Take That. Robbie Williams became part of the band after his mother responded to an advert looking for members for a new boy band. He left the band in 1995 after a struggle with drugs and went on to enjoy a hugely celebrated solo career. Williams briefly rejoined Take That from mid-2010 to the end of 2011 before once again focusing on his own music career.
Take That enjoyed massive success in the 90s, with the vast majority of their fan mail going to one member, Mark Owen. Bizarrely, Mark and fellow band member Howard once got stuck in the hands of a giant mechanical robot on stage during a performance. Mark was freed, but Howard had to sing most of their next song while stuck.
7 East 17
The Christmas song, Stay Another Day, had many East 17 fans reaching for the tissues after its release in 1994. The single became the Christmas number 1 of 1994 and was the band’s only number one hit on the UK Singles Chart. While on the face of it the lyrics seemed to be about a sad breakup, the song was in fact inspired by lead songwriter Tony Mortimer’s personal loss when his brother committed suicide. Mortimer later said that hearing the song on the radio all the time was like a nightmare because he was reminded of the tragedy constantly.
What fans may not know is that East 17 still exists with Terry Coldwell as the only original member alongside new member Robbie Craig who joined in 2014, and Joe Livermore.
6 Boyz II Men
“Although we’ve come to end of the list… erm… road.”
Just kidding, we’re not even half-way yet.
Boyz II Men was formed in 1988 and remains the most successful boy band on the US Hot 100 and Australian Singles Chart. The band has earned itself four Grammy Awards and they became the third artists after The Beatles and Elvis Presley, to replace themselves at No. 1 of the Billboard Hot 100.
“I’ll Make Love to You” was released on 26 July 1994 and ended up holding the number one spot on the chart for fourteen weeks. It is one of their most well-known and popular songs, to this day. However, the song almost wasn’t recorded by the band, as they very nearly passed on it. Saying that it sounded too much like “End of the Road”, the band wanted to try something different, but were ‘somewhat forced’ into recording it.
Suffice it to say, they never regretted doing so.
5 Backstreet Boys
Back in 1992, a bunch of then-not-so-famous-yet youngsters all lived in one apartment building. They included AJ Mclean, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake. Mclean and Gosling used to shoot hoops on the basketball court adjacent to the building and Mclean once asked Gosling if he would like to join his new band, the Backstreet Boys. Gosling simply nodded in amusement, but never took Mclean up on his offer, saying “it’s not gonna happen, bro.”
Backstreet Boys happened in a big way after their debut album hit the stores in 1996 and the boy band achieved superstardom by 2000. They’ve sold more than 100 million records worldwide and earned themselves the title of best-selling boy band of all time. They are also the only boy band to have their first 10 albums reach the top ten on the Billboard 200.
The band is still performing today with concerts planned into 2021.
While Backstreet Boys were formed in 1993, Irish boy band Boyzone were also being formed that same year. Boyzone was the brainchild of Louis Walsh. Their original and most well-known lineup included Keith Duffy, Ronan Keating, Shane Lynch, Stephen Gately, and Mikey Graham. The group made a comeback in 2007 after breaking up in 1999. Tragedy struck two years later when Gately died during a holiday on Majorca. After celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2018, the band announced that it would be splitting for good in 2019.
Boyzone had a lot of problems, as alluded to by its members years after the band was no longer performing. Ronan Keating was 16 when he joined the group and later admitted he took life too seriously as a boy band member and didn’t enjoy most of it because he was trying too hard to be perfect. By the time they split in 1999, Shane Lynch said he hated Keating and there had been many screaming matches, affairs, and more disharmony.
After re-forming in 2007, the band were out drinking alongside Westlife’s Brian McFadden when they got into a fight with members of Rihanna’s band. Afterwards Stephen Gately said that it was a difference of opinion caused by too much alcohol. Apparently, they wanted to chat up the girlfriend of one of Rihanna’s band members, after which the man threatened to beat them up. Security had to be called in to break up the ensuing fist fight.
There was a lot more to NSYNC than bubbly frontman, Justin Timberlake. Other than the fact that the band’s name was formed from the last letters of each of the original members’ names, the group also sold one million copies of their No Strings Attached album in one day and over 2.14 million copies in 1 week. Overall, NSYNC has sold more than 70 million records.
The boy band’s manager, Lou Pearlman, made himself the sixth member of the group (without their consent) which saw him taking a sixth of the profits they made. This was on top of the commission and fees he was already earning. Pearlman went on to steal millions from NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, LFO, O-Town and more. He died in prison in 2016 while serving a 25-year sentence for organizing a $300 million Ponzi scheme.
Over and above this, NSYNC made a real dent in the music industry after starting out as an opening act for Janet Jackson. They also appeared on an episode of Touched by an Angel, had a cameo in the movie Longshot (which was never released in theatres) and two band members, Joey and Lance, starred in the feature film, On the Line.
Kian Egan, Mark Feehily, and Shane Filan attended school together in Sligo, Ireland and had just performed successfully in a school musical production of Grease when they decided to form a band. They were known as ‘6 as 1’ and then ‘I.O.YOU’. Under the latter name, the band of boys released a single called “Together Girl Forever” in Ireland in 1997 after which Filan’s mother contacted Louis Walsh and asked him to sign the group.
Louis was hesitant because of his limited time, but Ronan Keating agreed to co-manage the band under a newly established company, Rolo Management. Kian, Mark, and Shane originally had three other members in their group, but they were asked to leave and were eventually replaced with Nicky Byrne and Bryan (originally Brian) McFadden. Keating changed the band name to Westside, and they toured with Boyzone in 1998. After having to change their name yet again, to Westlife, in 1999 the boy band released ‘Swear it Again’ which became the biggest-selling debut single ever in Ireland.
Westlife went on to sell more than 55 million records and become the only band to have their first 7 singles enter the UK chart at number one. They sold out their Croke Park Stadium show in five minutes and overall have sold 5 million concert tickets.
1 One Direction
The seventh season of British singing competition, The X Factor, produced one of the biggest boy bands the world has ever seen. One Direction enjoyed unmitigated popularity between 2010 and 2016, sold more than 70 million records and have won almost 200 awards including seven American Music Awards.
After deciding that their band name would be One Direction, the boys didn’t realize at the time that there was another pop/rock band with the same name in California. The English Irish version’s fans were up in arms and sent the Californian band hate mail and death threats to the extent that they changed their names to Uncharted Shores.
Band member, Louis Tomlinson, decided to take 5 Seconds of Summer along on the 1D tour in 2012, which led to the Australian band becoming mainstream. A massive 1D fan started writing fan fiction about the band, which led to 800 million reads and an eventual book deal for writer, 25-year-old Anna Todd, that comprised of six figures.
The weirdest fact about 1D perhaps is that they clashed with Donald Trump after declining to meet and take a photograph with his daughter in 2012. He then kicked them out of his Trump Tower hotel, where they were residing at the time of their Up All Night tour. Trump even refused to allow the band to leave through the underground garage. Instead they had to leave via the front doors to where hordes of fans were waiting outside.