Seriously, the Boy-Band Era Wasn’t ALL Bad

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The '90s was a really weird time for pop music. Hell, one look at MTV’s '90s afternoon staple, Total Request Live, confirmed as much. After all, this was a show in which music videos from the likes of Eminem, Britney Spears, Korn and Tom Green (yes, Tom Green) all shared one voter-fueled Top 10. But make no mistake, in looking back on the mid-to-late '90s pop scene, it was unequivocally an era dominated by boy bands. And while *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys certainly led the way with millions upon millions of albums sold — *NSYNC held the record for highest first-week sales by a new release until earlier this year, when Adele’s 25 stole the crown — acts like 98 Degrees, O-Town and LFO certainly held their own on the sales charts.

Nostalgia for the ’90s is in full effect, which explains why 98 Degrees and O-Town (along with Ryan Cabrera and late-'90s girl group Dream) have reunited for a nationwide tour that includes a stop at Revention Music Center on July 12. The boy-band era isn’t recalled fondly by those who view it as a blight on the pop music spectrum (to these folks, the entire late '90s was a blight on pop music). These people are incorrect; the boy band era gave us plenty for which to be thankful.

Or comical lack thereof. This may be hard to believe, but tank tops, overalls, vests, loose-fitting jeans and oversized (and unbuttoned) button-downs were a thing in the ’90s, as evidenced by a number of boy-band videos (including the ones above). And the hair! *NSYNC’s Chris Kirkpatrick always looked like he was wearing an oversized tarantula on his head. And with all due respect to the great Justin Timberlake, during his bleached-blond phase, dude looked like someone had dumped a bucket of popcorn on his head.

MTV’s famed athletes vs. entertainers competition didn’t begin with the boy-band era, but it damn sure ticked up another notch once *NSYNC hit the court. This episode has everything. Marlon Wayans on the play-by-play. NBA player – and future convict – Jayson Williams on the color commentary. Boy-banders trying to pretend they could ball; Justin Bieber has since taken this trend up a notch with his famous YouTube videos. To top it all off, MTV didn’t even spell Derek Fisher’s name correctly.

Stay with us here. O-Town originally came to form on an MTV reality show called Making the Band. The program was a hit, so MTV ordered a sequel into production in which music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs would assemble his very own hip-hop group. The show never really amounted to much, but it did give us one of the all-time greatest Chappelle’s Show skits. Full sketch is available here.

Everyone knows a couple or two that is, on paper at least, a real mismatch. Some of these couples play well off one another; their differences complement one another and essentially serve as the backbone of the relationship. Nick Lachey (he of 98 Degrees fame) and wife/pop star Jessica Simpson were not those people. The Southern-born slob (Simpson) and Midwest neat freak (Lachey) were cute for a spell, before their marriage devolved into an outright train wreck. The cameras rolled on the newlyweds from 2003 to 2005, providing reality TV fans with some of the most entertaining, mind-numbing programming of the reality boom. Simpson filed for divorce less than a year after the show went off the air.

Boy hands had become beyond cliché by 2000, so MTV essentially doubled down on them. The network produced a made-for-TV movie, 2Gether, about a hand-picked quintet of boy banders. Every member filled a spot — there was the pinup, the bad boy, the cute one, the shy one and the old one (played by Kevin Farley, younger brother of the late, great Chris Farley). The movie was such a hit, 2Gether actually released a pair of full-length albums in 2000 — and both debuted inside the Billboard Top 40.

MTV wasn’t the only one to cash in on the boy-band craze; two of the world’s most successful fast-food chains did the same. McDonald’s paired up with *NSYNC and Britney Spears, while Burger King threw its weight (and cash) behind Backstreet Boys. Whether that resulted in increased burger sales is debatable, but one thing is certain — these commercials have not aged well.

Scoff if you will, as the boy band boom certainly produced more bad music than good. That said, there were some diamonds in the rough, most notably Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” The song has a smooth melody and a catchy chorus, and checks in at a brisk three and a half minutes. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an absolute master class in crafting a pop-radio smash.

It may sound odd in hindsight, but the boy-band era’s biggest adversary just might have been a foul-mouthed, pill-popping, white rapper from the mean streets of Detroit. And man, Eminem really hated himself some boy bands, as evidenced by the lyrics on this eponymous track from his smash sophomore album, The Marshall Mathers LP. Fast-forward to the 1:20 mark; Slim Shady gets nasty in a hurry.

Music videos, back when people made them, were meant to tell a story, essentially to serve as a visual representation of the song with which they were paired. Boy bands took this concept literally, releasing videos such as *NSYNC’s “I Drive Myself Crazy.” I’m not entirely sure if the video is supposed to be funny or to be taken seriously, and I’m not sure the group does either. Joey Fatone wigs out in a Superman getup. Justin Timberlake hams it up. For Christ's sake, Chris Kirkpatrick talks to his shoe! The '90s were an odd time.

What, you were expecting Nick Carter?  

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