Between NSYNC reuniting (however briefly) and the One Direction documentary hitting theaters this weekend, EW’s PopWatch is getting a serious wave of nostalgia—and the urge to revive one of the most important debates: What is the all-time greatest boy band?
Any good fan girl (or guy!) knows this debate is about so much more than just the hits. There’s things like group appearance, harmonies, music videos and dance moves to consider. For the next week, each day all the bands listed below will be competing in various categories. While an EW writer will be advocating for each, the final decision is up to you. Each day a band wins the vote, they’ll receive a point. At the end of a week, whichever band has the most points will be declared EW’s Ultimate Boy Band.
Yesterday, Backstreet Boys won a victory over the others for Best Group Appearance with 42% of the vote. Today’s category? Best Music Videos.
The Backstreet Boys’ diverse music-video library is as unpredictable as it is downright sexy. From “Shape of My Heart” being filmed as a theater audition to the airport setting of “I Want It That Way,” this is one boy band that knows how to keep an audience on its toes … and enjoying every minute of it. I’ve narrowed it down to the top three examples of BSB’s greatest in music videos. First up, “Quit Playing Games with My Heart,” because I guarantee that no dance routine or fancy set will ever top five beautiful, half-naked men singing in the rain, complete with body rolls and hair flips. It’s boy-band porn if there ever were such a thing. Next up, the storytelling adventure of “Everybody,” when the boys entered a haunted house and experienced one heck of a dream. Did I mention Brian was a werewolf who spent the entire video doing back handsprings in a fur coat?! And finally, “Larger than Life,”or as I like to call it: the home to AJ’s belly shirt. Even in the midst of robots, flying-surf-board things and a literal intergalactic battle (Go Kevin!), the boys still found time for a dance break. It’s just too good. –Samantha Highfill
Boyz II Men:
Boyz II Men shot many classic music videos — mostly introducing a spurned woman that the boys (to men) then must win back through song. But the best Boyz II Men video isn’t a seduction song, but one of loss and mourning. “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” an a cappella cover of a 1975 Motown single, was brought to life by the group’s sultry tones. The video shot in black and white with punches of color includes dramatic shots in industrial parks, an abandoned house, and, fittingly, a funeral. The more you analyze the video the more bizarre it seems — why is there a TV flashing images of pop icons through history such as Sammy Davis Jr., Josephine Baker, and Miss Piggy? But it doesn’t matter for Boyz II Men are so masterful in their craft that the song envelopes the ears like a warm blanket. Pour one out for your lost loved ones and enjoy. -Maricela Gonzalez
Let’s face it: This was not a high-concept video band. But nearly all their clips are delicious time capsules, and “If It Isn’t Love” made such an impact on one young fan that she paid tribute to it in her own video over two decades later. Maybe you’ve heard of her? Yep. –Leah Greenblatt
New Kids on the Block:
NKOTB were never much for slick music videos. Most of their biggest clips were cribbed from concert footage. That said, 1990’s “Tonight” — although it looks quaint by today’s glossy standards — is basically the Citizen Kane of boy-band music videos, pioneering several mainstays of the form. Busting a move in a rainy warehouse? New Kids were there first, BSB. Alternating shots of Warholian-saturation and black-and-white nostalgia? Point, NKOTB; no points, Boyz II Men. Climactic pyrotechnics? Guess who, One Direction. Button-down shirts and a fan set on blast? New Kids were billowing long before you, NSYNC. In addition to this legacy, “Tonight” is also a love letter to the fans. The opening lines throw back to earlier hits (“Please Don’t Go Girl” and “I’ll Be Loving You Forever,” “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” and “Hangin’ Tough”), and bits of concert footage (you’re welcome, too, Mumford and Coldplay) make it clear what really made these guys global superstars. All that, and an introductory scene showcasing the still-blooming acting skills of eventual film, TV, and Broadway star Joey McIntyre? Lalalalalala, they win. –Lanford Beard
NSYNC should win this category for the iconic “Bye Bye Bye” video alone (The puppet strings! The dance moves! The running on top of a train!), but if that’s not enough to convince you, they have plenty of other standouts in their oeuvre, from the brooding and sexy “Tearin’ Up My Heart” to the techno club in “Pop,” to that time their dolls came to life in a store for “It’s Gonna Be Me.” I’ll repeat that: Their dolls (which, raise your hand if you bought one!) came to life as themselves as they all danced the night away in some sort of Barbie funhouse. NSYNC’s videos were brightly colored crazy, and they defined the TRL years. -Erin Strecker
Boy band music naturally lends itself to choreographed dances, but One Direction’s not about that. They’re about living while they’re young, so why waste time giving their music videos the traditional treatment? Instead, the boys simply offer Directioners what they want: footage of the fivesome having fun, with shirtless shots sprinkled in every now and then. Sure, there’s a ton of random imagery irrelevant to the lyrics—jumping around on a beach, strolling through the woods, riding a double-decker bus—but the boys make the most of their music videos, mugging their fresh-faced, squeaky clean hearts out for the camera. Take the video for Kiss You (a personal favorite), for example. Most of it’s quite cute and meta—Zayn, Liam, Louis, Harry and Niall just spend the three minutes posing for faux photo shoots. But when Zayn pecks Harry’s cheek at the end? Swoon. -Shirley Li
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