Music Article

The Return of Boy Bands

They sing! They sell! They use hair gel! A look at the massive new tween-pop juggernaut — and why adults are loving it too

AAAAAHHHHH!!!! That's the sound of approximately 8 zillion teenage girls screaming their little lungs out, all because five adorable guys with fancy accents just launched a new British invasion.

Earlier this month, One Direction became the first U.K.-based group in history to debut their first album at No. 1 in the U.S., a feat that not even the Beatles could match. Then again, the Beatles never had the chance to audition individually on England's X Factor, as 1D (their preferred abbreviation) did before following Simon Cowell's suggestion that they join together. If there's anyone left in America who hasn't yielded to the nah-nah-nah-nahs of their gushy pop hit ''What Makes You Beautiful,'' well, it's only a matter of time.

1D arrived on the scene just as fellow U.K.-sprung heartthrobs The Wanted hit the top five with their Ibiza party jam ''Glad You Came.'' Meanwhile, Nickelodeon stars Big Time Rush sold out a recent U.S. concert and performed Beatles songs — ah, the circle of boy-band life! — for more than 4 million television viewers in this month's Big Time Movie. (Nickelodeon also just signed a development deal with 1D.)

The parents who carpooled to that concert are no doubt having flashbacks to the 1990s, when Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC ruled the charts. Kiddie pop's target demographic of 5- to 13-year-olds grew by more than 3.2 million that decade. But we regularly get another boy-band boom every 10 years or so: The '80s introduced New Edition and New Kids on the Block, the '90s heralded BSB, *NSYNC, and 98 Degrees, the '00s brought the Jonas Brothers. Now this decade is getting its own.

This latest round of boy-bandemonium can be explained, at least in part, by the fact that teens and parents are starting to share their tastes. Back in 2009, Nickelodeon surveyed some 5,000 grandparents, parents, and kids online, and came up with a surprising conclusion in its study ''The Family GPS'': New cultural attitudes, technology, and the economy are drawing families — and their entertainment choices — closer together. In other words, yesterday's New Kids fans are today's ''Directioners,'' as 1D's followers call themselves. And the bands are catering to these new listeners. 1D are getting airplay on adult-contemporary stations, and The Wanted discussed their love of champagne on Chelsea Lately (don't worry, they're all of age). 1D's 18-year-old moppet Harry, who just broke up with 32-year-old TV host Caroline Flack, says he loves dating women his mum's age. (The Tumblr Cougars41D suggests that the feeling's mutual.) It's a fantasy that mothers can share with their kids: five lads who remind them what it's like to be a flirty Top 40-loving teenager, but who are just polite enough not to threaten their daughters. And if one of these lads happens to like older women, all the better. Yes, they're boy bands now — but they'll be man bands soon.

Originally posted Mar 30, 2012 Published in issue #1201 Apr 06, 2012 Order article reprints
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