Thu. March 22
Allstar Weekend, One Direction, and Boy Band Mania
Boy band mania has returned! As the Washington Post and others have noted, we seem to be entering a new phase of boy band dominance. Every few years the music industry produces bands made up of winsome young lads who appeal to teenage girls–decades ago it was the Monkeys, more recently it was ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. These days it is groups like One Direction (the spawn of Simon Cowell), Big Time Rush, and Wanted.
I should get this out of the way quickly: I love boy bands, and teen pop in general. Years ago I worked in a record store, and the mixture of employees–gay, straight, black, Asian, white, etc–served to form a great family who all came down on one side musically: is the song any good? That’s all we cared about. Duke Ellington once told a critic to make sure to think “beyond category”–certain music is great and the genre is always irrelevant. We loved all kinds of music without irony, including teen pop.
Now, obviously One Direction is not Duke Ellington. But one thing I always noticed about boy bands: they, or, more accurately, their management, are forced to produce great pop songs. Hooks and melodies sell records, and that’s what these groups provide. And it ain’t easy. I always wonder at hipsters who disparage boy bands and teen pop because the songs are “lightweight pop” that is easy to crank out. Oh really? Well if it’s that easy then you do it. People who can write melodies can become millionaires. So what’s the holdup? Furthermore, I stand by my contention that “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys is an all-time great pop song–even if I was always more of an *N Sync fan (better songs and dance moves). I would add that any hipsters who want to dismiss songs about girl, cars, and getting paid need to delete Chuck Berry from their ipods.
These days my favorite boy band is Allstar Weekend, a product of the Disney corporation. Every year I go to Springfest in Ocean City, Maryland, where Disney stages some up and coming young bands. Last year my favorite was Allstar Weekend–the songs were actually good, and the band members played their own instruments! Allstar Weekend’s album All the Way is superior to One Direction’s Up All Night. One song, “Undercover,” even sounds punk! My one disappointment is that All the Way is way overproduced. Part of the charm of Allstar Weekend live was the rawness of their sound; there’s nothing more enjoyable than seeing a band gain its footing live over time, and at Ocean City the group was more garage band than Justin Timberlake.
But then, I’ll hear the song raw during Allstar Weekend’s “unplugged” reunion tour in 2025. The surviving members of One Direction (after a long legal dispute over royalties) will open.