The Beatles, the biggest band ever — boy band or otherwise — spawned the made-for-TV Monkees in America, fronted by cute-as-a-button Davy Jones, who was also a Brit, clearly an advantage that continues today for wannabe teen idols in the U.S. Despite chart-toppers like “I’m a Believer,” the Monkees’ spark fizzled after just four years.
The Jackson Five (Motown) and the Osmonds (Mormons) started the decade broadcasting brotherly love to America’s teen girls (and their older sisters, too). In the late ’70s, the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo (where Ricky Martin got his start) became the first to regularly cycle boys out as they aged and hire new, younger ones. Scotland’s Bay City Rollers, with their poufed shags and plaid-trimmed high-water bellbottoms, managed to become teen sensations despite their gimmicky get-ups.
This is when the phrase “boy bands” was first used to describe manufactured all-male singing groups. New Edition, New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men blended dance moves with love ballads. Looks got a little racier, with one member of the bands being dubbed “the bad boy,” though in a PG way.
Both managed by later-disgraced impresario Lou Pearlman, the Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync (which birthed the pop powerhouse now known as Justin Timberlake) battled for concert-arena supremacy while the sibling trio Hanson, possibly the girliest-looking boy band ever, won hearts with their hit “MMMBop.”
This was the decade that wedded boy bands to television. With the handsome Jonas Brothers, Disney strutted onto the boy-band scene in a big way in 2007. Nickelodeon followed suit with Big Time Rush, an eponymous series about four (fictional) hockey players from Minnesota who form a musical group.
So far, the only competition being tossed One Direction’s way is the Wanted of “Glad You Came” fame, also made up of English and Irish lads. With the singers being in their early to mid-20s, their look and appeal skews to a fan base that’s a bit older, but that didn’t stop the Wanted and 1D from having a (probably fake) Twitter feud that caused legions of fans to take sides, and has since been deleted.