What is the price of reliving your early teen years?
For Kim Carlton and Alexis Lomen, it's $375 each. That buys the 31-year-old BFFs from St. Paul a chance to meet their childhood idols, the New Kids on the Block, and sit near the stage Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
"I'm so excited to finally get my Donnie hug," gushed Carlton, referring to New Kids leader Donnie Wahlberg. "Having an outlet for that stupid energy you have when you're 13 is kind of important," said Lomen, who is blogging with her pal about their trips to five New Kids reunion concerts at www.projectnkotb.com. "I guess you carry that with you for the rest of your life."
Thanks to devoted thirtysomething fans like Kim and Alexis, New Kids have become the unlikely pop-music comeback of the year. Their new album, "The Block," debuted at No. 2 last month, selling 139,000 copies, and their tour of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe is the hottest-selling reunion since the Police in 2007.
"The tour is going amazing, really. It's like a time warp," said Jordan Knight, 38, once known as the cute New Kid. (Now he's the handsome one.) "It's almost the same. We're all a little older, a little wiser and we pace ourselves a little more. But it feels exactly the same."
At the height of NKOTB's popularity, a New York critic said that New Kids were selling sincerity, and sincere about selling it. From 1988 through 1990, the Boston quintet issued two studio albums, a Christmas CD and a remix album, which together sold more than 70 million copies worldwide and featured eight top 10 singles including "Step by Step" and "I'll Be Loving Your (Forever)." Back then, NKOTB played five concerts in the Twin Cities in just 14 months. They were the top-grossing show-biz act of 1990.
So what are NKOTB selling now?
"It's sincerity, it's love for what we do, it's nostalgia," Knight said before going onstage last week in Sacramento. "And we're selling good old-fashioned entertainment. Not too many gimmicks and special effects. We're five creative guys. We're not over the hill; we're in our prime. You're going to see a show that brings you back in time and is up to date. It is now and is cool and is hip."
Everyone was talking but them
There has been talk of a New Kids reunion ever since their 1994 breakup.
"MTV tried to put us back together, VH1 tried to put us back together, different record companies, different promoters," Knight said. "Everyone heard talk of it because they were trying to get us back together. [But] not 'til a year and a half ago, we all five didn't start talking about it. We weren't going to sell out for somebody else just because they're flashing an idea in front of us and saying 'You guys can make so much money.'"
Conceived by R&B producer Maurice Starr as a white version of the black vocal group New Edition, New Kids started in 1986 as mere teenagers, playing bubble-gum ballads and derivative R&B with rap touches. In 1994, after the ill-fated "Face the Music" album, they pulled the plug. Still, New Kids became the prototype for such boy bands as Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync.
Unquestionably, the key man for this year's reunion is Wahlberg, who has become a successful actor (though not as successful as younger brother Marky Mark). Executive producer of "The Block," he co-wrote nine of the 13 tracks on the CD, which features such famous guests as the Pussycat Dolls, Akon, Ne-Yo and New Edition and A-list producers Timbaland and Polow Da Don. New Kids also hired a new manager -- Irving Azoff, who works with the Eagles, Guns 'N Roses and Neil Diamond, not boy bands.
One of the concerns about the reunion is Jonathan Knight's attitude toward performing. During NKOTB's heyday, he reportedly suffered from panic attacks.
"He's doing amazing," Jordan said of his older brother. "He's moved beyond it, to tell you the truth. It's quite natural to get nervous before a show. I would say it's almost a non-issue. All we need Jon to do -- and I even tell him this -- is just get onstage and look good. That's not a slap in the face; he looks like a fricking model."
Jordan is not sure where New Kids fit in today's pop world.
"I hope to think we're making our marks," he said. "Before, it was kind of like we did it, we faded away, we left a mark but maybe it was a flash in the pan. Now, by doing this, it's really branding us as the real deal. That's why I'm glad we came back, to prove to the world that we're the real deal and to prove to the fans that they weren't crazy for believing in us and liking us."
That's music to the ears of eternal Blockheads like Lomen and Carlton.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719