“Every little thing I do” – In Defence of Boy Bands

Out of nowhere I got to thinking about boy bands the other day and about how there aren’t a lot of boy bands around these days. And as I sat down to reminisce with an ‘N Sync video on youtube, I realised that I think that this is sort of a shame.

This is a really weird thing for me to be saying, because I hated boy bands back in the day. I’d like to say that this was only because I didn’t like the actual songs, and while it’s true the songs were not to my liking and that I and much preferred, say, nerding over The Magic Flute in my teens, a big part of my dislike of boy bands was due to my being a bit of a douche as a youth. I’ve mentioned before that I detested anything popular back then, and oh boy were boy bands ever popular in the 1990s. When I was very young it was Take That, then came Backstreet Boys, and Five, and ‘N Sync, and there was also some Boyzone and New Kids on the Block  in there somewhere, and I hated all of it. But then I watched that video the other day, with an open mind and well past most of my youthful doucheness, and you know what? I think I get it now. I get what boy bands are about.  And I approve.

It’s not that I like the song, because the song is every bit as generic as I remembered. It’s not just my crush on Justin Timberlake talking either, although Lord knows I have a thing for Justin Timberlake. No, it’s the dancing. To be more specific, it’s the dancing combined with the singing. Dancing in perfect sync is difficult, doing so while singing is even harder and certainly a lot more complicated than just looking cute while singing a song by yourself in a romantic setting. Being able to pull off perfect in sync dancing and singing is quite a feat and will always be somewhat spectacular and impressive to watch, especially when done by attractive, well-groomed young men. What the boy bands did with their elaborate dancing routines was to send off the signal of a serious effort being made in order to please a female audience. With their performances they created a piece of irresistible fiction about young men teaming up and going out of their way to satisfy a woman, and I suppose ‘N Sync were the ones who were most keenly aware of this. Not only was the band named after their charming synchronic dancing abilities, their videos also tended to revolve around the theme of male subordination – the above video was not the only ‘N Sync video to make use of the imagery of the band being a set of dolls or puppets in the hands of a young woman:

(This video makes no sense, by the way. The beginning is ok, with the puppets on strings, but why do the puppets then proceed to fall on to a moving train when their strings are cut? And where does the blue, zero-gravity room fit into the narrative? Oh, well.)

And you know what, as far as female fantasies go, I don’t think this is a half bad one. Why not indulge in a fantasy for once in which the girl is not trying to get the attention of a distant, aloof, and troubled man? In my day that guy was called Dylan McKay and I suppose his name is Edward Cullen today, and really they’re both bullshit with their furrowed brows, brooding, preoccupied personalities, and tendencies towards substance abuse. Most girls will have their fair share of real-life heartbreak, so why not lean back and be pampered by the fictitious attentions of a perfectly dancing set of good-looking young men? At their best (i.e.: Justin Timberlake) boy bands gave off a care-free, tongue-in-cheek, roguish charm, communicated through a painstakingly prepared choreography and pitch perfect vocals. This had clearly taken endless hours of training and had nothing to do with the amateurism and quick fame of today’s numerous television talent shows. It presented young girls with the idea that they were worth wooing, and that wooing should take the shape of real effort.  I miss that fantasy. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here goes: I think we need to bring back the boy bands.

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