A boy band in pop, hip hop and R&B music, is loosely defined as a popular music act consisting of about 3-6 male performers. Despite the term "band", boy band members usually do not play musical instruments, either in recording sessions or on stage, although exceptions do exist.
Some such bands can evolve out of church choral or Gospel music groups, but are often created by talent managers or record producers who hold auditions. Due to this and their general commercial orientation towards an audience of preteens, teenyboppers, or teens, the term may be used with negative connotations in music journalism. Boy bands are similar in concept to girl groups.
The earliest form of boy band music took place in the late 19th century with the use of a capella Barbershop quartets. They were usually a group of males and sing in four part harmonies. The popularity of Barbershop quartets had been prominent into the earlier part of the 20th century. A revival of the male vocal group took place in the 1950s with the use of Doo-wop music. Doo wop was a predecessor to the previous boy bands and they sung about topics such as love and other themes used in pop music. The earliest traces of boy bands were in the mid 1950s and the term boy band was not used. The Ink Spots was one of the first boy bands. The term boy band was not established until the late 1980s. Before that times they were called male vocal groups or hep harmony singing groups.
The earliest predecessors of the boy band genre were groups such as The Osmonds, The Jackson 5, and The Monkees, which helped form the template for boy bands. While The Monkees were a manufactured act who featured members with distinct (albeit fictional) personality types, The Jackson 5 were a family group that established many musical conventions that boy bands follow. For instance, their music featured close harmonies from soul music and catchy pop hooks influenced as much as they were Motown acts like The Supremes. All members of the band sang, which is a common convention of boy band, as opposed to having a front man and the rest on instruments. This is effectively so that no one person dominated the stage. Even so, the members conveniently fitted into the convention of having stereotypical personality types (Michael Jackson being the "cute one", to give an obvious example).
Although not a manufactured band, The Beatles set a precedent for boy bands to follow both in terms of marketing to young girls and certain aesthetic and musical conventions. The merchandising, whether it was films like A Hard Day's Night or novelty goods were possibly the first aimed at a certain demographic on a large scale for a group. This made them a proto-type for boy bands, such as The Jackson 5 and The Monkees. Musical conventions that boy bands adopted from The Beatles were less their technical proficiency as musicians and more the catchy pop hooks, melodies and harmonies combined with their marketability. Their marketability was based the idea that there was something for everyone, whether it is the music or the personality of John Lennon or Paul McCartney or their sex appeal.
The Beatles were more directly an influence on boy bands that use rock band instrumentation. The precedent for this was when TV Producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson got four members to perform catchy pop tunes while also acting in a television series. The Monkees are often considered as the original pioneers among boy bands. Formed in 1965 under the supervision of Don Kirshner, the group became dissatisfied with Kirshner's control and became independent two years later, and worked on their own up to 1970.
Although the term "boy band" is mostly associated with groups from the 1990s onwards, other antecedents (apart from those already mentioned) exist throughout the history of pop music. The genre has been copied into languages and cultures other than the Anglo-American. There is a popular Russian boy band Ivanushki International. The Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, appealing to young Latina audiences, was founded in 1977. Menudo had a convention unique among boy bands: when a member turned 16, became too tall, or their voice changed, they were ejected and replaced. Members of Menudo were generally aged 12–14.
In the U.S., the Cleveland-based power pop group The Raspberries was generally interpreted as a "teen act", although all the band members played their own music. Vocalist Eric Carmen later commented, "You’d have a thousand screaming girls in the front of the stage and then ten very serious rock critics in the back of the room going, ‘Uh-huh, I think we understand this.’ And unfortunately the great mass of pot-smoking eighteen year-olds that bought albums and made you a substantial commodity in the great marketing world of records never took to us. It was not hip for people to like us, because their little sister liked us.
Although the term "boy band" did not exist until the 1990s, Boston group New Edition is credited for starting the boy band trend in the 1980s. Maurice Starr was influenced by New Edition and popularised it with his protégé New Kids on the Block, the first commercially successful modern boy band. Starr's idea was to take the traditional template from the R&B genre (in this case his teenage band New Edition) and apply it to a pop genre. Some managers in Europe created their own acts, beginning with Nigel Martin-Smith's Take That in the UK, followed by Louis Walsh and bands like East 17, which by the late 1990s ran their course and split up. With the emergence of britpop and the commercial co-option of indie rock, many boy bands were ridiculed by the British music press as having no artistic credibility.
Boy bands were prominent in the 1990s as well , but they did not explode until 1997. In the mid-1990s, most boy bands were African American and had R&B and gospel elements, such as the group All 4 One and Boyz II Men. Although they had sucesss on the Billboard charts, they had targeted more of an adult audience and were not marketed for youth.
One of the most successful boy band managers was Lou Pearlman, who founded commercially successful acts such as the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, although he was later convicted of unrelated fraud incidents. In the UK, producer Simon Cowell (noted in the U.S. for the American Idol/Pop Idol franchise) is also known for having managed boyband Westlife, which was created by Louis Walsh and promoted by a former boy band member Ronan Keating of Boyzone.
With the continued success of Backstreet Boys and
Since 2001, the dominance of traditional boy bands on pop charts began to fade, although Gil Kaufman of MTV has described "new boy bands" that are "more likely to resemble Good Charlotte, Simple Plan.
Some bands typically labeled as 'boy bands' have achieved larger success because their members create and play their own songs, trying to keep a level of musical performance up to their image. Boston-based power pop group The Click Five is a recent example.
Boy bands are still popular in Eastern Asia with successful groups such as South Korea's TVXQ, BIGBANG, 2PM, SHINee, SS501, BEAST/B2ST, and MBLAQ, while Japan's Arashi, SMAP, V6, Tokio, KinKi Kids, KAT-TUN, NEWS, Kanjani 8, and Hey! Say! JUMP top the Oricon charts. Super Junior, also a popular boy band from South Korea, is one of the world's largest boy bands consisting of 13 members (one of them left in 2010).
In 2001 a new all-male Japanese pop band and dance group boyband hailing from Japan called EXILE, debuted under Avex Group's label Rhythm Zone, thus making EXILE the largest boyband in the world, with 14 members.
Seen as important to a "boy band" group's commercial success is the group's image, carefully controlled by managing all aspects of the group's dress, promotional materials (which are frequently supplied to teen magazines), and music videos. Typically, each member of the group will have some distinguishing feature and be portrayed as having a particular personality stereotype, such as "the baby," "the bad boy," or "the nice boy." While managing the portrayal of popular musicians is as old as popular music, the particular pigeonholing of band members is a defining characteristic of boy and girl bands.
In most cases, their music is written, arranged and produced by a producer who works with the band at all times and controls the group's sound - if necessary, to the point of hiring session singers to record guide vocals for each member of the group to sing individually if the members cannot harmonize well together. However, for clarity of each voice, recording each voice individually is most commonly the norm with most modern vocal groups.
A typical boy band performance features elaborately choreographed dancing, with the members taking turns singing and/or rapping. Boy bands generally do not compose or produce their own material, unless the members lobby hard enough for creative control (e.g. The Monkees, The Fukui Boys, and 'N Sync). It is not uncommon to find extra songs on the album written by one or more of the band members, however their producers rarely use these as singles. UK boyband Five wrote almost all their own songs.
The key factor of a boy band is being trendy. This means that the band conforms to the most recent fashion and musical trends in the popular music scene. As of 2008, boy bands are more likely to be imitating pop punk acts like Blink 182, as well as the corresponding "emo/pop punk" fashion, but some imitate 1960s surf and garage rock revivalist acts like The Horrors or post-punk revivalists like Franz Ferdinand , as it is the current trend.
Although most boy bands consist of R&B or pop influences, other music genres, most notably country music and folk music, are also represented. South 65 and Marshall Dyllon, for example, were both considered country music boy bands, as was to a lesser extent Rascal Flatts. Il Divo, created by Simon Cowell in 2004, are a band that perform Operatic pop, and in several (mainly Italian) languages. Since then operatic/classical boy bands have become quite popular and common, especially in the UK. Since 2001 there has been some crossover with power pop and pop punk from bands that play live instruments. For example, as of 2008, boy bands are often influenced by pop punk, post-grunge, 1960s garage rock , post punk revivalists, power pop (a perennial genre) and dance-punk . Just recently some boy bands decided to go back to their original doo-wop roots, most notably, The Overtones.
Since the 1990s, bands such as Backstreet Boys and LFO have disliked the term "boy band" and have preferred to be known as a "Male Vocal Group". Boy bands have been accused by the music press of emphasizing the appearance and marketing of the group above the quality of music, deliberately trying to appeal to a pre-teen audience and for conforming to trends instead of being original. Such criticisms can become extremely scathing. Boy bands are often seen as being short lived, though some acts such as The Jackson 5, the Backstreet Boys, Westlife and Take That have sustained lasting careers, and in some cases, successful comebacks.