New boy bands have been popping up like fresh-faced weeds: British groups The Wanted and One Direction both have huge hit singles, and their fellow Englishmen Lawson are poised to invade the radio by the end of the month. Meanwhile, American lads Big Time Rush have translated their Nickelodeon series into hit albums and sold-out concerts.
Mostly, these groups are like every other boy band in history. If you liked The Monkees or New Kids on the Block or N*Sync, then you’ll recognize the shiny pop sounds and fetching good looks.
But this time, you don’t have to be a teenage girl to admit you love these guys. More than ever before, adults are openly surfing the boy band wave. Last week’s print issue of Entertainment Weekly even cited an official study and a cheeky Tumblr to prove that grown ups like what kids like.
This adult fan base doesn’t only mean boy bands sell more singles. It also means they are much more sexual than their predecessors.
When I was younger, for instance, I harbored a secret crush on Jonathan Knight from New Kids on the Block. That was a good call, but at the time, I wasn’t thinking about him as a sexual being. After all, he and his bandmates were generally wearing long-sleeved shirts and singing sweet little ditties about covers girls who had the right stuff.
Now, however, entire plotlines of Big Time Rush revolve around a characters’ sexy abs. Harry Styles, an 18 year-old member of One Direction, regularly talks about his affair with a woman nearly twice his age. And before they even hit the charts, members of Lawson pose for NSFW photos.
Granted, none of the guys are underage, so there’s no crime being committed. And I can hardly complain when members of The Wanted pose for sexy magazine covers. I may not love their music, but I am not blind, y’all.
Still, the music these groups release still seems aimed at younger kids. Or at least, it seems more “kiss on the cheek” than “full tongue.”
Just listen to “When You Were Mine,” the debut single from Lawson. It’s a pleasantly generic power ballad that practically begs young girls to maintain their innocence as they sing along. Yet as I mentioned above, I’ve also seen the group’s bare backsides.
Because they’ve got adult and adolescent fans, these lads live in a dual universe: They’re both non-threatening boys and randy gents who show you the money. And I’m not sure I enjoy lusting after celebrities who also make children happy. It’s like having a bondage fantasy about Elmo.
What do you think? Am I overreacting? Should I just enjoy the beefcake and the catchy tunes? Or is there something unsettling about boy bands who keep reminding us they’re men?
Mark Blankenship has written about pop music for NPR and The New York Times, and you can follow him on Twitter at @IAmBlankenship. He only looks at shirtless men for research purposes. Honest.