A boy band or boy group is loosely defined as a vocal group consisting of young male singers, usually in their teenage years or in their twenties at the time of formation, singing love songs marketed towards girls. Many boy bands dance as well as sing, usually giving highly choreographed performances.
Some such bands form on their own, often evolving out of church choral or gospel music groups. In contrast, many are created by talent managers or record producers who hold auditions. Due to this and their general commercial orientation towards a female audience of preteens, teenyboppers, or teens, the term can be pejorative in music journalism. Boy bands are similar in concept to their counterparts, girl groups. The popularity of boy bands has peaked three times: in the 1960s (e.g., with the Jackson 5 and the Osmonds); in the 1990s and early 2000s, when acts such as the Take That, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Boyzone, F4, and Westlife dominated global pop charts; in the 2010s and early 2020s with the emergence of groups such as One Direction and K-pop acts such as BTS.
The earliest forerunner of boy band music began in the late 19th century as a cappella barbershop quartets. They were usually a group of males and sang in four-part harmonies. Barbershop quartets were popular into the earlier part of the 20th century. A revival of the male vocal group took place in the late 1940s and 1950s with the use of doo-wop music. Doo-wop bands sang about topics such as love and other themes used in pop music. The earliest traces of boy bands were in the mid-1950s although the term boy band was not used. African American vocal group The Ink Spots was one of the first of what would now be called boy bands. The term boy band was not established until the late 1980s as before that they were called male vocal groups or "hep harmony singing groups".
Although generally described as a rock band, the highest-selling band in history The Beatles have been described by some journalists as "the first" or "the original" boyband, "before anyone had thought of the term", exclusively due to the enthusiastic response they received from their young female audience.
The Liverpool quartet known as The Beatles were not only the quintessential rock band, but many considered John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star [sic] to be the original boy band – especially in the early 1960s when young girls would scream at the top of their lungs and pass out upon first sight of the "Fab Four".
Other critics, however, have pointed out that this assessment of The Beatles as a "boy band" could be applied to all other bands of the 1960s, saying, "if they were a (boy band), so was everyone else" and is countered by others, including Ringo Starr, who point out that, from the beginning, The Beatles wrote and exercised creative control over their own music, played their own instruments, were not manufactured by a record label, and did not feature the choreographed dance moves that later came to be associated with boy bands. The Beatles did, however, inspire the production of the 1966 television series The Monkees, which featured a music group of the same name, created for the show, that consisted of the four starring actors. The Monkees had a career as a rock and pop band after their songs from the TV series were released as successful records.
Although the term "boy band" was not commonly used then, the earliest predecessors of this format were groups such as the Jackson 5 and the Osmonds which helped form the template for boy bands. The Jackson 5 were a siblings 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 by Motown and acts like the Supremes. The group also incorporated choreographed dance moves to their performances. All members of the band sang, which is a common convention of a boy band, as opposed to having a front man and the rest on instruments; thus, no one person dominated the stage. Also a siblings group, The Osmonds first started singing barbershop music for local audiences, before being hired to perform at Disneyland early in their career. Their appearance in a televised Disney special earned them additional TV spots, such as The Andy Williams Show and The Jerry Lewis Show.
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. 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 replaced. The members of Menudo were generally aged 12–16.
The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish pop band who were most popular in the mid-1970s. The British Hit Singles & Albums noted that they were "tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh", and were "the first of many acts heralded as the 'Biggest Group since The Beatles' and one of the most screamed-at teeny-bopper acts of the 1970s". For a fairly brief but fervent period (nicknamed "Rollermania"), they were worldwide teen idols. The group were one of the first bands, like The Monkees before them, to take the formula shown by The Beatles and apply it to a teen market. The group achieved the same amount of success but for a limited period of time. At the peak of their popularity in the UK, comparisons were being made to The Beatles. Also by this time, Bay City Roller fans had a completely distinctive style of dress, the main elements of which were ankle-length tartan trousers and tartan scarves, the group using the benefit of merchandise and promotion.
The German boy band The Teens formed in West Berlin 1976 and had a couple of hits targeting young females. The band resolved in 1982.
In the US, the Cleveland-based power pop group Raspberries was generally interpreted as a "teen act", although all the band members played their own music. Vocalist Eric Carmen later commented, "It was not hip for people to like us, because their little sister liked us."
Boston group New Edition was formed in 1978 and reached their height of popularity in the 1980s, meaning they are often credited for starting the boy-band trend, even though the term "boy band" did not exist until the 1990s. Maurice Starr was influenced by New Edition and popularized it with his protégé New Kids on the Block, the first commercially successful modern boy band, who formed in 1984 and found international success in 1988. 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.
Bros (abbreviation of the word "brothers") were a British boy band active in the late 1980s and early 1990s, consisting of twin brothers Matt and Luke Goss along with Craig Logan. Formed in 1986, they scored multiple top 10 hits between 1987 and 1989 and in 1988 became the first modern era–style boy band to have a multiple platinum-selling album in the UK, with Push, still one of the most successful boy-band albums in the UK. Other big boy bands in Britain during the late 1980s were Big Fun and Brother Beyond.
Some managers in Europe soon created their own acts after being inspired by New Kids on the Block, beginning with Nigel Martin-Smith's Take That in the UK (formed in 1990) and followed by Tom Watkins, who had success with Bros in the late 1980s and formed East 17 in 1991. East 17 were marketed and pitted against Take That as rivals with a harsher attitude, style and sound. Take That reformed in 2006 after a decade-long hiatus and became one of the most successful groups in British music chart history, instead of just the 90s, with renewed chart success internationally, especially in Europe. Irish music manager Louis Walsh, who had witnessed the impact of these British boy bands, put out an advert for an "Irish Take That", thereby creating Boyzone in 1993. Let Loose (formed in 1993), MN8 and 911 (formed in 1995), and Damage (formed in 1996) were also successful boy bands in Britain; however, by the late 1990s all these bands had run their course and split up.
All these artists were very successful on both the singles and albums charts domestically and internationally; however, 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, although some, such as East 17 and Take That, did write most of their own material. The media attention was then placed on the "Battle of Britpop", and the bands Oasis and Blur replaced the importance and rivalry of Take That and East 17 as the two new biggest bands in Britain. However, boy bands continued to find success in the late 1990s, such as Five, Another Level, Point Break and Westlife. In 1995 successful German music manager Frank Farian, who had been manager of Boney M and Milli Vanilli, put together Latin American band No Mercy who scored a few worldwide hits during the mid-90s.
Although being American and the sons of Tito Jackson, a member of The Jackson 5, 3T had several hits singles across Europe in the mid-1990s, despite limited success in the US, and finished the second biggest selling act of 1996 in Europe behind the Spice Girls. With the success of North American boy bands like New Kids on the Block in East Asia, Japanese entertainment company Johnny & Associates formed SMAP in 1992. The group enjoyed tremendous success, selling over 35 million records. It paved the way for more Asian boy bands such as Arashi.
In the early 1990s in North America, with New Kids on the Block's continued success and Color Me Badd also having success, boy bands became a continued staple of the Billboard charts. Continuing this success in the mid-1990s, most prominent boy bands were African American and had R&B and gospel elements, such as the groups All-4-One (formed in 1993) and Boyz II Men (formed in 1988). Boyz II Men are also the most successful boy band act on the U.S. Hot 100 as well as the Australian Singles Chart. Although they had success on the Billboard charts, they were not marketed towards youth but more towards adults. It was not until 1997 and the change to pop-oriented groups such as Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, NSYNC, The Moffatts, and Hanson that boy bands exploded commercially and dominated the market in the United States. This late 1990s marked the height of boy band popularity in North America, which has not been seen since.
Arguably the most successful boy band manager from the U.S. was Lou Pearlman, who founded commercially successful acts such as the Backstreet Boys in 1993, NSYNC and LFO in 1995, O-Town in 2000, and US5 in 2005. Backstreet Boys and NSYNC became the two biggest boy bands in the late 1990s until the early 2000s, and Backstreet Boys went on to become the best-selling boy band in history with over 100 million records sold.
In the late 1990s in the UK, producer Simon Cowell (noted in the U.S. for the American Idol/X Factor franchise) is also known for having managed British boyband Five (formed in 1997) and Irish boyband Westlife (formed in 1998). Westlife was created by Irishman Louis Walsh as a replacement for Boyzone and was initially managed by a former member of the band Ronan Keating. Westlife would eventually overtake Take That in number one's tally in the UK although Take That's overall UK sales are still higher. In 2012, the Official Charts Company revealed the biggest selling singles artists in British music chart history with Take That placed 15th overall and the highest selling boyband act (9.3 million), followed by Boyzone at 29 (7.1 million) and Westlife at 34 (6.8 million). Even though Cowell is known to have managed several successful boy bands, he is also infamous for passing on signing two of the biggest boybands to emerge from the 1990s and 2000s, Take That and Busted.
With the continued success of Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, American and British groups like 98 Degrees, Westlife, O-Town, A1, Blue, and Busted gained quick popularity both domestically and internationally. International boy bands would also occasionally spring up, such as the Moldovan band O-Zone (better known today as an Internet meme), and Overground. American Christian boy band Plus One also enjoyed brief remarkable success during this time.
At the height of boy band popularity in North America, MTV created their own parody boyband, 2gether. Like the Monkees in the 1960s, they were a manufactured act composed of actors. 2gether played off of the idea that every successful boy band must have five distinct personality types: the bad boy, the shy one, the young one, the older brother type, and a heart throb.
Since 2001, the dominance of traditional boy bands on pop charts began to fade in the western hemisphere, although Gil Kaufman of MTV has described "new boy bands" that are "more likely to resemble My Chemical Romance, Sum 41, and Simple Plan.
In 2001, Taiwanese boy band F4 (called JVKV since 2007) blew up big as a result of the success of their TV drama Meteor Garden. According to Forbes, F4 has sold 3.5 million copies of their first two albums all over Asia as of July 2003.
With their success, many other Taiwanese boy bands emerged around this time, such as 5566 and Fahrenheit. In South Korea, Shinhwa also spread hallyu wave throughout Asia such as Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Also in 2001, a new all-male pop band and dance group boyband hailing from Japan called Exile debuted under Avex Group's label Rhythm Zone with 14 members, putting them on par with Super Junior, a South Korean boy band, who had 13 members at its peak.
Japanese boy band Arashi has sold over 30 million copies of their records since their first release in 1999. They had the yearly best-selling single in Japan in 2008 and 2009. In 2003 SMAP released the single "Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana" that has become the third best-selling single ever in Japan, with over 3 million copies sold.
In North America, the Jonas Brothers rose to fame from promotion on the Disney Channel in 2008. Other boy bands like JLS and Mindless Behavior also emerged and experienced remarkable success around this time. However, apart from them, boy bands have not seen the commercial boom experienced in the genre from the mid to late nineties in North America.
The mid 2000s, especially the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, saw the continued longevity of nineties boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and Westlife (before they disbanded in 2012), and the successful comeback of Take That in 2005, Boyzone in 2007, and New Kids on the Block in 2008. Some sections of the press have referred to these acts, particularly those who have reformed after a previous split, such as Take That, Boyzone, and 98 Degrees, as 'man bands'.
In the early 2010s, there was somewhat of a resurgence of boy band popularity in countries where the trend had not maintained, with the emergence of new boy bands like Big Time Rush, The Wanted, and One Direction and the formation of supergroup NKOTBSB which comprised members of New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys. NKOTBSB's success inspired boy bands who were fairly popular during the 1990s and 2000s to make a comeback, such as A1, Blue, 98 Degrees, Five, 911, and O-Town. Like 2gether and The Monkees, Big Time Rush was a manufactured act created for a television show. One Direction were often credited as sparking a resurgence in the popularity and interest boy bands alongside being credited with forming part of a new "British Invasion" in the United States. Their Where We Are Tour was the highest-grossing tour by a vocal group in history and after the release of their fourth album, Four, they became the only group in the 58-year history of the Billboard 200 to have their first four albums debut at number one.
In Southeast Asia, local boy bands also emerged as a result of the continued success of Korean and Japanese boy bands such as SMAP, Sechs Kies, Shinhwa, TVXQ!, Arashi, Exile, Super Junior, Big Bang, SHINee, Exo, and BTS. One of the boy bands who emerged as a result of Hallyu (Korean wave) is Indonesia's SM*SH who enjoyed prominent success domestically. In the Philippines, a major boy band has been formed by bringing the first reality boy band search of the country called Pinoy Boyband Superstar which held mid 2016, after all the series of auditions, rigorous training and competition, the winners formed as a group called Boyband PH a five-piece Pinoy boy band which managed by Star Magic.
In South Korea, boy bands have been commercially successful. On the Gaon Music Chart year-end albums chart of 2016, nine of the top 10 and 17 of the top 20 albums are by boy bands or by subunits/members of boy bands. BTS' Map of the Soul: 7 is the best-selling album of all time in South Korea, with more than 4.4 million copies sold, and Exo's XOXO became the first album released since 2001 to sell more than 1 million copies. As of 2021, boy bands such as Seventeen, NCT and NCT 127 have also become regular million-sellers.
In 2013 Billboard started covering music releases in K-pop, though K-pop had been entering the charts as early as 2009, signifying the growth of the hallyu wave in America. By 2017, BTS crossed into the international music market, furthering the Korean Wave in the United States and becoming the first Korean group to receive a certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) with their single "Mic Drop". The band is the first Korean act to top the U.S. Billboard 200 with their studio album Love Yourself: Tear (2018) and have since hit the top of the U.S. charts with their albums Love Yourself: Answer (2018), Map of the Soul: Persona (2019), Map of the Soul: 7 (2020) and Be (2020). Love Yourself: Answer also broke South Korea's Gaon Album Chart's all-time monthly record previously set by Love Yourself: Tear and became the first Korean album certified Gold in the United States. SuperM later became the first K-pop group to debut at No. 1 in the U.S. Billboard 200.
In Japan, Arashi continue to be very successful, being the best-selling music artist in Japan from 2013 through 2017 by value of sales and also having the yearly best-selling album in the country in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016. Other successful Japanese boy bands in this decade include Sandaime J Soul Brothers, the second best-selling music artist of 2016 in the country and Kanjani Eight, the fifth best-selling music artist of that year in Japan.
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 attire, promotional materials (which are frequently supplied to teen magazines), and music videos. 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. 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 shy one". 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. In recent years, auto-tune has become a popular tool for boy bands who are unable to sing to a high standard. Some boy bands have come under fire for this issue of using auto-tune. Some have also come under fire for lip syncing in their performances as well, for example New Kids on the Block.
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. However, some bands were created around the talent of a songwriter within the group like Gary Barlow of Take That or Tony Mortimer of East 17. It is not uncommon to find extra songs on an album written by one or more of the band members; however, their producers rarely use these as singles.
Since the 21st century, however, boy bands have been expected to write or at least contribute in some part lyrically to songs. Apart from the groups mentioned above who all had at least one primary songwriter from their beginning, other groups soon caught up. At the close of the nineties, groups like Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC who had previously used writers like Max Martin during their early albums began writing their own songs. Newer groups from late 2000s such as JLS have all made a point from early interviews that they write their own songs and hold their own image as this is an important part of marketing. Some bands like The Wanted have even spent time learning the craft of songwriting.
Individuals can also go on to achieve greater success as a solo artist coming out of a boy band having used the groups popularity to build on. Usually this signals the end of the group until potential future reunions. Examples of this include Michael Jackson from The Jackson 5, Donny Osmond from The Osmonds, Ricky Martin from Menudo, Justin Timberlake from *NSYNC, and Ronan Keating from Boyzone. Sometimes the most successful solo star from a band is not the most popular member such as Robbie Williams as opposed to lead singer Gary Barlow from Take That. Some boy band members have gone on to successful careers elsewhere in the media. Michael Dolenz of The Monkees went on to become a successful television producer, working for ITV franchises such as LWT and Television South.
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 country music boy bands. Il Divo, created by Simon Cowell in 2004, are a vocal group that performs operatic pop 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. Just recently some boy bands decided to go back to their original doo-wop roots, most notably, The Overtones.
Since the 2000s, groups such as Backstreet Boys and LFO have disliked the term "boy band" and have preferred to be known as a "male vocal group". Being categorized among boy bands was also the main reason the Moffatts split up. 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 preteen 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, although some acts such as The Jackson 5, Backstreet Boys, Human Nature, New Edition, SMAP, Shinhwa and Westlife (before they split up in 2012) have sustained lasting careers.
The following is a list of the best-selling boy bands based on claimed sales figures of over 40 million records:
|Name||Nationality||Number of members||Years active||Genre||Studio albums||Claimed sales|
|Backstreet Boys||United States||5 → 4 → 5||1993–present (29 years)||Pop||10||130 million|
|The Jackson 5||United States||5 → 6 → 4||1964–1990, 2001, 2012–present (59 years)||Pop/R&B||18||100 million|
|The Osmonds||United States||5||1958–1980 (22 years)||Pop||22||77 million|
|New Kids on the Block||United States||5 → 4 → 5||1984–1994, 2008–present (37 years)||Pop||6||70 million|
|*NSYNC||United States||5||1995–2002 (7 years)||Pop||4||70 million|
|One Direction||United Kingdom/Ireland||5 → 4||2010–2016 (6 years; on hiatus)||Pop||5||70 million|
|Bay City Rollers||United Kingdom||5||1966–1981 (15 years)||Pop||16||70 million|
|Boyz II Men||United States||5 → 4 → 3||1988–present (31 years)||R&B||11||60 million|
|Take That||United Kingdom||5 → 4 → 5 → 3||1990–1996, 2005–present (31 years)||Pop||8||45 million|
|Westlife||Ireland||5 → 4||1998–2012; 2018–present (23 years)||Pop||11||45 million|
We were never a boyband. We always thought of ourselves as a white vocal harmony group, we didn’t model ourselves on Take That or anything.
As long as you like my music, buy the record, come to the shows, fact of the matter is, if you see us, you'll know we're not a boy band.
Being young, there's this (boy band) stigma you pick up and they all thought it was very unjust.