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  • So today we're going to be discussing a topic that positively makes me want to scream

  • and fall into crying fits of hysterics. That's right, we're talking boy bands, bands of

  • boys, groupings of young men...well you get what I'm trying to say here. It's boy

  • band mania at Origin of Everything and I'll be telling you everything (or at least a lot)

  • about the history of how these scream slash dream machines got their start, a little bit

  • of some of the markers that make up the classic boy ensemble and some of the science behind

  • what makes us lose our collective minds when we see them grace the stage. Also this is

  • a video with 10 plus minutes of b-roll of boy bands. Come on, you know you wanna watch it!

  • So before we start the incoherent screaming and fan adoration, let's get to the heart

  • and soul of where these teenage dreams originated.

  • According to NPR's “All Things Consideredsome of the distinctive markers of the boy

  • band (as opposed to theman band”) are:

  • Boy bands tend to be factory produced, meaning that a record executive or talent manager

  • assembles the band and is responsible for casting a group of lads in their teens or

  • twenties. Second, they also tend to play more catchy,

  • bubble gum pop music with simple messaging and sounds (although the range of styles of

  • music can vary widely from band to band). Third, boy bands usually don't play their

  • own instruments or write their own songs. And lastly, boy bands tend to have a fanbase

  • that is heavily comprised of young girls and young women.

  • Now before you get ready to fight me in the comments section, many folks including Billboard

  • trace some of the earliest prototypes of the boy band to a British crew that's often

  • not associated with the genre: that's right I'm talking about The Beatles. Early Beatlemania,

  • more so than their later work, became the blueprint for some of the distinctive markers

  • of boy bands, namely a crew of clean cut looking young boys playing pop music to hordes of

  • screaming teenage girls. But John, Paul, Ringo and George weren't a factory product and

  • they quickly moved on to other genres of music and are now more heavily associated with rock

  • n roll over anything else. Still, the blueprint for boy bands did start to spring up in the

  • 1960s and 1970s with groups like The Osmonds, The Jackson 5, and TV sitcom sensation The

  • Monkees.

  • But the modern boy band seems to really kick off in the early 1980s with groups like Menudo

  • and New Edition. These singing, dancing, harmonizing young heartthrobs encapsulated the signature

  • style that other boy bands would follow for decades, including the singing sensations

  • we all know and love like the Backstreet Boys, B2K, NSync, One Direction, New Kids on the

  • Block, Boyz II Men and 98 degrees. And don't be upset if I left your faves off the list.

  • Because if we're just going to list off all of the acts that have risen to (and fallen

  • from) glory in the past decades I'd be here all day. And that's because the boy band

  • went from being a few well placed ensembles to a veritable explosion in the late 1990s

  • as teen fandom and teen culture (particularly teen girl culture) dominated the airwaves.

  • Music critic Jon Pareles even wrote for the New York Times in 1999:

  • Applause is passe; the reaction most eagerly sought by pop culture right now, from music

  • to television to movies, is a high-pitched squeal from a mob of young girls...The mass

  • market has been voting with its dollars for kiddie-friendly hits with pinup potential.”

  • But the success and failure of certain acts wasn't entirely dependent on the sharpness

  • of their attire or the beauty of their barbershop harmonies. It was also dependent on the group's

  • ability to find success as crossover artists in multiple genres of popular music, reaching

  • audiences often times on the basis of race. The harmonizing and vocal stylings of many

  • boy bands from the early 1980s to the early 2000s trace their roots back to the vocalizations

  • of black a cappella barbershop quartets from the first half of the 20th century. And yet

  • by the late 90s many of the most commercially successful boy bands either had all white

  • members or were coded as white (even with the presence of members from other races).

  • And that's in part because these all white ensembles found greater crossover success

  • in the pop world. And in the 1980s and 90s the proven crossover potential of artists

  • like Whitney Houston, Prince and Michael Jackson defined the era as one where racially coded

  • performances of music that were previously considerednichemarkets (like R&B and

  • Soul music) were suddenly finding mainstream success as pop infused sensations. But non-white

  • boy bands (with exceptions for groups like Boyz II Men) largely did not have the same

  • mainstream success of their all white counterparts, leading many to consider the boy band archetype

  • to be groups like Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, even though they were proceed

  • by acts like New Edition and Menudo.

  • This may be changing though. In 2017, Korean pop band BTS exploded in popularity in the

  • United States with multiple milestones including two songs on the Billboard Hot 100. K-Pop's

  • origins can be traced back to 1992 to a band called Seo Taiji and Boys, then three music

  • studios popped up in the mid- to late-90s that created groups which continued the wave.

  • Another big component of boy bands, heck some could even argue that the biggest component

  • of boy bands, is their hordes of screaming (largely) female fans. Because without their

  • consistent fandom, boy bands wouldn't be the cultural phenomenon we love to love and

  • rag on in equal measure. But part of the consistent consternation around teenybopper music could

  • be derived from the way we view the culture of teenage girls. Professor Gayle Wald notes

  • in her article on boy bands and teen girl culture that part of the friction in the way

  • we narrate boy bands is that they're often gendered as specifically the interest of teenage

  • girls. Even the members themselves are often cast asgirlishor sexually ambiguous

  • in ways meant to make them read as sexual but ultimately non threatening. Additionally

  • Wald notes that boy bands, which are often industry creations, don't have the same

  • authenticatingorigin stories of other genres of music that are considered masculine

  • or masculine centric. She notes that for rock stars thisauthenticatingorigin story

  • often focuses on the bands roots in dive bars and small gigs whereas in hip hop the site

  • of authenticity is rooted in concepts ofthe streetor urban life. But boy bands put

  • together by scouts and talent managers often lack this origin authenticity story, instead

  • following a tightly crafted and honed music industry image.

  • And that's not just exclusive to American bands like the Backstreet Boys. The South

  • Korean music studio system is another example of having bands put together by scouts and

  • talent managers. In the past, studios regulated things like rehearsal hours, curfews, and

  • even cell phone usage, in addition to typical oversight of lyrical direction and PR training.

  • But BTS is one of a few K-pop bands that has helped break the mold. Culture writer Aja

  • Romano notes that it makes sense BTS has become globally popular given that they've been given

  • more freedom to talk about things like mental health, self-love, and cultural pressure.

  • But although it may all seem glossy, sleek and manufactured on the outside there's

  • actually a little bit of science behind how and why these record company products become

  • so irresistible to their teenaged fans.

  • To figure out why we find ourselves so invested in boy bands, we can look to some theories

  • from psychology and sociology.

  • Idolizing celebrities might help young people develop into independent adults. This idolization

  • is sometimes considered a type ofsecondary attachment.” Basically, an adolescent can

  • become emotionally invested in a fantasy relationship with someone they don't know, like say AJ

  • from the Backstreet Boys in my case. Just an example. I definitely did not have a poster

  • of AJ hanging in my childhood bedroom... Ugh, anyway, in one study of around 150 adolescents

  • with an average age of about 15, over 57% of them idolized a celebrity in such a way

  • that they considered it to be a relationship.

  • And, the vast majority of the time, that's a good thing! By taking inspiration from others,

  • like celebrity idols and peers, a child can form their own personality and preferences.

  • It's sort of like a one-sided mentorship. Secondary attachments allow children to move

  • on from dependent family life, in which their parents are their primary role models, and

  • into an independent adult life.

  • Secondary attachments can be formed with all sorts of celebrities, including athletes,

  • actors, and historical figures. Boy band members just happen to be super popular! One study

  • published in 2001 surveyed 75 people, between the ages of 17 and 35, about their celebrity

  • idols. 85% had male idols and about 34% chose musicians or singers.

  • Music itself is relevant to the transition into adulthood, too. As psychologist Amiram

  • Raviv and his team explained in their research, adolescents often prefer to listen to music

  • separately from their parents. So, similar to secondary attachments, music can cause

  • them to form their own preferences and identities. That overlap between mostly male musician

  • idol and enjoyable music gives many adolescents the opportunity to grow as people.

  • The relationship with a celebrity is known as a “parasocial relationship.” And it

  • isn't just something that young people experience. Researchers Donald Horton and Richard Wohl

  • actually came up with this term in 1956 to describe a new phenomenon they were noticing

  • thanks to mass media: adults were feeling a sense of intimacy with TV hosts and newscasters

  • who they watched regularly.

  • But as a reminder, we're talking about psychological theories here and there has been criticism

  • of these concepts. Sometimes scholars who use these terms imply that fans have trouble

  • distinguishing between real relationships and fandom, which isn't fair. And as professor

  • of Media Studies Dr. Joli Jensen has noted, it seems imperfect to characterize celebrity

  • fandom as a completely a more intense or potentially unhealthy thing than sports fandom, or even

  • a passion for fishing, gardening, academic endeavors, and so on.

  • There are also so many aspects to being a fan besides just liking a celebrity (or group

  • of celebrities in the case of boy bands). Often some of the allure is the idea of being

  • a part of something. We know that people who feel as though they belong to a group tend

  • to be more happy, connected, and secure. The sense of belonging is so important that experts

  • often consider it to be an intrinsic human need. There's a lot of research out there

  • about how this pertains to sports team affiliation. People who support local teams have been observed

  • as more confident, less depressed, and less alienated. They're just generally better

  • off.

  • A good way to seek out this sense of belonging is to gather with like-minded fans. French

  • sociologist Émile Durkheim invented the termcollective effervescenceto describe

  • the feeling of excitement and connection that comes out of being in enthusiastic groups

  • at say football games, political rallies, church, or One Direction concerts. Research

  • has shown that people who regularly experience collective effervescence have a higher sense

  • of belonging and connection to others, which presumably results in all the great side effects

  • I just listed. So yay fandom!

  • Concerts can also bring catharsis. Let's be honest, it's nice to be able to let loose

  • and scream every once in a while. Author Rachel Simmons, whose research focuses on female

  • leadership, has observed that women are typically expected to behave a certain way: which is

  • quiet, polite, and unassuming. But while attending concerts, they're allowed to do everything

  • they're discouraged from doing in regular life: mainly scream, dance, and go wild. It

  • makes total sense that this would feel freeing.

  • Screaming isn't just an aimless behavior by the way. We evolved to scream as a method

  • of communication. So according to Simmons, we scream when J-Hope starts dancing to express

  • something to the people around us. By verbalizing this passion, we can connect with the other

  • BTS fans. And hey maybe even get the attention of J-Hope himself. . . which never hurts.

  • So what do you think? Well it seems like the ultimate story of the boy band is that they

  • are both culturally and scientifically irresistible to their masses of screaming fans. But part

  • of the disproportionate disdain that boy bands get over other pop sensations who sing, dance

  • and don't write their own music could be their heavy focus on recruiting and maintaining

  • a young female audience base. Because as much as we all love to chastise these acts as musical

  • frivolity, I can't help but wonder if the heat would be quite so hot if the bands had

  • a mixed or primarily male audience base. And let's face it, there are equally frivolous

  • things and kitschy music crazes associated with teenage boy culture that don't get

  • nearly as much finger wagging. And as boy bander extraordinaire Harry Styles once said:

  • "How can you say young girls don't get it? They're our future. Our future doctors,

  • lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fansthey

  • don't lie. If they like you, they're there. They don't act 'too cool.' They like

  • you, and they tell you. Which is sick.”

  • That's probably the first and last time I'll get to quote Harry Styles in an Origin

  • episode but something about it just felt...right, you know? And as long as culture and science

  • align to make these bands the apples of teenage girls' eyes, it looks like the boy band

  • is likely here to stay, in one iteration or another.

So today we're going to be discussing a topic that positively makes me want to scream

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B2 US band boy band music teenage fandom backstreet

Backstreet Boys to BTS: The Science Behind Why We Love Boy Bands

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