One Direction, looking as much like the Beach Boys as they can.?Pop music is cyclical. With the absence of one niche pop artist arises another: Look at what Lady Gaga did when Madonna was absent from the scene for so long. What has pop music been missing recently? Boy bands.
‘N Sync, the world’s most revered boy band — bar the Beatles, pop’s first boy band, which pioneered the boy-band aesthetic and package for their generation — boasted one of the best sales weeks ever, with one million copies of their album No Strings Attached, in one day. The band said bye, bye, bye to the world two years later, in 2002, and there hasn’t been a boy band as big ever since.
Although the Backstreet Boys, despite also calling it quits in 2002, returned in 2005 with another boy band, New Kids on the Block, to form the megazord of boy bands, NKOTBSB, and claim best-selling boy-bander status of all time, their market was largely soccer moms everywhere, not pre- and post-pubescent music lovers like ‘N Sync.
No matter. Lacking male-drive pop since the rise of Gaga and Katy Perry only three years ago, the United States has ventured overseas to fill the void left by Justin, JC, Lance, Chris and Joey. Their replacements, who answer to the name One Direction, are just as effervescent, polished and boy band-y as their predecessors. They’ve got the whole pouty, introspective, look-at-the-ground-then-look-at-the-camera thing down to a science, too. Justin Timberlake would be proud (if he wasn’t so busy impersonating Bon Iver).
Take, for example, “What Makes You Beautiful” — One Direction’s playful ode to that girl that doesn’t know she’s beautiful, the one that usually sat next to you in homeroom, that you couldn’t stop staring at when you were supposed to be taking notes. “What Makes You Beautiful” is purely feel-good pop, without any underlying message.
The video, likewise, sees the boys, five of them — like all boy-band greats — running, jumping and singing beachside to a few fresh-faced girls whose post-acne skincare regimens makes their skin shine like their sun and their smiles radiate with a confidence that says, “Yeah, I know you know I’m beautiful, but I’m going to let you sing it to me anyways.” Basically, the video is a trip down early ‘N Sync memory lane in all of the right ways; there’s an undeniable Beach Boys, America’s first true boy band, in there, too. The only thing that is missing is the synchronized choreography.
“What Makes You Beautiful” picked up a Brit Award last week for Best British Single, beating Adele‘s “Someone Like You.” One Direction also saw the highest-charting debut for a British band on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1998, when “What Makes You Beautiful” landed at number 28 last Wednesday.
It may have taken ten years to produce a new boy band like One Direction for the masses, but the Brits did it, and somehow they did it twice. The Wanted, which is everything One Direction is not when it comes to pop — these older guys wear less clothes, encourage their ladies to drink alcohol and, most noticeably, are old enough to need to shave — is seeing an equal success in the States lately. “Glad You Came,” their big, Ellen-sponsored U.S. hit, is the song for the After Prom party, when One Direction has to retire because of an early curfew and when all the older, Wanted guys only want to get their girls alone. “Glad You Came,” packed with its unspoken double entendre, matches both of these sentiments together in a way that the younger lads of One Direction can’t even fathom yet. They’re like One Direction’s older, cooler brothers.
It’s almost as if One Direction and the Wanted, like ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, were imported simultaneously to fill the decade-long void in the 21st Century pop epoch. And “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Glad You Came” work well as a reintroduction to what we may not have even realized we were missing: boy-band pop music. These two songs serve as the perfect followups to where ‘N Sync left off with “Girlfriend” in 2002.
Will we see more boy bands spring up and cross the pond in the next year or so? Bet on it. Pop music builds on winning formulas — that’s why every song sounded like a Timbaland song in 2006, thanks to “Promiscuous,” and like a RedOne song in 2009, thanks to “Poker Face.”
Muppets Among Men: The Muppets scored last night at the Oscars, when “Man or Muppet” won Best Original Song for Disney’s The Muppets. It was a big win for Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Jason Segel, an avid Muppet enthusiast, but it was an even bigger win for Bret McKenzie, who collected the statue for his work as the song’s composer and lyricist. The song’s only competitor, literally, was “Real In Rio” from Rio.
Climactic: The anticipated new Usher single, “Climax,” dropped last week. It’s a sexy electro-R&B track, much like “Love In The Club,” but certainly more interesting. Sounds nothing like Diplo‘s typical production style, but “Climax” oozes Robin Thicke atmospherics. It’s a step in the right direction for Usher, whose bedroom songs possess more baby-making staying power than sellout jams like “DJ Got Us Falling In Love.”Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
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