Mark Medina, program director at Washington area Top 40 outlet Hot 99.5, has seen pop sensations come and go, but even he was surprised by the reception for One Direction when it played at the radio station’s Rockville studios a few weeks ago. Fans showed up holding signs for the band eight days before the guys’ scheduled appearance, and four girls flew from San Diego to hear the band play two songs and get a photo.
“I’d never seen anything like, it,” he says. “We had people fly in from other states; we had girls trying to sneak into the building.”
Historically, there’s a boy band boom every decade or so: New Kids on the Block and New Edition ruled the ’80s and early ’90s, Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync dominated the late ’90s and early ’00s, and, right on cue, here comes the new crop aided by pop music’s cyclical nature.
Over the past few years, the pop airwaves have been hip-hop-dominated but, during the past several months, the music has segued into rhythmic-leaning pop and then into straight-ahead pop. “Acts like Katy Perry and Rihanna have paved the way for pure pop music’s return,” says Keith Caulfield, Billboard’s associate director of charts. “What’s been missing were girl groups and boy bands. It’s such a good environment for this kind of act in pop music right now.”
In the grand tradition of boy bands, these acts share certain traits with their similarly manufactured pop ancestors: Members of the Wanted and Big Time Rush auditioned for their parts at a casting call. The members of One Direction were put together by Simon Cowell after trying out individually for the British edition of “The X Factor.” The former “American Idol” Svengali thought they’d perform better as a collective. Additionally, such groups tend to have snazzy dance moves, don’t write the majority of their songs or play their own instruments and, of course, have hair as shiny as a pony’s mane.
The new trio spans the spectrum of boy bands from squeaky clean to semi-bad boys. Big Time Rush is similar to the Monkees with its own TV series as a launchpad, and the group appeals to kids and tweens.
One Direction fills its songs with such teen-girl catnip as “Don’t need makeup to cover up / Being the way that you are is enough” in the BRIT Award-winning best British single, “What Makes You Beautiful.”