Boy bands: whether you love them or hate them, they continue to occupy the media.
When you hear the term “boy band”, you might think of NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, or One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer (controversial?), or even BTS and NCT. Though these musical groups all have much in common, from their amazing vocals to their stunning good looks, there’s actually just as many differences between each of these individual groups. Boy bands have been around as early as the 1960s and 70s, but the niche shot to popularity during the 90s and early 2000s and have stuck around ever since, with at least one big name in each era of music belonging to a group of handsome men who sing and dance as a career.
I might have been a little young to really be a fangirl for some earlier groups, especially those that were most active in the 90s and 2000s, but as someone who went through her tween and teen years in the 2010s I would love to walk you through my journey with boy bands and how they have impacted my life.
A disclaimer, I understand why people are opposed to boy bands for multiple reasons–especially with k-pop groups. I’m aware of the controversies with the toxic music industry, irritated with the sexualization (especially rampant towards younger members, upsettingly), and acknowledge the expectation for musicians to overwork. This being said, it is important to keep in mind that just because someone enjoys a certain group or musician does not mean they support the toxic industry in which they work.
2010-2015: One Direction
One Direction was the first boy band I ever really got into. Prior to this, I knew of “older” bands like NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys as well as early k-pop groups like H.O.T and DJ Doc because my parents were fans.
Some of my earliest memories of my adolescence included watching One Direction’s video diaries, their X-Factor performances, and of course, their music videos. I was so obsessed with them that I managed to make my whole family into Directioners because of how often I would put on their music or their other content and blast it from our living room TV.
One Direction was not only my first boy band, but also the first musical artist I really considered my favorite. Prior to liking One Direction, I don’t think I really had a taste in music at all. It was never something that I thought of–maybe because I was like 6 years old–but I truly do consider listening to One Direction a core memory. I will never forget the way that their music made me feel; it made me realize how many emotions I could feel just because of someone else’s art.
They are important to me for many, many reasons, and I think my mother realized this. Unfortunately this was after Zayn’s departure, but she bought tickets for me, my sister, and her, to see them on their final tour before their hiatus. I was about 12 years old at the time, and this was the first time I was allowed to wear makeup. In a way, I feel like “One Direction” played a big part in my transition to my teenage years. Their music and content inspired me to branch out and detach from my childhood little by little in a healthy way. Through them, I learned so much about the world and the possibilities out there. I would not be the same person I am today without the five men of One Direction.
Also, I’ve always been a Harry girl.
2015-2016: The Vamps
I never really had a phase dedicated solely to The Vamps, but I do enjoy quite a few of their songs. I remember my sister and I kept insisting that Bradley looked a lot like Harry (we were coping with the loss of One Direction at the time) and he was both of our favorites.
Writing this article made me do some research on The Vamps, and all I have to say is GO STREAM their newest releases! The group has been spending some time apart but every single one of their songs brings me right back to the summer days where I would listen to “Somebody To You” and “Can We Dance” on repeat, feeling like they would last forever.
2016-2020: 5 Seconds of Summer
Though I mentioned The Vamps’ music convincing me of an endless summer, 5SOS did exactly the same thing, despite their opposing name.
Perhaps including them in this article is controversial, because of how adamantly the members said they were a punk rock band and not a boy band in their earlier days, but in 2021 they uploaded a video called “The 5 Seconds of Summer Show – Roast Interview“) in which they made fun of how vehemently they used to deny being a boy band (timestamp 1:40). We can assume they accepted their fate; any band with handsome young members will be labeled a boy band, no matter what genre of music they make.
Their debut album (titled “5 Seconds of Summer”) brings me all the way back to that One Direction concert I went to. Before I knew who 5SOS was, I remember hearing of them through One Direction: they were the opening act for a few shows on the “Take Me Home” tour. That was the extent of my knowledge however, until I stumbled across their best (in my opinion) album called “Sounds Good Feels Good”. From that point on, “She’s Kinda Hot” was the only thing playing in my headphones.
Though my interaction with the fandom wavered over the years, I started getting more invested in the group when I was around 16, and they released their album “CALM”. I was so obsessed that for my 16th birthday my boyfriend at the time bought me a record player and the “CALM” vinyl. I have yet to grow my vinyl collection past that album (and one AC/DC album).
To this day, I still truly enjoy their music. The release of their new album 5SOS5 reminded me of how emotional their music can be, and how much they have grown as people, as individual artists, and as a band in the past decade.
2016-2018: Black Veil Brides (+ other emo bands…)
This brings me to the question of “who exactly qualifies as a boy band?”. We can go off of the simple definition, which is that any band with boys is considered a boy band. I do believe that the context provided here explains the inclusion of “emo” bands like Black Veil Brides, My Chemical Romance, and All Time Low:my three favorite “boy bands” in my angsty teen years.
Though I would not consider these groups boy bands, including them only felt right. Especially with the way people fell for Andy Biersack, Gerard Way, and Alex Gaskarth (me included).
If anything, I consider 5SOS my gateway between pop and “punk”–without them sandwiched between Black Veil Brides and The Vamps, it seems a little choppy.
Now, we’re getting to the juicy current stuff.
We all know BTS as the most popular active boy band in the world right now, but a lot of people don’t know how and where they started. Though they debuted in 2013 (yes, that long ago!) I started listening to their music 3 years later in 2016, when I became friends with a few people who were really into K-Pop. I still remember BTS as the angsty, rap-heavy group that donned thick eyeliner and oversized black clothing. Though they were starting to move past this image by 2016, a quick watch of some of their first music videos explained it all.
I didn’t follow BTS for that long, instead putting k-pop behind me for a little while, until the year 2019, when the popular song “Boy With Luv” featuring Halsey was released. Gone were the heavy chains and the emo hair–instead, they were clad in pastels and dancing in front of colorful backgrounds, smiling the entire time. Though they were very different from how I last remembered them, this brought me back into my BTS phase. This time, I branched out further and started listening to other K-Pop boy groups like the newly debuted TXT–often referred to as “the new BTS” at that time–despite people’s dismay for the nickname. I dabbled in a little bit of Seventeen as well, but that was the extent of it. All three groups were producing very poppy and colorful songs at the time, reminiscent of One Direction’s first two albums in my mind. Again, I stopped listening to their music after a few months.
Just two years later in 2021, my mom started getting into BTS’ music. At this point they were quite well-known worldwide, miles and miles from the group I knew and loved back in 2016. I still loved their music (yes, even their English songs that I know a lot of fans dislike) and the members themselves. To this day I still adore them and await their return from the military (will embed a link here about the Korean military lol), but until then…
2021-N/A: Stray Kids, TXT, Enhypen, Seventeen, Monsta X… etc.
I was still super into k-pop even though BTS was on a group hiatus, and after receiving a comment on one of my (now deleted) TikToks telling me I resembled a female version of a certain k-pop idol, I decided to listen to some of his music.
This k-pop idol was Bang Chan from the group Stray Kids, and though I do not believe we have any physical resemblance, I did really like his group’s music. Stray Kids remains my favorite k-pop group and my favorite boy band to this day, and unlike 5SOS, they embrace the boy band title. I was lucky enough to attend a concert from their MANIAC tour in LA, and it was so exhilarating to see these people I idolized on stage in real life.
What was really funny to me was seeing that Michael Clifford from 5SOS knows of Stray Kids and commented on one of the members’ hilariously deep voices (will link a youtube vid here). After the recent Jonas Brothers x TXT collaboration AND the Seventeen x New Kids on the Block collaboration, I have my fingers crossed for another boy band crossover…
I listen to numerous K-Pop boy bands, but a few of my favorites are Stray Kids (naturally), Seventeen, Monsta X, TXT, and Enhypen.
People always told me that it was a phase and that I would grow out of it. I remember in the fifth grade when a boy told me I better grow out of it or else I wouldn’t ever find a boyfriend (which is crazy to say, because there are so many non-female boy band fans out there as well as supportive spouses!). Though my music taste has indeed evolved and expanded as I grew up, my love for the boy bands I used to adore has not changed. If anything, the nostalgia and happy memories associated with the members and their music makes it even more meaningful. I think it is also inevitable that people will change as they grow up–it is no surprise that my 19-year-old self is very different from my 6-year-old self–so why would my music taste matter so much to others anyways?
It’s funny though, because I in fact still keep in touch with that person and he asks me annually if I still like One Direction. It’s more of an inside joke between us now (though I was annoyed when he initially asked me in elementary school) and I will always, always say yes. Never apologize for the music you enjoy, even if you think it’s embarrassing or silly for some reason. Music is versatile and diverse for a reason–there is something out there for everyone.