Boy bands: we love to hate them, and we hate to love them. For many of us, our youth was filled with posters on the wall, boys staring into our souls as we slept, and hours spent flipping through futile tabloid magazines, deciding whether Justin or Lance was ‘the one.’1
From The Beatles at the London Palladium in 1963 to 5 Seconds of Summer at the Greek Theatre in 2018, boy bands form a prevalent music genre that isn’t going anywhere — and probably never will.
When I was first given this topic, I was stumped. Never had I thought of boy bands as more than streams of disposable music, whom, for a brief moment in my childhood, I may or may not have worshipped. But them having an effect on my sexuality, or rather, being an outlet for one’s latent pubescent urges — was this a reality? Now I was interested. I suppose somewhere along the line, I forgot that I too was once a raging fangirl.
What constitutes the boy band phenomenon? Characterized by beautifully curated groups of young men, synchronized dancing, and hysterical fans, it is an industry that reaps benefits from young girls exploring their sexuality. That being said, what other safe spaces are there for females to come into their own without shame?
These fans are deemed maniacal and hypersexual, and more often than not this reflects negatively on girls. One of the few havens to navigate budding sexualities and even this is met with pushback. Guys have their stash of Playboy under their beds, pictures of Pamela Anderson adorning their walls, and the incognito browser on ready.2 They spend hours getting hypercharged and absurdly aggressive over 90 minutes of football, yet when girls are the ones behind these displays of emotion, we are ‘hysterical.’3
Boy bands allow for this community, where young fans, women and men, can explore their sexualities, preferences, and discover what lies within their comfort zone. Not to deny that this culture may breed heteronormativity, but the scope has widened with the emergence of girl groups on a much larger scale within the last decade. Yet while ‘girl groups’4 are not met with the same fan mobbing culture, they are channels for queer girls to get hot’n’heavy without subjecting eyes.
Women are often shunned for questioning and attempting to navigate their sexuality. In certain communities, they aren’t even perceived as beings with desires, but rather objects to have sex with. Bands create a platform for exploring sexuality publicly as a community.5
Now, let’s not leave men out of this equation,6 as they too are affected by the presence of boy bands. A little research led me to the history of the institution, and make no mistake, there is much gender politics at play. In the early 1920s, collegiate acapella boy bands arose, and their crooning was seen as defying conventional masculinity.
These men, with their soulfully piercing voices and smoldering intimacy — appeal,7 were swooping up copious numbers of female followers. They were met with vitriol and disdain from men threatened by the genre, as it created sexual agency for women. As such, the first members of boy bands were labelled effeminate and weak, and members to this day are heavily criticized for their appearance.
God forbid anyone encourage men to be anything but impermeable fortresses of entitlement and machismo.
I suppose this is another manner in which boy bands contribute positively toward society, by establishing progressive dynamics for young boys. Do not take this as my endorsement of any Tom, Dick, and Harry; there are bands who have churned out inappropriate and borderline perverse songs, but our lack of attentiveness toward lyrics is a whole other topic.
As far as boy bands are concerned, carry on fantasizing, pining, and deserving every cotton candy day dream.
1 For those of you who never knew the joy of Tamagotchis, Club Penguin, and playing Mario Land on the Game Boy, this is a reference to boy band NSYNC. A comparable popular reference would be Harry or Liam.
2 If you know, you know.
3 Fun fact: hysteria was once considered a medical condition that, surprise, surprise, only afflicted women.
4 I know we had Destiny’s Child and The Pussycat Dolls, but admit it, there are way more groups now than there ever was before.
5 Armstrong, Jennifer. “What’s So Feminist About Liking Boy Bands?” DAME. 2015
6 You know how they get with their fragile egos and all.
7 Sex appeal would be the wrong way to describe the ‘gentle lover’ aura that these men exude.