Who Killed the Boy Band?

If puffy vests, bleached tips, and way too much denim turns you on or causes sudden pangs of nostalgia, then chances are you fell for—and sang along with—the popular groups of the late ‘90s. It seemed that by 2000 you couldn’t swing a crimping iron without hitting a new boy band, but somehow—despite their popularity—these teenaged heartthrobs were nowhere to be seen come 2005. With once-beloved boy bands suddenly going “Bye Bye Bye,” we can’t help but ask: who killed the boy band? Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be looking at who’s really responsible for their disappearance from today’s popular music.
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If puffy vests, bleached tips, and way too much denim turns you on or causes sudden pangs of nostalgia, then chances are you fell for—and sang along with—the popular groups of the late ‘90s. It seemed that by 2000 you couldn’t swing a crimping iron without hitting a new boy band, but somehow—despite their popularity—these teenaged heartthrobs were nowhere to be seen come 2005.

With once-beloved boy bands suddenly going “Bye Bye Bye,” we can’t help but ask: who killed the boy band? Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be looking at who’s really responsible for their disappearance from today’s popular music.

Although groups of teeny-boppers pumping out upbeat music (not to mention profitable merchandise) for scores of young, excitable, girls to consume might seem like something exclusively from the new millennium, think again. Boy bands have been around for decades.

Bands like the Monkees, the Osmonds (who started off singing barbershop music as kids), and the Jackson 5 also preceded the bands people normally associate with the term. These groups helped popularize the formula Lou Pearlman—a legendary manager who, before going to jail for a $300 million ponzi scheme, helped bands like *NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys become household names and internationally icons—would eventually capitalize on: teenagers, each with a distinct personality (the shy one, the cute one, the outgoing one… you know the drill), who can dance, share vocals, and don’t (normally) play their own instruments or write their own music.

Groups like Hanson, The Moffatts, 98 Degrees, and the Backstreet Boys—who would go on to be the most successful boy band in North America (selling over 140 million albums)—began cropping up at the end of the decade but really hit their stride by the turn of the millennium. It didn’t take long for bands like Dream Street, O-Town, Blue, and *NSYNC to dominate charts and fast becoming the obsession of young girls the world over.

But by 2003 the only place you could find most of these groups was in the discount CD bin at your local HMV. These groups, for all their popularity, still had the lifespan of a shadfly, and it turns out that it’s not someone, but rather something, that’s seemingly responsible for it: hip-hop.

Or, to be more specific, the rise in Southern rap and hip-hop.

Right around the time that boy bands were taking off in North America, so too was Southern hip-hop. Artists from L.A. and New York had already established that East and West Coast rappers could generate album sales, but few Southern artists could move the needle in the same away… until OutKast, that is. They paved the way for other Southern rappers by showing the same level of profit, and popularity, as other names in the business (think P Diddy from the East or Snoop Dogg from the West). Although record labels from New York and L.A. had already proven that their artists could make a lasting impact with music aficionados, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that places like Memphis and New Orleans were really considered to be hip-hop and rap powerhouses, with labels like Cash Money Records and Hypnotize Minds finally seeing the same levels of success as their East and West Coast counterparts.

Performers like Three 6 Mafia, Lil Jon, Ludacris, and Lil Wayne became musically significant and culturally impactful. They had a unique sound, wrote their own lyrics (for the most part), and often had an active role in the production of their music. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that the fall of boy bands coincidentally happened around the same time Southern hip-hop is said to have peaked; between 2001 and 2004.
There was such an oversaturation of boy bands in the industry that people quickly got tired of their generic, mass produced look and sound. They craved a taste of something different. Paired with the rise of Southern hip-hop—which is about as opposite as you can get from bubblegum pop—it didn’t take long for boy bands to fade from North American pop culture.

So was that really all it took to dethrone the kings of choreographed dance from their spots on the chart? Did hip-hop really kill the boy band?

The short answer: no… Not exactly.

Truthfully, boy bands are far from gone. Although they may not have the place they once had in the American music industry, they’ve only grown in popularity around the world. England’s One Direction reached levels of stardom not seen since the rise of The Backstreet Boys, and South Korea’s music industry is alive and well, with bands like Big Bang, EXO, and most recently BTS becoming international sensations. While boy bands may not be as popular as they used to be, thanks to k-pop’s influence and accessibility, not to mention millennials’ love of ‘00s nostalgia, we may even see a sudden surge in boy bands cropping up and (hopefully) sticking around.

And if *NSYC announcing a comeback is any indication, we’re not going to see the true death of the boy band any time soon.

Want more from MsMojo? Check out other great clips on our YouTube channel, and be sure to take a look at our Magazine of the Top 100 Music Videos of the 2000s.
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