So it’s come to this: boy band revivalism.
Pretty much everything nowadays is about revivalism. Countless 80s films being remade, this mid-90s-esque obsession with club-oriented pop songs, everything Madonna did being copied by every pop star ad infinitum…the list goes on. Now, admittedly, the strength of this particular wave is not yet known. It’s been about 15 years since boy bands peaked, and 10 since they subsequently flamed out (obviously I’m speaking about the iteration of boy bands most relevant to pop music now, and therefore not including the early ‘boy bands’ such as The Beatles, The Monkees, The Jackson 5, etc.). Collectively, there are some fantastic pop songs between the likes of The Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, New Kids On The Block, Boyz II Men, and so on. But do we really need the trend to roll around again?
No. Nonononono noooooooo thanks. We’re barely about five years into allowing ourselves to nostalgically appreciate the pre-Y2K charms of Larger Than Life (despite some who believe that it’s impossibly to be nostalgic about anything in the vicinity of the noughties, which is rubbish), so we need at least another 5 years of reflection and utterances of, “Haha, how silly were boy bands!” before we’re truly ready to be awash with it again. But that won’t stop One Direction being forced onto us, a British boy band whose name invariably seems to emphasise the phonetics of “irection” every time you say it.
Naturally, the push is coming from Simon Cowell, who cultivated the group and signed them after they each auditioned individually – and failed individually – for The X Factor. This is not surprising given a) Cowell managed boy bands in the 90s such as Five (did they ever go as 5ive? I feel like they would’ve HAD to) and Westlife, and b) Cowell is a money-hungry twat and progenitor of reality shows, whose competitors and winners always skew safe, bland and old.
It’s clear how little Cowell cares about the music itself, given that in the last year there have been more books about One Direction than there have been singles by them. In the modern world of Justin Bieber and more Justin Bieber, it’s all about merchandising. The band now has one of those irritatingly fanatical Twitter followings who make hashtags along the lines of “#1DIRECTION2MYHEART” trend, probably. One of the worst things about the internet is how it allows insane tweens to type in all-caps about shitty artists, and act as though they cured polio every time they won some shitty award no one cares about (up to, and including, Grammys).
The song itself is the same sort of bog-standard fare you’d expect from a bunch of teenage boys who came third (!) in the seventh season of The fucking X Factor. Huge synths, big chorus, the chorus repeated as a bridge, and a sun-dappled music video. The song itself is barely notable beyond the fact that ugh, boys can be interested in girls for more than being pretty, Simon. Sure, the fact that she doesn’t know she’s beautiful can be the reason she’s beautiful, but can’t she also be beautiful because she’s intelligent, clever, funny, kind, interesting?
It’s clear that these kids are just going to be singing whatever’s put in front of them, and that’s fine because they’ll get to travel all over the world and make more money than their youngest members deserve, who at 17 make them exactly way too young to be this successful, it’s not fair, STOP IT. Obviously, the songwriters (who, between them, have worked with Westlife, Britney Spears, Darren Hayes, and most amusingly, Stephanie McIntosh) know exactly how to write for a boy band – all of them have something to do, except for the shitty ones who don’t, because there’s always one or two members that don’t really deserve the spotlight. Every boy or girl band has their Posh Spice.
You know what, though? I can’t help buy find myself tapping my toes despite all the comically cheesy excess. That said, when I watch the music video along with the song, I find myself laughing at it at several points. Because with boy bands comes all the wonderfully gay subtext, and this video is chock full of it. All it amounts to is the five of them frolicking around a beach in tight shirts – or no shirts. A group of five nubile, handsome boys in various states of dress and undress cavorting on an empty beach: One Direction music video, or British Boys of Fire Island 14? You decide.
The other unwitting subtext in the video is one that pops up quite often with boy bands: the fact that this is 5 guys all singing about one girl. I know I’m getting pretty good at pointing out the rapeyness in songs and that this might be going a bit far, but all the interactions with girls in the video focus on one girl in a group of three. No matter how you slice it, it all comes off a big gangbangy. Admittedly, when the bridge rolls around, ostensible frontman Harry Styles is the one who seems to have lucked out with the beautiful (but clearly not interesting enough for her personality to be songworthy) girl, despite his not even being the strongest vocalist or most attractive member (which would probably be the unfortunately spelt Zayn Malik, who given some maturation could probably be a solid RnB pop star in his own right), which just seems wrong. Also notable: the secretly gay one is probably the one in the red pants who doesn’t get to sing on his own.
It’s all just a bit too much, with sparklers, soccer balls, camper vans, Beetle convertibles…it’s like Barbie and Ken’s Teen Dream House come to life. Boy bands go hand-in-hand with cheese, though, so they’re living up to what one would expect of them. And it’s a pretty fun, exuberant pop song, both buoyed by oh-so-trendy guitar-pop licks and drowned in a tower of synth, that is brought down by the fact that none of them are particularly strong singers and a hilariously stupid video, that in 10 years time won’t even have the nostalgic appeal of most Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC videos unless music videos are, by then, 4D and viewed in hologram.
I don’t really know if these kids are here to last. They’ve got one of the most sadly powerful men in the music business pushing the absolute hell out of them, and a good chart performance for their debut single even outside the UK is a good sign for their longevity. Will further boy band success follow, though? Are they simply the standard bearer of a new wave of gelled up teens singing about pretty girls, or a bunch of photogenic white kids plus a token ethnic flash-in-the-pan? Time will tell, I suppose. In the end, they feel a little bit Party Posse to me, and my hopes are not high, but I guess as long as they stick to general wholesomeness and don’t try to amp up the sex appeal no harm done.
I can’t like them though. Why? Basically, because of this abomination:
How To Ruin An Amazing Power Ballad By Letting A Bunch of Tweens Sing It 101.