The Boy Bands' Influence on Cultural Development

All countries have their own specific brand of music. If you heard a song from England or Mexico for example, most people would be able to identify the region where the singers come from. America is no different in this regard and has a recognizable sound to people from other countries. A good chunk of this aesthetic comes from boy bands, composed of 3-6 young men who were either put together into a band via a record label or because they met by chance. Boy bands are by no means a phenomenon found only in America as they are also very popular in places such as South Korea and Japan, where boy/girl bands make up a majority of popular music. American boy bands have been so influential to modern American music that it would be difficult to discuss one without mentioning the other. Some people might claim that boy bands and their music is formulaic and manufactured by record labels but boy bands are ultimately an essential part of American music and culture.

First, a brief history of Boy Bands: Many consider the Beach Boys to be the very first Boy Band. Formed in 1961, they are most often referred to as Surf Rock and differed from most modern Boy Bands in that they played instruments instead of just being a vocal ensemble. They topped the charts, and are the only band to ever have had 36 of the top 40 songs at one time. The greatest correlation to modern Boy Bands The Beach Boys have is their use of dramatic vocal harmonies, also present in modern Boy Bands, of which I will speak later. The next Boy Band came many years later in 1984 with the formation of New Kids on the Block (NKOTB). They paved the way for other modern groups. Their style of singing was known as bubblegum pop, and this style became the norm for future Boy Bands as well. Their popularity began to fade in the mid-nineties when they began to be replaced with more recent groups, however, in 2008, NKOTB did make a reunion album called “The Block,” but it caused almost no stir whatsoever in the music world. In the mid-nineties, groups such as Take That, Boyz II Men, and 98 Degrees came on the scene, but all were outshined by the popularity of two indisputable titans: The Backstreet Boys and N’SYNC. Both became unbelievably popular and famous. Although people were often staunch fans of either one or the other, most people thoroughly enjoyed both. Their synthesis-modified voices created chord patterns ranging from simple to complex but were almost always extraordinary. This was the golden age for Boy Bands, and since N’SYNC and Backstreet Boys fell apart, no Boy Band yet has managed to even come near their throne. Newer Boy Bands such as Westlife, and recently the Jonas Brothers have a different style than their predecessors, but still, fulfill the requirements necessary to be considered a Boy Band. Over time, Boy Bands have become an integral part of the American Pop Music scene, and surely we can look forward to Boy Bands existing in one form or another indefinitely.

Producers creating Boy Bands take plenty of time in deciding who should be in the band. The guys they choose to fall into categories: the tough one, the heartthrob, the cute guy, and the soulful one. Either Boy Band members fall into one of these groups naturally or can be groomed to fit one of them. This is a very simple marketing technique. By making each member distinctive and individual, each member can have devotees who will not only buy band merchandise, but also merchandise specific to their favorite member. To ensure that their appearance appeals to the target demographic, they all have to be simple like their music: inoffensive and non-threatening. Every so often, their appearance can be updated to keep them fresh; they’ll keep up with and set the latest trends. Unlike other types of music, appearance is extremely important for Boy Bands, because Boy Bands live and die based on whether or not people think they look good. The best Boy Bands always look good, especially in their concerts.

Although many bands perform well and have great concerts, only Boy Bands execute superfly moves with the precision of a dance troupe. Like seriously, they’re off the hook. When they’re not dancing like crazy mofo they’re putting on ridiculous spectacles. At the Backstreet Boys' “Larger than Life” concert, they all came onto the stage from high above suspended from high wires wearing futuristic suits reminiscent of Tron. Modern Boy Band performances almost always have a superb light show and pyrotechnics perfectly in time with the song and their dance moves. Some say that attending such a concert is one of the most exhilarating experiences of their lives.

Those are the three main drawing points of Boy Bands, and it is clear to see why they are so appealing. Their music is pleasant and draws you in, their appearance says that they’re cool, and their shows are spectacular. Their track record completely supports this information as well. Generation after generation is captured by their unique brand of musical stylings

This is true to the point where it is hard to keep track of each individual Boy Band. Naturally, it is easy to keep track of bands with large gaps of time between them, such as The Beach Boys and Boyz II Men, or New Kids On the Block and The Jonas Brothers, but when the time intervals get closer together, they get harder to keep track of just by hearing their music.

The most essential part of any boy band is naturally the music, as one cannot have a band without it. From the New Kids on the Block, and up to the present, many Boy Bands do not write their own music. Band members are often selected by music producers for their qualities in the other two fields of what makes a Boy Band a Boy Band, not necessarily for musical ability. As I stated earlier, much of Boy Band music is bubblegum pop. Bubblegum pop is pop music that doesn’t offend anyone; anyone will find it pleasing to the ear and the lyrics are generic and appropriate. It doesn’t push any boundaries and it takes no chances. In this, it is sure to be liked. Bands like N’SYNC added synth vocal effects and such to liven their music up. In musical terms, most boy band music is a series of harmonic chord changes with intermittent solos based around the common I-IV-V-I chord pattern. This pattern can be found in almost every Boy Band song, if not one of the simplified versions, I-V-I or I. Because of the average composition of five members, Boy Bands can create complex melodic chords within the standard changes. They also include many inflections and embellishments to add flavor to their otherwise dull composition. This framework can be seen in almost all Boy Band music. It is basically a formula for creating Boy Band songs. Each song is essentially the same as the next, all the music producer does is change the background, rearrange the chord patterns, change the lyrics and you have a new song. This utter simplicity is one of the main drawing powers of the Boy Band. Without even realizing it, the listener hears the similarity in every new song and enjoys that similarity. This is one of the ways that Boy Bands target their prime demographic, preteen girls.

in order to determine the impact that digital technology has upon the ways in which music fandom operates today, one must consider the implications of each of the functions undertaken by such tools. As Henry Jenkins highlights, numerous consequences arise for contemporary fandom as a result of the increased speed and scope of communication provided by ‘the new digital environment’. This is particularly evident when one considers the proliferation and increasing pervasiveness of social media over the past decade. In September 2011, One Direction announced that they would be commencing their first UK tour in December of the same year. This stimulated a vast number of discussions between both fans and non-fans, particularly through the social networking site Twitter, with users across the globe 'retweeting' or sharing the announcement within their own networks. When tickets were released in October, it became apparent from social networking sites that the tour sold out almost instantly, with many fans left unable to purchase tickets. This considered the assertion that such rapid ticket sales were, at least partially, a result of fans' engagement with new tools for communication does not appear to constitute a non sequitur.

Regarding social media, in her 2012 article, Lucy Bennett suggests that ‘in recent years, its expansion and use. . . have changed live music engagement and fandom quite considerably’. Specifically, she argues that websites such as Twitter and Facebook appear to have had an effect on the ‘ways in which some fans engage with the live music experience’, with fans increasingly changing their approach to living music by viewing concerts from within their own home. In this age of rapid communication, Bennett proposes the emergence of a ‘collective anticipation’8 amongst online fans prior to live events. Taking the fan groups of U2 and Tori Amos as an example, she notes how fans are able to discuss a live performance as it happens, and share their opinions with group members across the globe. This capability may conceivably be believed to have resulted in a sense of social proximity among music fans who communicate online today.

An alternative way in which one may view new communications technology as significant is in that it may be seen as establishing a new level of prestige, which is awarded to fans who have communicated directly with the object of their fandom- that is, the artist. Arguably, this was a common phenomenon before the invention of the internet, with many fans tracking band members’ locations took place through face-to-face and written communication in the period of “Beatlemania” around the early 1960s. However, today such practices take place almost entirely online, with a number of fan-organized Twitter handles focussing on providing other fans with “1D Updates” or even, concerningly, providing a site through which “1D stalking” can be facilitated. Indeed, the commonplace nature of such practices may be seen as raising major ethical and moral issues today concerning privacy and the limits of celebrity status.

In addition to enabling faster and more widespread communication globally, the commercial availability of resources such as the World Wide Web from the mid-1990s has facilitated public access to a wealth of information. For fandom, it appears that consequences of such readily available data sharing include both an increased shared knowledge base. As Baym notes, 'a large group of fans can do what even the most committed single fan cannot: accumulate, retain, and continually recirculate unprecedented amounts of relevant information'.

While these arguments appear to suggest that fandom, as an inherently integral practice for active members of fan communities, is a key aspect contributing to the formation of an individual’s identity, one may question to what extent this is the case for less active fans.

Certainly, audience scholar, Joli Jenson suggests that the fan is often depicted as ‘an obsessive loner… etc.’ This appears to be the case when one reflects on the recently broadcast depiction of One Direction fans in Channel 4’s documentary, Crazy about One Direction, throughout which a number of fans are presented as predisposed to undertake extreme actions in order to attract attention from band members. This said, Jenson maintains that scholars and the public as a whole should move away from such stereotypes and instead explore fandom as ‘a normal, everyday social and cultural phenomenon’. Such an approach would perhaps lead one to consider the impacts of fandom for identity politics in relation to what Nicholas Garnham describes as ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ participants.

One Direction is a group of five boys ranging from ages 19-21. The boys are from various parts of the UK and Ireland and were formed on the reality singing competition show X-Factor UK. The boys auditioned separately but were not strong to advance individually but Simon Cowell offered them a place in the competition if they formed a group and One Direction was born in the eyes of 19 million UK viewers. One Direction did not win X-Factor but the band's success has a direct correlation to their creation on the popular reality competition. The band has also released a documentary “This Is US’ that depicts their journey to stardom and showcases their individual personalities to fans and undecided audience members. They are a mesh of different ethnicities, personalities, backgrounds, and singing styles which partially explains their appeal but the larger part of their success with their formation on reality television and nonstop use of reality-based media. One Directions' continuous use of reality-based media has created a group whose entire journey, from conception to global acclaim, has been documented and largely interactive between the bands and fans. These two reality-based content have helped to perpetuate One Direction as the relatable boy next door boy band.

Every famous musical artist or group always has a following of fans, and that following of fans is what keeps these artists popular in the industry. Everyone knows that the more fans an artist has, the more successful they are. When the band One Direction was formed on The X Factor, a reality television music competition, it was the start of something big. Compared to the likes of a modern-day ‘Beatlemania’, One Direction has taken the world by storm. And so have their fans. With the formation of this boy band, the fans of One Direction have created their own social group.

One Direction’s fans, coined “Directioners,” follow and support the group, but they do more than just that. The interact with each other and other groups' fans to defend the boys. There’s even a wikiHow page on “How to be a Directioner.” People want to be a part of this fandom’s social world when they start to become a fan of the group. They want to feel involved and like they are connected to other people and a part of a community. That’s how most new fans of the group feel, however, some of the older fans that have been a part of this fandom for a while want to get away from being a directioner. Many of the fans are starting to feel that there’s a lot of negativity in this community. Whether it is towards other fans of different artists, girls that have been associated with the boys of One Direction, or towards each other, there has been a lot of hate in the directioner community. Because of this, a lot of fans have decided to stop calling themselves directioners because they no longer wish to be considered a part of the fandom.

With the internet, One Direction fans have been able to take control of many different platforms, they’re able to get hashtags trending on Twitter, vote for the boys to get them multiple awards, and get their music to the top of the charts. Although these fans are just hundreds of thousands of girls and boys supporting this boy band, they have created their own very large and connected social group. Fans can reach out to each other through social media and because of this, many directors have been able to make friends with each other and have many “internet friends.” Being a fan of One Direction allows these complete strangers to connect because of the common interest of liking this group. Creating friendships and being a part of a fandom is just as important as actually following the music group. It allows fans to feel as though they are a part of something bigger. The fans can relate to each other as they follow this music group and this has allowed them to create their own social group.

Culture can also be seen as, “a possession or attribute” and, “can exist within a status hierarchy”. Since One Direction makes pop music, they’re usually seen as being less cultured as saying opera music for example. This reflects back onto the fans of the boy band. Most directioners are teenage girls and since like the type of music One Direction makes is seen as “less cultured,” most of the fans may be seen as being crazy fangirls. Because of this, many people tend to look down on these fangirls that like this boy band. It becomes less about the music and more about who`s making the music. I`m a fan of One Direction's music and I know I get judged for it because I’m a female. I have male friends that judge and make fun of me saying I only like them because they’re attractive, so I get looked down on because I like their music. When people get looked down on like this because of what they like, it makes them almost want to hide their likes because they don’t want to be judged. So, the idea of culture being in a hierarchy can affect whether or not people share the fact that they are a fan of One Direction. This also ties back into a person’s self-identity.  

07 July 2022
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