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Wednesday, 9 June, 1999, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Boy band blitz
As boy band mania comes to London's West End with Boyband: The Musical, BBC News Online looks at the formula behind the rise of the all-male pop group.

Another year, another boy band, or at least that's the way it seems. But many of us would be hard pushed to distinguish one from the next.

Over the last two decades the number of bright-eyed, bushy tailed, all-male groups populating the pop charts has reached near epidemic proportions.

Nsync: One of the newer crop of boy bands from the States
Starting with New Kids on the Block in the 1980s, the boy band phenomenon came into its own with Take That in the early 1990s.

It has been carried forward by the continued reign of Boyzone, and the Backstreet Boys in the States, and a crop of less notable groups such as 911, Let Loose, Five and N'Sync.

But though the names and degree of success may change, their youth, chiselled looks and radio-friendly songs do not.

Carbon copy

The rise of the boy band has been so bewildering that it has inspired a Channel 4 TV satire, Boyz Unlimited. Now, Boyband: The Musical has opened in London's West End.

Some might argue that the boy band is nothing new. After all, there were the Osmonds, the Jackson Five and the Bay City Rollers in the 1970s.

Even The Beatles might fit into the category at a pinch. But a nagging voice tells us it wasn't quite the same.

The fact that most of these old groups, their members and songs can be recalled offers a clue, says Mark Sutherland, editor of the music magazine Melody Maker.

"It used to be that these all-male groups were proper bands - they were real musicians. Now, there is little difference between them and they are less to do with music, and more to do with being toys," he explains.

"When I worked on Smash Hits, Take That tried all sorts of different things until they hit on the right formula. Then everyone copied them," he adds.

Boyband: The Musical attempts a serious examination of the boy band clone.

Freedom: Carry all the hallmarks of a real boy band
Cast members say the story "just gives people an idea of what it could be like. It doesn't say every boy band is like this".

Nonetheless, Freedom, the fictitious group do seem uncannily familiar.

Young, ridiculously good-looking and able to strut their stuff, they bear all the hallmarks of the real thing.

"There's the blond one, the dark one, the slightly unfortunate one - in fact there is one to suit all tastes," says Fergus Dudley, an executive music producer for BBC Radio 1, of the boy band mould.

Careful manoeuvring

But, as anyone who keeps half an eye on the charts will know, some boy bands have more staying power than others.

Take That held sway for a good six years. The Backstreet Boys are still going strong in the US:

"There are lot of boy bands out there, but they seem to be the ones really taking charge," reportedly said John Pattnosh, Music Director Radio Disney.

"They have great sound, great harmonies, great songwriting; they have all the tools."

The secret, it seems, is less about true talent than careful marketing and strategy. Iestyn George, formerly with the music magazine NME agrees:

Ronan Keating of Boyzone: The band wants to appeal to an older audience
"After Take That, there was a rush of boy bands, like Bad Boys Inc, that came and went. Those who hang on are those who manage to reposition themselves, who don't just want to cash in and get out quick.

"Boyzone want to reposition themselves now they are older. They no longer want to sell to teenage girls - they are too fickle. They are trying to sell to 20 and 30 year-olds who have more money to spend in the future."

There is evidence of this tactic with the Backstreet Boys, who have made recent appearances on Saturday Night Live and featured in Rolling Stone magazine.

But even if they, or others, survive until the end of the year, their future is uncertain, says Tom Watkins, former manager of the bands East 17 and Bros:

"The industry is getting tired and with the new millennium a new malaise will set in. It will bring a huge challenge to way we market records, sell them and buy them," he says.

"Bands will have to go back to the old values of being able to play instruments and, write music, as well as being sexy."

See also:

16 Jul 98 | Health
Dial 911 for some respect
02 Jun 99 | New Music Releases
CD Review: Boyzone
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