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50 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time

From the Monkees to 1D: pre-fab pop’s most scream-worthy songs

'N Sync, The Osmonds and Backstreet Boys


Irresistibly catchy, unapologetically inauthentic, sexy and they know it — the boy band is the most fabulously pre-fab of all musical outfits. From the scripted TV shenanigans of the Monkees to the surprisingly grown One Direction, as long as there are junior high school notebooks to deface, there will be outfits providing pop spectacle in its purist, least filtered form.

In deciding the right stuff for a list of the 50 greatest boy band songs, we had to exclude bands that weren’t sufficiently svengali’d (apologies to Hanson and 5 Seconds of Summer — you kept it too real) and avoided acts too close to the Motown vocal group tradition (Boyz II Men, All-4-One and even Color Me Badd just seemed too much like our old 45s). What remains is a plethora of sugary delights from Eighties malls, Nineties Total Request Live playlists, contemporary X-Factor seasons, our Korean pop future and more. Check out the list below, and click here to listen to a playlist of all the songs.

New Kids on the Block

UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Photo of NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK and Jordan KNIGHT and Joey McINTYRE and Jonathan KNIGHT and Donnie WAHLBERG and Danny WOOD; Posed group portrait L-R Donnie Wahlberg, Jordan Knight, Danny Wood, Joey McIntyre and Jonathan Knight (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns


New Kids on the Block, “Please Don’t Go Girl” (1988)

"Please Don't Go Girl" made the Apollo Theater go wild when the New Kids played it at their Amateur Night debut, but the song — the first single from their second LP, Hangin' Tough — dropped off the R&B chart after only three weeks. Producer Maurice Starr had been pushing the New Kids to black radio stations, but when a DJ in Tampa tried "Please Don't Go" on pop station Q105, it quickly became the station's Number One request. When Columbia got word, the label changed their marketing strategy overnight, and the group that had been opening for Brenda K. Starr was soon touring with Tiffany. The New Kids became the template for the next decade of boy bands, but at the time, they weren't even sure they had a hit. "No," Joey McIntyre said when biographer Nikki Van Noy asked if knew the song was special. "Not compared to the reaction and even how I feel when I listen back to it. It's so pretty — but, no."


BERLIN - OCTOBER 1: Dan Balan (R), Arsenie Toderas (L) and Radu Sarbu (C) from the band O-Zone perform at the "Bravo Supershow" at Max Schmeling Halle on October 1, 2004 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Sean Gallup/Getty Images


O-Zone, “Dragostea Din Tei” (2003)

Singer, songwriter and svengali Dan Bălan has hinted that the Romanian smash "Dragostea Din Tei" (colloquially known as "the Numa Numa song") is about losing his virginity "under the linden trees." But any trace of folk melancholy is firmly pummeled out by robotic stop-start rhythms and a futuristic video that sees Bălan, Arsenie Todiraş and Radu Sîrbu dancing on the wings of an airplane in gleaming white trousers. The U.K. had been drip-fed continental summer bangers since the advent of package holidays in the mid-Seventies, but Moldova's O-Zone was the first one to take boy band form. Tempering the less-pronounceable Romanian lyrics with memorable 'mai-ai-hii' nonsense helped "Dragostea Din Tei" conquer Europe in 2004, selling over 8 million copies — it remains the fourth best selling single ever in France. Bălan went on to win a Grammy after Rihanna and T.I's chart-topping "Live Your Life" sampled the tune.

Backstreet Boys

Backstreet Boys (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Kevin Mazur/WireImage


Backstreet Boys, “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” (1996)

"Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" was the first big U.S. hit for the Backstreet Boys, who were already causing pandemonium the world over before gaining a foothold here in 1997. "America just wasn't ready for us," Backstreet's Howie Dorough told USA Today after "Games" finally hit it big Stateside. "Rap and Hootie and the Blowfish were really big." While this was the breakthrough for the Boys in America, it set the template for 1999's international chart-topper "I Want It That Way," whose breezy guitars and winsome vocals, courtesy of Max Martin, are at least cousins of those found here.

Musical Youth

Teenage reggae group Musical Youth, circa 1983. As well as vocalist Dennis Seaton, the group comprised two pairs of brothers, Michael and Kelvin Grant, and Patrick and Freddie 'Junior' Waite. (Photo by Leon Morris/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Leon Morris/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Musical Youth, “Pass the Dutchie” (1982)

The earliest days of the MTV era were also a golden age for reggae-tinged pop — The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," Blondie's "The Tide Is High" and Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster (Jammin')" were but a few of the island-inspired tracks staking out spots on radio. In 1982, the British five-piece Musical Youth hit it big with "Pass the Dutchie," a cleaned-up version of the roots-reggae trio Mighty Diamonds' "Pass the Koutchie." For a more kiddie-friendly feel, the titular item being passed was changed from a pipe full of pot to a pot full of food. Rich vocal harmonies and an easily mimicked chorus helped it float to Number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983, while its Don Letts-directed video was one of the first clips by black artists to get MTV airplay.

N Sync

*NSYNC during *NSYNC performs at Madison Square Garden, and will perform live on HBO, July 27, for all their fans who could not get tickets for the hottest concert of the summer. at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)



‘N Sync, “It’s Gonna Be Me” (2000)

Perhaps not as memorable or as danceable as other 'N Sync hits, "It's Gonna Be Me" nevertheless benefited from perfect timing. Released shortly after the start of 'N Sync's phenomenally successful No Strings Attached tour, it remains the group's sole Hot 100 topping single. Written by Swedish hit-makers Max Martin, Andreas Carlsson and Rami Yacoub, the lyric juxtaposes the hesitancy of the song's love interest with the determination of an eager-to-please beau represented by both JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake. The drama was played to surreal effect in the song's video, helmed by veteran director Wayne Isham, who cast the boys as living dolls. "It's the biggest thing I've ever worked on," he told MTV. "That's what the guys wanted. They wanted something with size, scope, scale and fun. . . . I couldn't wait to . . . see their faces when they climbed up this 40-foot ramp of neon, up to this 35-foot-high sculpted stage that they're on top of." 'N Sync would never be bigger.

Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys pose for a group portrait in a London photographic studio in 1996 L-R (back) AJ McLean, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter, (front) Brian Littrell and Howie Dorough. (Photo by Mike Prior/Redferns)

Mike Prior/Redferns


Backstreet Boys, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” (1997)

The Max Martin-helmed "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" was one of the most defining tracks of the late Nineties pop explosion — huge, produced like a Michael Bay movie and a little more PG-13 than the New Kids were — a perfect statement of intent for a group (and movement) ready for total world domination. With "Everybody"'s campy, horror-themed video and dirty synth crunch, BSB not only became the new princes of pop but also the culture's new sex symbols. "Am I sexual?" youngest member Nick Carter coyly asks.


UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Monkees (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


The Monkees, “Daydream Believer” (1967)

This 1967 single from the Monkees, all tinkling piano and swelling woodwinds, served as the TV-borne foursome's final chart-topper. Written by former Kingston Trio member John Stewart and featuring orchestration by trumpeter and arranger Shorty Rogers, the Davy Jones-crooned "Believer" is one of the band's most luscious tunes. It received a second life during the reunion of Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork in 1986, with a remix serving as the B-side to comeback single "That Was Then, This Is Now."


ilgan Sports/Multi-Bits via Getty Images


SHINee, “Sherlock” (2012)

"Sherlock" isn't an entirely original song, but instead the combination of two separate tracks by Korean quintet SHINee. Mashing up two cuts off the band's 2012 Sherlock EP — the bouncy hip-hopper "Clue" and the impressive vocal track "Note" — "Sherlock" was touted as Korea's first "hybrid remix" single. As an already beloved, already chart-topping boy band under Korea's biggest music label, SM Entertainment, the Jackson 5-recalling tune shows how innovative and experimental K-pop can get, even for its most mainstream acts.

New Edition

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of New Edition Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


New Edition, “Candy Girl” (1983)

When Maurice Starr saw Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe and Ralph Tresvant at a talent show in the Dorchester section of Boston, he had a feeling . . . that he had another Jackson 5 on his hands. Enter "Candy Girl," an extra-sugary update of the Jacksons' "ABC" that gave New Edition their first taste of fame. Tresvant's high, sweet voice made him the band's Michael analogue, but the bridge — where the boys rap their devotionals to their girls of choice — added just enough edge to help it top the R&B chart in the U.S.

One Direction

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07: (L-R) Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik and Niall Horan of One Direction perform onstage during Z100's Jingle Ball 2012, presented by Aeropostale, at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Kane/Getty Images for Jingle Ball 2012)

Kevin Kane/Getty Images for Jingle Ball 2012


One Direction, “Story of My Life” (2013)

"Story of My Life" changed the musical course of this glossy X-Factor crew. Their third album, 2013's Midnight Memories, saw the boys not only co-writing their songs but exploring Def Leppard-style hair metal, Big Star-esque power pop and Mumford & Sons-infused folk rock. "Story of My Life" was the clear star, featuring an adult-pop guitar riff and soaring vocals from matured members who found a way to gracefully enter adulthood together. "The demo that we played the boys sounds a lot more folk-y than it does now," co-writer Jamie Scott told MTV. "That's what amazing about their voices — straight away it sounds like them."

New Kids on the Block

UNSPECIFIED - circa 1970: Photo of NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK (Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns)

Michel Linssen/Redferns


New Kids on the Block, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” (1988)

This lighter-than-air bubblegum track was the second single from New Kids' Hangin' Tough, and it ably showed off Jordan Knight's ability to embody an R&B crooner. It's a bit of an improbable hit, if only because it has so much space — thumping bass and drums, synth hits only when absolutely necessary, Knight's voice carrying the whole thing on a wave of infatuation and moxie. (Not to mention the Bauhaus shirt he wore in the song's careening-around-Boston video.) But that mix, especially when added to the "oh, oh, oh-oh-oh" chant that became a siren call in school hallways, was — and is — a potent one.