Boy Bands: 75 Greatest Songs of All Time - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

75 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time

From the Jackson 5 to BTS: here are the most scream-worthy boy band songs

Boy Bands

Tim Roney/Getty Images, Bob Berg/Getty Images, Michael Ochs rchives/Getty Images

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 charming folkiness of 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.

As music has evolved, so have boy bands. Their existence is a pop constant but parameters have always been blurred: sometimes they dance and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are total strangers, sometimes they have known each other since birth. Sometimes they sing words they’ve written themselves, sometimes they sing other people’s. Sometimes they are literally boys, sometimes they’re twentysomethings with boyish charm. But like any other form art, you know a boy band when you see one. The main defining factor? The venues full of screaming fans — always young, mostly girls — who help turn a boy band into a cultural artifact worth admiring and singing along to even after their inevitable disbandment or “hiatus.”

In honor of their continuing impact and dominance, here are the boy band heartthrobs’ pop confections worth screaming for.

5 Seconds of Summer, “She Looks So Perfect”

Youtube

49

5 Seconds of Summer, “She Looks So Perfect” (2014)

The debut single from 5 Seconds of Summer (a.k.a. 5SOS), “She Looks So Perfect” was an angsty anthemic track that sounded like a cross between Blink-182 and Avril Lavigne — if the artists somehow morphed into a group of four heartthrob Aussie pop-rockers. Though the group rose to fame after opening for One Direction, they quickly shed any “boy band” stereotypes with this raucous ode to “American Apparel underwear” and “names tattooed in an arrow heart.” Backed by crunchy guitars, a pounding drum beat, and a shout-it-out chorus, the track has quickly become one of the group’s signature songs, as at-home on stage in front of thousands of fans as it is at a karaoke bar in front of dozens of strangers way past closing time.

'N Sync, “Pop” (2001)

Youtube

48

‘N Sync, “Pop” (2001)

“Pop” is an earworm of a pop tune about how there’s nothing wrong with pop tunes — “The thing you got to realize/What we’re doing is not a trend/We got the gift of melody/We gonna bring it ’til the end” — a perfect middle finger to anyone dismissing boy bands. Future-minded trance producer BT was one of them: “Believe me, I thought about ‘N Sync what a lot of people that aren’t 14 years old and female think about ‘N Sync. Not that I hated them, it was ambivalence. I just didn’t care,” he told MTV. However after JC Chavez started showing up at his shows, they became fast friends — so much that ‘N Sync trusted him to tweak their vocals into glitching, stuttering, malfunctioning avant-funk. Said BT, who labored for two weeks on the vocal effects, “Everyone we’ve played it for is like, ‘This is so crazy that it might just be amazing.'”

Big Time Rush, “Boyfriend" Ft. Snoop Dogg

Youtube

47

Big Time Rush, Feat. Snoop Dogg, “Boyfriend” (2011)

As the Jonas Brothers were dominating the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon produced their own multi-talented boy band with Big Time Rush. While the majority of music released by the group coincided with their TV show, “Boyfriend” was their first single released to mainstream radio, and it was their most successful (although another of their songs, “Windows Down,” was written by none other than Kesha). What makes this track so great isn’t Big Time Rush begging to be someone’s boyfriend, but the Snoop Dogg feature. “You need a boyfriend and I could be that/Holla at me, hit me on my video chat,” the rapper proclaims, as if he hadn’t been married for decades. It’s both sweet and silly, and to top it all off, the song manages to fit references to Twilight and Slumdog Millionaire in the same verse — a feat not many others would attempt.

The Wanted, "Glad You Came" (2011)

Youtube

46

The Wanted, “Glad You Came” (2011)

The Wanted didn’t quite reach the saturation point of contemporaries One Direction, but the Eurodance hit “Glad You Came” makes a good case for the reasons they could have. They were a little edgier and made boy band songs cool for the club with a willingness to embrace a sexual innuendo when needed. “Glad You Came” was their biggest single, but three albums and one reality show — The Wanted Life — later, the band has decided to go on hiatus as the members pursue solo careers.

98 Degrees, “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” (2000)

Youtube

45

98 Degrees, “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” (2000)

The Nick Lachey-led 98 Degrees always had a rough time keeping up with the spotlight-stealing Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. But the Gerry and the Pacemakers of the last great boy band epoch saw them have a breakthrough with “Give Me Just One Night,” the group’s biggest hit. On it, the boys moved away from the straightforward pop-R&B that the bigger boy bands had already locked down and flirted with Latin pop, something Justin Timberlake would eventually do on his debut solo LP. Unfortunately, just as 98 Degrees started to heat up, the group decided to cool it, going on hiatus to explore solo careers and reality television before reuniting in 2012.

112 peaches cream youtube video

YouTube

44

112, “Peaches & Cream” (2001)

Innuendo is a crucial component of the boy band lingua franca, a way to add a little harmless titillation to songs primarily meant for teenagers. The Atlanta R&B quartet 112 may have been definitively grown and no longer beholden to any semblance of innocence by the time they released their signature hit “Peaches and Cream” in 2001, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t still revel in a cheeky cunnilingus metaphor — even if it was so blunt that, to this day, the Bad Boy Entertainment YouTube page still finds it necessary to censor the last three words of the Mike line, “Like peach cobbler in my stomach when I eat it up.” Anchored by a Mario Winans and P. Diddy beat packed with delightfully grinding, grimy synths, the production is still stripped-down enough to let 112’s vocals shine, showing that no matter how nasty it gets, when it comes to a boy band, it’s always all about the boys and their singing.

Seo Taiji and Boys, "Nan Arayo (I Know)" (1992)

Youtube

43

Seo Taiji and Boys, “Nan Arayo (I Know)” (1992)

Seo Taiji and Boys are credited for helming the shiny, explosive, fabulously pre-fab Korean pop scene that we know today, kicking everything off with their game-changing 1992 debut single, “Nan Arayo (I Know).” The track blended then-trendy American new jack swing with Korean lyrics to tremendous success, spawning a wave of similarly sounding boy bands and girl groups and establishing the scene’s still-strong affection for multi-member outfits as opposed to solo acts.

Another Bad Creation, “Iesha” (1990)

Youtube

42

Another Bad Creation, “Iesha” (1990)

New Edition’s Michael Bivins graduated from boy-band star to boy-band impresario when he discovered the Atlanta-based preteen quintet Another Bad Creation. “Iesha,” the group’s debut single, told the story of a playground attraction that turned into a Nintendo-and-cereal date. A pumping new jack swing beat, an awesomely meta sample of “Cool It Now” from Bivins’ old band and an in-song moment of hype from Biv himself work alongside boastful raps and sugar-spun chorus.

SCHIPHOL, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 01: The Osmonds  posed at Schiphol, Netherlands in 1972 L-R Alan, Donny, Jay, Merrill, Wayne (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

41

The Osmonds, “Down by the Lazy River” (1972)

These Utah brothers became a global sensation, decades before the term “boy band” was invented. The Osmonds even had their own Saturday-morning cartoon show — the ultimate power move. Little bro Donny was the ladies’ choice, though big bros Alan, Merrill and Wayne wrote the grooviest songs. (Wayne also had sideburns that made him look exactly like Jimmy Page.) They got kookier with each hit, dabbling in R&B and heavy metal, busting out conceptual statements about Mormon theology (The Plan) or air pollution (Crazy Horses). Even their mom got into the act, publishing the brilliantly titled The Osmond Brothers’ Mother’s Cookbook. “Down by the Lazy River” has everything: hard rock guitar, Sly-like horn blasts, Jay bashing the drums. Paul McCartney was a proud fan — as he told Rolling Stone in 1973: “Great band, great things, kids screaming, fantastic, fabulous, great, everyone’s having a good night out. That sort of thing, basically.”

Menudo, "Hold Me" (1985)

Youtube

40

Menudo, “Hold Me” (1985)

The Puerto Rican boy band infamous for their ever-rotating cast, Menudo was already on their 17th album (and second self-titled offering) by the time “Hold Me” crossed over to American audiences. The fizzy, infatuated track, with lead vocals by Robi Rosa, peaked at Number 62 on the Hot 100 in 1985, and its video — featuring Roba and his bandmates, including a young Ricky Martin — was briefly a staple on afterschool music video blocks like Nickelodeon’s Nick Rocks. Rosa left the band in 1987, but he reunited with Martin in the late Nineties, co-writing Martin megahits “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and “She Bangs.”

TVXQ!, "Mirotic" (2008)

Youtube

39

TVXQ!, “Mirotic” (2008)

“Mirotic” was one of the earliest singles from veteran K-pop act TVXQ! that established them as critically lauded recording artists in addition an existing role as a massive chart force. The fizzy electro-pop cut topped the charts in Japan, and helped the band’s Mirotic LP win at that year’s Golden Disc Awards, Korea’s closest equivalent to the Grammys. The song also had its share of controversy: The Korean Commission of Youth Protection initially deemed the “I got you under my skin” hook as “lewd,” requiring its accompanying EP to have parental advisory stickers; and the single couldn’t be aired on television earlier than 10 p.m. The band’s label, SM Entertainment, filed an injunction lawsuit and won.

Mint Condition, “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” (1991)

Youtube

38

Mint Condition, “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” (1991)

Mint Condition had the perfect teen romance in 1991 with the slow-dance swoon of “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes”) — when they hit that soul chorus, it’s just agonizingly beautiful. How early Nineties is this song? The love interest in the video is wearing a Malcolm X cap. But this was just the beginning for Mint Condition, a Minneapolis band of high school friends. They blew up in the New Jack Swing era, with their debut Meant to Be Mint. Yet they had the Minneapolis pedigree: discovered by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; produced by Jellybean Johnston; jamming with Prince. They keep it Mint to this day, boldly calling themselves “the last great Black band” in their great Unsung episode. (Keyboardist Keri Lewis left in 2001, to marry Toni Braxton.) Lead singer Stokely Williams topped the R&B charts again in April 2020 with his solo smash, “She.” “People have a perception of the group, and it’s hard to get out of that,” he told Rolling Stone. “They are used to ‘Pretty Brown Eyes,’ ‘U Send Me Swingin.’ I love those. It’s just that there are other things that I want to get out.”

‘N Sync, “Gone” (2001)

Youtube

37

‘N Sync, “Gone” (2001)

“Gone” was the boy band equivalent of Happy Days‘ Mork episode or Beverly Hills 90210‘s introduction of the Melrose Place apartment complex — a backdoor pilot that successfully spun the franchise off into new terrain. Justin Timberlake takes the lead on this spare breakup ballad that he and Wade Robson originally wrote for Michael Jackson. Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick serve as his backup choir — a situation that would pretty much prove symbolic of the next 15 years (or at least of his 2013 VMA performance). “I think it’s the first idea I ever got about doing something on my own, because it was the first time I have ever really felt the confidence to do it,” Timberlake later said in an interview with Oprah’s Master Class. “Gone” peaked at Number 11 after its release in 2001 and Timberlake’s solo debut emerged the following year.

The Raspberries, “Let’s Pretend” (1974)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

36

The Raspberries, “Let’s Pretend” (1974)

The Raspberries kicked off their 1972 debut with the sexually charged “Go All the Way,” but they always knew that somehow, someday, things are gonna be so different. On “Let’s Pretend,” they cranked up the romance notch to the max, unleashing a dreamy power-pop ballad complete with Eric Carmen’s swooning vocals about the night lasting forever. Carmen would continue to release lustful, lonely bops throughout his solo career (“All By Myself,” “Hungry Eyes”), but he’d return to his boy band days in the Raspberries for inspiration. “I thought ‘Let’s Pretend’ was one of the best melodies I’d ever written,” he said in 2002. “That’s why I went back and used it for the chorus of “All By Myself.”

The Brighter Side of Darkness, “Love Jones” (1972)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

35

The Brighter Side of Darkness, “Love Jones” (1972)

Originally formed in 1971 by Calumet High School students on Chicago’s South Side, Brighter Side of Darkness briefly exploded after their manager Anna Preston added the young singer she was mentoring, 12-year-old Darryl Lamont. Lamont wails out through the chorus of the group’s sole hit, “Love Jones,” extravagant, symphonic soul in the manner of the Delfonics and the Dramatics. The mood however is psychedelic, as if co-writer and group member Randolph Murph, who talks through the verses, is strung out on obsessive desire — the very definition of a “Love Jones.” A record this sweetly sincere was made to be spoofed, and that’s what stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong did with 1973’s “Basketball Jones,” which included contributions from Carole King and George Harrison and charted at Number 15, one place higher than the original.

BTS, “Euphoria”

Youtube

34

BTS, “Euphoria” (2018)

By the time “Euphoria” was released in 2018, BTS had already proven themselves to be masters of the mash-up, with hard-hitting tracks that combined hip-hop, EDM, and even elements of trap. But “Euphoria” was different — a straightforward pop song with a delicate, flowing melody, and introspective lyrics about holding onto love (or “euphoria”) in an often wild and unpredictable world. With lead vocal duties from Jungkook and a songwriting assist from RM, “Euphoria” showcased a softer, more emotional side to the group, proving that the K-pop idols had multiple (musical) cards to play, and setting the stage for even bigger reveals to come.

One Direction, “Best Song Ever” (2013)

Youtube

33

One Direction, “Best Song Ever” (2013)

The 1D boys were never coy about their classic-rock fixation, but they took it all the way in “Best Song Ever,” with a brazen rip of the Who’s 1971 anthem “Baba O’Riley.” Except instead of a teenage wasteland, it’s a stadium-rocking ode to that girl who stole their heart like she already owned it. To his eternal coolness credit, the Who’s Pete Townshend was honored by the tribute. “I like One Direction,” Townshend said. “The chords I used and the chords they used are the same three chords we’ve all been using in basic pop music since Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry made it clear that fancy chords don’t mean great music — not always. I’m still writing songs that sound like ‘Baba O’Riley’ — or I’m trying to!” It’s just a shame Keith Moon didn’t live long enough to trash a hotel room to this song.

O-Town, “All or Nothing” (2001)

Youtube

32

O-Town, “All or Nothing” (2001)

MTV, the network at the forefront of the TRL-era bubblegum movement, teamed up with boy band svengali Lou Pearlman in 2000 for a new way to corner the pop market: the reality competition. The first product of Making the Band was O-Town. The five-piece had a strong start with their self-titled debut but faded away shortly after. Luckily, they left pop music with “All or Nothing,” the saddest boy band ultimatum ballad ever. Today, Westlife’s cover of O-Town’s Number Three hit is used as background music on the U.K. reality show responsible for One Direction, The X-Factor.

Big Bang, "Fantastic Baby" (2012)

Youtube

31

Big Bang, “Fantastic Baby” (2012)

This instantly accessible single from K-Pop phenomenon Big Bang blew off many doors of American crossover with little effort on the band’s part. The track has been used in trailers for Pitch Perfect 2, its corresponding EP became the first K-Pop album to chart in the States and its music video is YouTube’s top-viewed K-pop clip that isn’t Psy. Domestically, “Fantastic Baby” is a staple party hit — the quintet has performed it for the past three years at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, Korea’s equivalent to the MTV VMAs. This modern-day essential showcases K-pop’s genre-bending, visually-oriented charms.

New Edition, “Cool It Now” (1984)

Youtube

30

New Edition, “Cool It Now” (1984)

By the time New Edition released their second album, they had already weathered a storm in the form of a protracted court battle with former manager Maurice Starr. The group had graduated to MCA from Starr’s independent Streetwise label. Producers Vincent Brantley and Rick Timas were so convinced that “Cool” was a fit for the group, they tracked down the label president and ambushed him with the track at a Los Angeles fried-chicken joint. The ploy worked, and the producers’ instincts proved correct: “Cool” showcases the members’ silky harmonies, while Ralph Tresvant‘s slightly indignant rap toward his unsupportive friends “Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike” doubled as both introduction and sample-ready catchphrase.

Bay City Rollers, “Saturday Night” (1975)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

29

Bay City Rollers, “Saturday Night” (1975)

Derek, Alan, Eric, Les, and Woody: the Bay City Rollers. The Scottish lads lit up the world with their tartan gladrags, Edinburgh accents, and awesomely gawky haircuts. They were the definitive 1970s boy band, from the gap between the Jackson 5 and New Edition. The Rollers wanted an American-sounding name, so they stuck a pin in a map of the U.S.A. at random and chose the handle of Bay City, Michigan. Their fandom was feared and respected worldwide: “Saturday Night” could get any school bus full of girls chanting, “S-A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! Niiiight!” They were easily Rolling Stone’s most hated band of the Seventies, winning the “Hype of the Year” award for 1975. (“Comeback of the Year” went to Jefferson Starship.) But “Saturday Night” became a Number One classic, influencing imitators from Queen (who ripped it off with “We Will Rock You”) to the Ramones. “We really liked the Bay City Rollers,” Joey Ramone said. “‘Saturday Night’ had a great chant in it, so we wanted a song with a chant in it: ‘Hey! Ho! Let’s go!’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ was our ‘Saturday Night.’”

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

Youtube

28

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.”

O-Zone, “Dragostea Din Tei” (2003)

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

27

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

Youtube

26

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.

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.