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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

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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.

jonas brothers sucker

Joe, Nick and Kevin Jonas are reunited.

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Jonas Brothers, “Sucker” (2019)

Six years after splitting up, the Jonas Brothers released their fifth full-length album, Happiness Begins, and redefined what it meant to be a freshly reunited boy band. Prior to their latest run, boy band reunions based around the release of new music weren’t usually guarantees for success. The magic formula for these specific types of bubblegum pop vocal trios relies on their youthful charm and charisma; songs about marriage and fatherhood don’t typically cut it in the same way. With “Sucker,” the Jonas Brothers proved that idea very wrong. In fact, the former Disney trio were able to perfectly mesh nostalgia with a huge new musical step that brought them their biggest single yet. “Sucker” pays tribute to the boys’ partners, all of whom they are now married to. Aided by pop savant Ryan Tedder, the catchy, guitar-driven banger is sexier than anything the boys would have attempted back during their early days, and the pay-off has been crystal clear.

Musical Youth, “Pass the Dutchie” (1982)

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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.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” (1956)

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Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” (1956)

Harlem prodigy Frankie Lymon may have been just 13 years old when he co-wrote “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” but he had already lived a lifetime of heartbreak. “I’ve been falling in love since I was only five,” he informed Frankie Laine in 1956. “But I’ve been a fool about it since I was 11.” The song was one of the earliest hits of the rock & roll era, remembered for its iconic oh wah opening and subsequent covers by everyone from the Beach Boys to Diana Ross. And with their matching outfits, tight harmonies, and screaming female fans, the Teenagers set the tone for every boy band that followed in their wake. Sadly, Lymon died of a heroin overdose in 1968. He was just 25.

The Jackson 5, "ABC" (1970)

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The Jackson 5, “ABC” (1970)

The Jackson 5 finished recording their debut album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, in August of 1969. Before the month was over they were already back in the studio: Lead single “I Want You Back” seemed like a sure thing and Berry Gordy needed a follow-up ready. Hence “ABC,” the sound-alike single that would knock the Beatles’ “Let It Be” off the top of the charts less than seven months later. For a preteen Michael Jackson, it was a thrill just to watch songwriting team the Corporation come up with parts of the tune — the old-school “shake it, shake it, baby” bit, for instance — on the spot. “I loved ‘ABC’ from the first moment I heard it,'” he said. “I had more enthusiasm for that than I did for ‘I Want You Back.'”

The Monkees, “Daydream Believer” (1967)

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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.”

Backstreet Boys, Back Street Boys (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

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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.

BTS, “Spring Day”

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BTS, “Spring Day” (2017)

Of course boy bands can be poignant, but it’s rare to get to see them flex with lyrics that go beyond romantic musings and heartbreak reflections. With “Spring Day,” BTS challenged that perception by analyzing grief and yearning in the form of a sweeping power ballad. The tender track is packed full of snow-y imagery (including a reference to Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer) and painfully real lyrics about loss and grief, in whatever form that may take. You know it all/You’re my best friend/The sun will rise again,” the boys sing. “No darkness, no season/Can last forever.” A sentiment as timeless as BTS have become.

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

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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.”

‘N Sync, “It’s Gonna Be Me” (2000)

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‘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.

Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men

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Boyz II Men, “Motownphilly” (1991)

When the Boyz II Men quartet came on the scene with 1991’s Cooleyhighharmony, they presented themselves as a slick, modern version of Motown doo-wop groups, combining dapper outfits and charm with the sound of Philly soul and new jack swing. Unlike the white-centric groups that would follow later in the decade, Boyz II Men didn’t hesitate to put their origins front and center, and the unabashed hometown pride of “Motownphilly” is what sets it apart from other “boy band” hits. The single gained an unexpected second life when it appeared on a 2013 episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where The Gang performs the hit song as part of a contest to open for Boyz II Men.

Take That, “Back For Good” (1995)

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Take That, “Back for Good” (1995)

In 1995, a simple tale of kitchen-sink heartbreak was enough to elevate Take That from U.K. teenage obsession to national treasures to international stars. With the boys smartened up in Versace suits for the single cover, “Back For Good” signified a new maturity for the band, which disappointed those fond of TT’s campier disco origins — the NME called it “just too classy.” It’s doubtful Take That’s 2006 comeback would have been quite as successful without “Back For Good” having laid the groundwork, preparing adolescent fans to become a grown-up pop audience. Having finally proven his songwriting chops, Gary Barlow later boasted to have written “Back For Good” in less than 15 minutes. “The songs I write quickest seem to come out the best,” he told biographer Justin Lewis. Now firmly part of the British songbook, even the drunkest of traffic-cone-wearing rugby players could wipe a tear from their eye and bellow out “Whatever I said, whatever I did — I didn’t mean it!”

SHINee, “Sherlock” (2012)

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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.

The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” (1970)

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The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” (1970)

“‘I’ll Be There’ was our real breakthrough song,” Michael Jackson, who didn’t know what a harpsichord was until he heard the track’s demo, wrote in his memoir. “It was the one that said, ‘We’re here to stay.'” On the ballad, the young singer gives the most astounding performance of his preteens, skating and yelping and handing things off to older brother Jermaine. Recorded in the summer of 1970, “I’ll Be There” went to Number One by early fall, becoming not just the Jackson 5’s fourth chart-topper of the year but Motown’s then all-time best-seller.

Jonas Brothers, “S.O.S.” (2007)

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Jonas Brothers, “S.O.S.” (2007)

“Hugs are overrated, just F.Y.I.,” Nick Jonas croons on “S.O.S.” after giving his ex-beau a high-five. The JoBros were as innocent as a pop group could get — like Osmonds-level innocent — grousing about conversations over instant message and text. However, the Disney-friendly, chaste Jonas Brothers were masters of a catchy pop-rock tune and toyed with rock authenticity long before One Direction famously began doing so with their third and fourth albums. Even though their time as a band of brothers has ended, solo careers for Nick and Joe Jonas have proved that their brief pop domination was in no way a fluke.

Hi-Five, “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)” (1991)

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Hi-Five, “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)” (1991)

In the early Nineties, New Edition might have been officially broken up, but they were still the most-influential group in pop music. Case in point: Hi-Five, who blew up in 1991 with the Number One smash “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game).” The Waco, Texas group was the South’s answer to New Edition, with 15-year-old Tony Thompson crooning way up high in the style of Ralph Tresvant. Their next Top Ten hit, the slow jam “I Can’t Wait Another Minute,” was every bit as irresistible. Hi-Five had a crazy hot streak of hits for a couple of years: “Just Another Girlfriend,” “I Just Can’t Handle It,” “She’s Playing Hard to Get.” Their debut album also had an early rap from a very young Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Sadly, their later story is full of tragedy; Tony Thompson died of an overdose in 2007, at only 31.

LFO, "Summer Girls" (1999)

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LFO, “Summer Girls” (1999)

One of the biggest boy band accidents occurred with the massive success of “Summer Girls” by LFO, a.k.a. Lyte Funkie Ones. The song sounds like an Adam Sandler parody of pop hits: a bunch of nonsensical phrases strung together with only Abercrombie & Fitch as its through-line. “‘Summer Girls’ was all about a summer on the cape,” now-deceased member Rich Cronin revealed of the song’s origins back in 2005. “Inside jokes. I never thought that anyone besides my close friends would ever hear it.” The silly single hit the Top 10 on the Billboard charts and led their debut album to double-platinum status. Though they didn’t get the chance to “have a bunch of hits” like New Kids on the Block, “Summer Girls” is still one of the quirkiest flukes in the genre’s history.

Hanson, “MMMBop”

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Hanson, “MMMBop” (1997)

The post-grunge hangover that loomed large in the mid-to-late Nineties was finally remedied in 1997, when three blonde brothers from Oklahoma dropped “MMMBop.” The anthem launched their career and ushered in a new era of pop, which paved the way for ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys. Don’t let the euphoric chorus fool you, though: “MMMBop” is about seizing the moment while you can, before you “get old and start losing your hair” (the slow-tempo original version, released a year earlier, wallows in this). “I’m in my 30s now,” Isaac Hanson said in 2018. “I still relate to the song and I’m very proud of it. It’s given us a long career doing what we love doing. We get to stay kids for life.”

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

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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.

Aventura, "Obsesión" (2002)

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Aventura, “Obsesión” (2002)

Before Romeo Santos went on to sell out Yankee Stadium multiple nights in a row, the King of Bachata was selling out stadiums with his group Aventura. Their sophomore album, We Broke the Rules, did what Santos would master more than a decade later as a solo artist: infuse American R&B into bachata without watering down the genre. Aventura’s single “Obsesión” helped ignite generation next — as their debut album was titled — for Latin music. Though the band is on hiatus and Santos dominates the market, they reunited at Yankee Stadium in 2014.

One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”

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One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful” (2011)

In 2010, Simon Cowell saw potential in five teenage boys who auditioned as solo artists on The X-Factor. Instead of advancing them in the competition separately, he decided to form a new group called One Direction. That would prove to be a fortuitous decision for all involved: The quintet came in third, but they were so popular that they were a shoe-in for a deal with Cowell’s Syco label. “What Makes You Beautiful” would be released over a year later and tee off the band’s whole career with a major bang: The reassuring pop hit is classic boy band clichés above a less-classic pop-rock sound. Fans were so hooked on the song and its beach-set video — which premiered a month before the single’s official release on YouTube — that they flooded radio stations to request a song they hadn’t even received yet. The track is so unimpeachably good that member Harry Styles broke one of the biggest boy band taboos in history by including it on the set list for his first tour as a solo artist in 2017, a few years after the group disbanded.

BTS, “Moon” (2020)

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BTS, “Moon” (2020)

BTS have turned into the world’s biggest group, yet they did it all their way — by totally defying the clichés of how the music business is supposed to work. To conquer America, the K-Pop heroes didn’t compromise their sound or their ideas; they didn’t even bother trying a lame crossover hit in English. All they had to be was themselves. “Moon” is from BTS’ latest blockbuster, Map of the Soul: 7. It’s their version of that classic boy-band staple: the love song to the fans. The music is spacey guitar pop, and Jin sings about how the audience is his Earth, while he’s just the moon that revolves around it, orbiting and shining. Jin pledges his devotion, even switching into English for choice lines like “All I see is you” and “All for you.” “Moon” sums up everything that’s made BTS massive. And they’re just getting started.

Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)

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Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)

Swedish songwriters Andreas Carlsson and Max Martin were still working on their English when they came up with the couplet “You are my fire/The one desire.” “The lyric doesn’t really mean anything,” the former would eventually admit. “The record company was like, ‘We need to bring in maybe another lyricist to help work on this.'” Jive flew Def Leppard and Shania Twain producer Mutt Lange to Stockholm’s Cheiron Studios for edits, but the Backstreet Boys preferred the original and recorded it as “I Want It That Way.” Then the two songwriters completed the finishing touch: “The last thing that was added was the [opening guitar line] ‘ba-do-do-ba-do-do-do,’ which was like a Metallica kind of riff — which was off for the boy band scene at the time.”

New Edition, “Candy Girl” (1983)

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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.

‘N Sync, “Bye, Bye, Bye” (2000)

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‘N Sync, “Bye, Bye, Bye” (2000)

“There’s a little more edge to this album, a little more grit,” Justin Timberlake told Rolling Stone shortly before the release of 2000’s No Strings Attached, joking about the lawsuits that prevented its release. “We’re pissed off now — that’s what it is. We’re angry white boys who didn’t get our props.” ‘N Sync’s opening volley was “Bye, Bye, Bye,” a kiss-off from Sweden’s Cheiron Studios that had previously been turned down by Britishers Take That. It remains their defining track, a four-minute blast of big hooks, tight harmonies and intriguingly meta subtext.

The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back” (1969)

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The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back” (1969)

Sure, the soaring strings on the Jackson 5’s first Motown single skip along like carefree first-graders, and the thumping bassline is one of pop’s closest appropriations of the heartbeat. But the real hero of “I Want You Back” is Michael Jackson, then still a preteen but blessed with a voice and interpretive skill that could turn a desperate attempt to rekindle romance (originally thought of as a Gladys Knight or Diana Ross vehicle) into something visceral and joyous. Jackson’s octave-leaping tour de force established him as a star almost as soon as the song’s first 45 was pressed.

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