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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.

East 17, "House of Love" (1992)

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East 17, “House of Love” (1992)

The Stones to Take That’s Beatles, these four Walthamstow boys were tough as nails and looked like they hadn’t slept in weeks. Their debut, “House of Love,” is a typical example of their output: maximalist, fast-paced and topped with rousing messages of love and unity. Songwriter/rapper Tony Mortimer told M magazine he “put the band together based on New Kids on the Block,” though East 17 had a closer musical lineage to the stadium house of the KLF. Mortimer wrote “House of Love” as an ironic take on the rave scene’s increasing commercialization, but it’s hard to see too much cynicism in lines like “We got to stop the pain and put the wars on hold.” This utopia unfortunately dissolved in 1997 when lead singer Brian Harvey was sacked for bragging about his casual ecstasy use (“like having a cup of tea”). Mortimer then left citing exhaustion and Harvey later infamously ran himself over with his own car, claiming he had eaten “too many jacket potatoes.”

Marshall Dyllon, “Live It Up”

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Marshall Dyllon, “Live It Up” (2002)

Country music’s answer to boy-band mania had more in common with ‘N Sync than Nashville. Formed in part from Making the Band contestants who didn’t end up in O-Town, the group was created by boy-band mogul Lou Pearlman; two members even grew up singing in a choir with Lance Bass. “I decided to leave O-Town because I didn’t feel that that was the way I wanted to go,” said singer Paul Martin. Released on Kenny Rogers’ label, the group’s debut single, “Live It Up,” merged turn-of-the-century Pearlman pop with Paul Franklin pedal steel. The song was briefly a Top 40 country hit, but “Live It Up” — perhaps hurt by its bizarre, decidedly not-kid friendly Western motif — eventually tanked, and the group’s adolescent honky-tonk fame was short-lived after just one album and a stint opening for Rogers. Still, “Live It Up” hints at what an alternative universe of country music boyband omnipresence could have looked like.

Brockhampton

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Brockhampton, “Sugar” (2019)

The “boy band” category was always more narrowly defined than it should’ve been, and it seemed to be that way in order to brush aside acts that fit its most traditional definition in favor of “more serious” music. It’s to Brockhampton’s credit that they not only embraced the boy band label from the get-go, but blew it up in a way that it always applied no matter what particular style of music they were trying. That said, Brockhampton’s 2019 single, “Sugar,” may be one of their most “traditional” boy band tunes: It’s all about the singing, and the way the main acoustic guitar loop anchors the rest of the production harkens back to the way the same instrument was utilized on the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”  Most importantly though, “Sugar” is tender and honest, a heartfelt devotional filled with love, longing and just the right dash of youthful immortality.

Bros, “When Will I Be Famous?” (1987)

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Bros, “When Will I Be Famous?” (1987)

The Surrey, England trio Bros epitomized the late Eighties Young Conservative air of steely determination: money, power and success at any cost. Twins Matt and Luke Goss, along with schoolmate Craig Logan, prioritized fame and fashion over brotherly bonhomie (the increasingly sidelined Logan quit, then sued the brothers). The mean streak in their lyrics, their distinctive crewcuts and bomber jackets, and their penchant for wearing Grolsch bottlecaps on their shoes made them ripe for parody and vitriol in the press. Former Pet Shop Boys manager Tom Watkins carefully ensured that this publicity didn’t go to waste, and Bros became popular enough to acquire their own enormous army of teenage fans, the “Brosettes.” Britain had seen nothing like it since the Bay City Rollers. “When Will I Be Famous?” is Matt’s best attempt at emulating the squeals and grunts of his idol, Michael Jackson, but it’s the Casio cowbell that serves as the instant timewarp back to 1987.

Dream Street, "It Happens Everytime”

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Dream Street, “It Happens Everytime” (2001)

The premise was simple: a boy band with actual boys. “With the Backstreet Boys, you’re looking at nine-year-old girls worshipping 25-year-old-guys,” Dream Street’s co-creator, Louis Baldonieri, said in 2002. “It’s weird, if you think about it.” Dream Street — which featured a young Jesse McCartney — was poised to be larger-than-life when the New York quintet released their self-titled debut during the height of 2000s boy-band craze (five months after BBMak, two months before O-Town). “It Happens Every Time” was their pubescent centerpiece, a Radio Disneyfied take on “As Long As You Love Me”-era BSB. In the video, the group gets chased by girls around New York City and dances on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. The group, (which recently lost member Chris Trousdale, who died from complications related to COVID-19), took a dark turn soon after, with their parents suing the band’s creators for engaging in “conduct and activities that plainly threaten and impair the minors’ well-being.” To paraphrase their signature hit: They were the imperfect dream.

Why Don't We

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Why Don’t We, “Trust Fund Baby” (2018)

From the ashes of One Direction rose several new boy bands that were creatively formed — and informed — by the way internet fandom had shifted the pop scene. Why Don’t We are a perfect example of the type of post-1D boy band that emerged. All five members had built minor fan bases as viral stars on various social platforms and were brought together by the founder of an internet star meet-and-greet tour. The group’s output thus far has been a mix of soft-rock and Euro beats, but the Ed Sheeran-penned “Trust Fund Baby” is the swaggering standout by a mile. The horn-laden track features Sheeran’s signature fast-paced wordiness paired up with the boys’ goofy charm as they outline what they do and want in their ideal partner.

JLS, "Beat Again" (2009)

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JLS, “Beat Again” (2009)

Arriving better polished and more formed compared to most of their X-Factor peers, Marvin, Oritsé, Aston and JB of JLS pumped some much-needed credibility into the sickly veins of the post-millennial U.K. boy band scene. Their smooth vocals and slick choreography suited R&B throbbers better than stool-based ballads, and their Hex Hector/Mac Quayle-penned debut single, “Beat Again,” jumpstarted a respectable run of eight consecutive Top Ten singles. The cardiac arrest metaphor could have been artery-thickeningly cheesy in the wrong hands, but JLS deadpanned lines like “If I died/Would you come to my funeral/Would you cry?”

Emblem3, “Chloe"

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Emblem3, “Chloe (You’re the One I Want)” (2013)

Emblem3 was a small blip of flashing light in the larger boy band universe, but their song “Chloe” hit home for any young woman who felt like she couldn’t quite compete with a beautiful sister (or even a best friend). Since Khloe Kardashian was the host during the band’s time on the U.S. version of The X-Factor, many speculated the song was about her relationship with her sister Kim — but those rumors were never quite confirmed. The 2013 track was Emblem3’s biggest (and only) hit, but it remains an ideal track for anyone who likes their boy bands with a dose of surfer vibes.

5ive, “When The Lights Go Out” (1998)

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5ive, “When The Lights Go Out” (1998)

London’s 5ive were the workhorses of the late-Nineties boyband glut, churning out eleven U.K. Top 10 hits with a higher banger-to-ballad quotient than their main competitors, the Backstreet Boys. Ritchie, Scott, J, Abz and Sean were put together after auditioning for Bob Herbert. Herbert had masterminded and nurtured the Spice Girls only for them to ditch him for future American Idol creator Simon Fuller, so he made sure the members of 5ive signed binding contracts — Bob died in 1999 and his son Chris managed the band until their split in 2001. “When The Lights Go Out” was a global hit, aping the Cheiron Studios sound of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” right down to the spooky haunted house FX. Subsequently Abz Love had the most solo success and recently put his Brit Award on eBay to help fund his latest venture as the owner of a small farm.

Du Jour, backdoor lover, Josie and the Pussycats

Roscoe/Josie and the Pussycats

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Du Jour, “Back Door Lover” (2001)

Du Jour might be the greatest fake boy band of all time. As the dreamboat foils to the titular group in 2001’s Josie & the Pussycats, Seth Green, Donald Faison, Alex Martin, and Breckin Meyer presented a surprisingly dark commentary of the pop industry at the time. “I always thought it was a ballsy thing for Universal to do, which was make a movie that was blisteringly honest and harsh about the industry and the duality of all of these things,” Green told Billboard in 2018, “How something so pure is being used as a surgical needle to infiltrate the minds of young consumers.” That’s no more apparent in “Back Door Lover,” a salacious bop that preceded Lady Gaga’s Rear Window euphemism by eight years. It’s both biting satire and a genuinely great example of what the boy band genre does best.

linnear TLC 1992

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Linear, “TLC” (1992)

The Fort Lauderdale trio Linear had a Top 40 hit in the summer of 1992 with the beach-party bop “TLC.” These boys did not pronounce their name “LIN-ear,” as in the basic geometry concept. No, they pronounced it “lin-EER,” as if to rhyme with “sheer,” “chandelier,” “Billy Shakespeare” or “song of the year.” Linear started out with a freestyle sound, but they hit true greatness with “TLC,” an unjustly forgotten mall-disco gem. They offer their lady some tender loving care, with the most 1992 sax solo of all time. That spring, an Atlanta group called TLC had their first hit with “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” — for a while, nobody was sure which TLC would go down in history. It turned out to be the Atlanta ladies, but “TLC” deserves to be remembered. Linear’s follow-up single failed to make the charts: “Smile If You Like Sex.”

Mindless Behavior

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Mindless Behavior, “My Girl” (2010)

The late-Aughts boy band resurgence lacked its own New Edition until a clutch of Los Angeles-based producers put together Mindless Behavior, a singing and rapping foursome that wound up opening for Janet Jackson’s 2011 greatest hits tour. “My Girl” makes it easy to see why Jackson looked upon the group fondly: Lead vocalist Prodigy (who’s since departed the group) sings about love in the age of smartphones with the guilelessness of her brother Michael, sweetly noting that “140 characters is more than enough” over a glitchy beat that recalls the ringtones of old — or at least of the B2K era.

BBMAK, “Back Here”

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BBMAK, “Back Here” (1999)

So often the biggest boy bands have broken first in the U.K. or Europe before crossing over to American audiences. But BBMak are a surprising exception. From the start, the British trio didn’t fit the pure vocal group boy band mold of the day (both Christian Burns and Stephen McNally played guitar), but their debut single “Back Here” — an eternally pleasing bit of hooky, cotton-soft pop rock with pristine three-part harmonies — struggled to make much headway in their home country. It only flew up the charts after it became a hit in America. On top of that, if you’re looking for some really granular boy band trivia, BBMak’s original U.K. version of “Back Here” arrived with a video shot in Los Angeles — while the version that broke in America came with a completely different video filmed in London. BBMak, like all boy bands, contain multitudes.

B2K

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B2K feat. P. Diddy, “Bump, Bump, Bump” (2002)

In the early Aughts, no one had moves like B2K. “Some artists get so big that they stop dancing,” group member Raz-B said at the time. “But we totally respect ‘N Sync because they’re still dancing.” The foursome had a handful of hits, but none were quite as danceable as the self-descriptive “Bump, Bump, Bump.” Written and produced by R. Kelly, then given the Puffy seal of approval, the song combines two boy-band classics: slightly scandalous puppy love and reference to quickly outdated technology. Chirp us, Omarion!

FILE - This July 6, 1967 file photo shows the musical group, The Monkees, from left,  Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, David Jones, and Micky Dolenz at a news conference at the Warwick Hotel in New York.The Monkees will perform its first live shows since its star Davy Jones died in February. Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork announced Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012, that the group will launch a 12-date U.S. tour in November. Jones died of a heart attack on Feb. 29. The group starred in its own NBC television show in 1966 as a made-for-TV band seeking to capitalize on Beatlemania sweeping the world. Jones rocketed to the top of the music charts with The Monkees, captivating audiences with hits including "Daydream Believer" and "I'm a Believer."The tour kicks off Nov. 8 in Escondido, Calif. It wraps on Dec. 2 in New York. It will highlight Jones “in the show's multimedia content.” (AP Photo/Ray Howard, file)

Ray Howard/AP

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The Monkees, “I’m a Believer” (1967)

What was the biggest selling record in the year of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Light My Fire” and “Respect”? The answer is a TV sitcom band’s take on a Neil Diamond song. “I’m a Believer” had reached the Monkees by way of Brill Building publisher Don Kirshner, who reached out to Diamond and producer Jeff Berry after hearing the former’s nearly-as-catchy “Cherry, Cherry.” Diamond had written the tune with country singer Eddy Arnold in mind; and, upon hearing it, Monkees guitarist Michael Nesmith told Kirshner that it wouldn’t be a hit. Nesmith was happily wrong: The song is so ebullient that 35 years later, even Smash Mouth could land a cover in the Top 40.

Kat-Tun, "Real Face" (2006)

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Kat-Tun, “Real Face” (2006)

The debut single for the six member Japanese boy band Kat-Tun was an out-of-the-gate success, owning the domestic charts and creating a frenzy that has yet to be matched for an act’s inaugural release. The schizophrenic tune, which jumps from four-on-the-floor dance beats to a heavy metal churn, began the J-pop band’s non-stop string of Number One hits — a tradition that’s kept the outfit an annual chart-topping success for nearly 10 years in spite of two members departing.

Jonas Brothers, “Burnin’ Up”

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Jonas Brothers, “Burnin’ Up” (2008)

The Jonas Brothers’ self-titled second album may have catapulted them into mainstream fame, but it was the brothers’ third album, A Little Bit Longer, that cemented it, thanks in part to the LP’s lead single, “Burnin’ Up.” It was the trio’s highest-charting song — until the release of 2019’s “Sucker” — and it continues to be a track that elicits ear-shattering screams when it’s played at shows. On top of the blunt opening line “I’m hot, you’re cold” and Nick Jonas’ vocal runs when he sings “high heels” and “red dress,” it also includes a feature from the group’s then-bodyguard, Big Rob, who at the time of the song’s release was just as famous as the boys themselves.

The Osmonds, “Crazy Horses” (1972)

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The Osmonds, “Crazy Horses” (1972)

After multiple Jackson 5-esque hits ignited Osmondmania throughout much of the world, the quintet flipped the script with 1972’s frenzied Crazy Horses, an LP written entirely by the band. R&B strains remained on the title track — dig those crazy horn blasts — but the foundation is unrepentant hard rock made even more extreme by a keyboard scream approximating the whinnying of a horse. If that wasn’t radical enough, the lyrics decried vehicular pollution: “What a show, there they go/Smokin’ up the sky.” It was a testimony to the band’s popularity — then buoyed by Donny’s sappy solo jams — that “Crazy Horses” matched the Number 14 chart placement of the album’s blisteringly funky “Hold Her Tight.” In England, where glam-rockers Slade topped the charts with a kindred heavy/catchy sound, this not-at-all boy-band-like record went all the way to Number Two.

Prettymuch and CNCO, “Me Necesita”

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Prettymuch and CNCO, “Me Necesita” (2019)

The alchemical magic created when boy bands join forces can be extraordinary. In 2019, Simon Cowell-formed Prettymuch teamed up with Latin group CNCO to release this bilingual banger. The song fuses together the groups’ signature sounds — reggaeton, pop, dance, and hip-hop — seamlessly. Lines like “She want that/I give that/She come back/Me necesita” were made to make all the Beanz and CNCOwners (nicknames for the bands’ fandoms) swoon. Even though the video for the track played on a rivalry between the two, “Me Necesita” proved that there doesn’t always need to be bad blood between boy bands (we’re looking at you One Direction and the Wanted).

BTS, boy bands

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BTS, “Fake Love” (2018)

When BTS released “Fake Love,” the lead single from Love Yourself: Tear, in May of 2018, they were already well on their way to being the global pop sensation that they are now. But “Fake Love” marked a new milestone for the seven-piece group, becoming their first Top 10 entry on the U.S. charts and one of the year’s best-selling digital singles. The high-production music video, directed by YongSeok Choi, remains one of the best from BTS, combining stellar choreography, an imposing collection of sets and plenty of dramatic poses.

Infinite, "The Chaser" (2012)

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Infinite, “The Chaser” (2012)

Not only a crown jewel in the discography of famously in-sync K-pop septet Infinite, but “The Chaser” is also the masterpiece of Sweetune, the production duo renown for giving the genre a retro kick. Opening with a waterfall of Eighties synths, “The Chaser” brought their dramatic, synth-pop sound to an emotional apex via this unforgiving blend of trumpet blasts and dynamic guitar licks answering the boys’ heartfelt belts.

2gether, “U + Me = Us (Calculus)”

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2gether, “U + Me = Us (Calculus)”

Leave it to MTV to create a mock boy band that actually came out with a decent hit: 2gether started off as a TV movie, and the film’s success spun-off an equally successful TV series of the same name. “U + Me = Us (Calculus)” was the band’s debut single in the film, but found success in real life as well, thanks to its satirical lyrics, suburban mall-friendly tune, and Backstreet Boys-style bombast. The song features the real-life voices of the actors as well, and the lines continued to blur, with the (fake) group opening up for (the real) Britney Spears on tour. In a tragic case of fact meets fiction, 2gether — the show and the band — came to an end after actor Michael Cuccione, who played “QT” McKnight (a.k.a. “the cute one”), died from cancer in 2001, shortly after the second season of the show began airing and just eight days after his 16th birthday.

One Direction, “One Thing” (2011)

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One Direction, “One Thing” (2011)

The One Direction of “One Thing” seems like a distant memory compared to the slightly older boys now covered in tattoos and singing folk-rock. In 2012, the then-quintet were all 20 and under; clad in pristine suits, suspenders and turtlenecks; singing dreamy, bubblegum pop-rock about a girl they just couldn’t get off their minds. Co-writer Carl Falk told the Examiner that the song came from two different tunes that they Frankenstein-ed together. “We all loved the verse. It almost has a lullaby feeling to it, the way it’s structured,” he said. “So it just made sense to have that with a huge chorus. . . . It felt like the perfect ‘sister song’ to ‘What Makes You Beautiful.'” Between “One Thing” and “What Makes You Beautiful,” One Direction relaunched a new era of boy band — an era where you don’t have to dance to capture girls’ attentions.

Backstreet Boys

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Backstreet Boys, “The Call” (2001)

It might not be the only pop song to use bad cell reception as a narrative hinge (shout out to Lady Gaga and Beck), but “The Call” is certainly one of the earliest — it was recorded in the days of monophonic ringtones and Snake. This Max Martin co-write from the Backstreet Boys’ Black & Blue only reached Number 52 on the Hot 100, and its tale of infidelity was a marked shift from the group’s more besotted offerings. However both versions — the sweeping synth original and the restrained Neptunes remix — include a last-verse key change that gives “The Call” a shot of just-before-hanging-up tension.

All-4-One, “I Swear”

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All-4-One, “I Swear” (1994)

Long before Ed Sheeran songs became a wedding staple, there was All-4-One’s “I Swear.” Originally a solo country tune performed by John Michael Montgomery, the tender (if a little sappy) ballad became a mainstream hit in 1994 with the release of a pop version that featured the four-piece from California. The song peaked at Number One in more than a dozen countries worldwide, while the lyrics (sample line: “For better or worse, till death do us part, I’ll love you with every beat of my heart”) positioned All-4-One as a family-friendly contrast to the more overtly sexual stylings of that other four-piece R&B group, Boyz II Men.

New Kids on the Block, “Hangin’ Tough” (1989)

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New Kids on the Block, “Hangin’ Tough” (1989)

New Kids on the Block were the pop force to be reckoned with during 1989, but they didn’t reach the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 until September. The spare title track to their second album, the many-times-platinum Hangin’ Tough, was part statement of intent and part stadium-ready chant; it reached the top of the Hot 100 the same week as its parent album, solidifying the New Kids’ dominance. It’s still one of NKOTB’s live staples, with the “whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh” chorus overpowering the giggle-worthiness of that line about “put[ting] you in a trance with a funky song.”

5 Seconds of Summer, “She Looks So Perfect”

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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)

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‘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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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‘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)

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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)

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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”

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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