The History of Boy Bands Pt 1

Definition of a Boy Band

A boy band (or boyband), in pop, rock, hip hop and R&B music, is loosely defined as a popular music act consisting of about 3-6 male performers. Despite the term “band”, boy band members usually do not play musical instruments, either in recording sessions or on stage, although exceptions do exist.

Some such bands can evolve out of church choral or Gospel music groups, but are often created by talent managers or record producers who hold auditions. Their general commercial orientation towards an audience of tweens and teenagers.

Early history

The earliest form of boy band music took place in the late 1800s with the use of a capella Barbershop quartets. They were usually a group of males and sing in four part harmonies. The popularity of Barbershop quartets had been prominent into the earlier part of the 20th century. A revival of the male vocal group took place in the 1950s with the use of Doo-wop music. Doo wop was a predecessor to the previous boy bands and they sung about topics such as love and other themes used in pop music. The earliest traces of boy bands were in the mid 1950s and the term boy band was not used. The term boy band was not established until the late 1980s. Before that times they were called male vocal groups or harmony singing groups.

The earliest predecessors of the boy band genre were groups such as The Osmonds and The Jackson 5, which helped form the template for boy bands. Both were family groups that established many musical conventions that boy bands follow. For instance, their music featured close harmonies from soul music and catchy pop hooks influenced as much as they were Motown acts like The Supremes. All members of the band sang, which is a common convention of boy band, as opposed to having a front man and the rest on instruments. This is effectively so that no one person dominated the stage. Even so, the members conveniently fitted into the convention of having stereotypical personality types (Michael Jackson being the “cute one”, to give an obvious example).

The Osmonds

The Jackson 5

Although not a manufactured band, The Beatles set a precedent for boy bands to follow both in terms of marketing to young girls and certain aesthetic and musical conventions. The merchandising, whether it was films like A Hard Day’s Night or novelty goods were possibly the first aimed at a certain demographic on a large scale for a group. This made them a proto-type for boy bands. Musical conventions that boy bands adopted from The Beatles were less their technical proficiency as musicians and more the catchy pop hooks, melodies and harmonies combined with their marketability. Their marketability was based the idea that there was something for everyone, whether it is the music or the personality of John Lennon or Paul McCartney or their sex appeal.

The Beatles

The Beatles were more directly an influence on boy bands that use rock band instrumentation. The precedent for this was when TV Producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson got four members to perform catchy pop tunes while also acting in a television series. The Monkees were a manufactured act who featured members with distinct (albeit fictional) personality types. They are often considered as the original pioneers among boy bands.  Formed in 1965 under the supervision of Don Kirshner, the group became dissatisfied with Kirshner’s control and became independent two years later, and worked on their own up to 1970.

The Monkees

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