Skip to main content

With BTS Broken Up, Here’s Each Era’s Best Boy Bands

Find Groovable Gems and a Shadowy World Behind the Shiny Curtain

Universal teen hearts broke with the news that K-pop supergroup BTS is going on hiatus. The group’s incredible 10-year run not only generated hundreds of millions of dollars, but created a musical monster.

No matter how highly produced and industry-created the band, there’s no denying that there are good tunes and a dark history in the bubble gum pop mix. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a pop group composed of young men whose music and image are designed to appeal primarily to a young teenage audience,” this description excludes two important facts: Boy bands actually construct quality songs, and as young men, have been often exploited throughout their six decades of existence.

The Jackson 5 in 1972, from left to right Tito, Marlon, Michael, Jackie, and Jermaine Jackson
CBS Television

Boy bands at once offer listenable gems and a shadowy world behind the shiny curtain. Hop on in with The Manual to cruise through some of the brightest and bleak moments for boy bands in the last 60 years.

Boy Band Roots — 1950s to 1960s

The term “boy band” wasn’t established until the late 1980s. Before this time, all-male pop groups were genre labeled, beginning with a cappella barbershop quartets in the 1940s and 1950s. Although generally known as a rock group, the highest-selling band in history, The Beatles are considered by many to be the first boy band due to the screaming hordes of teenagers that welcomed the Fab Four to the United States. The Beatles even inspired the first commercially created, successful boy group, The Monkees, for television in 1966.

The Monkees - Last Train To Clarksville 1966

Success and Stress — 1960s and 1970s

Two early (mostly) vocal groups helped shape the template for the boy band format: Osmond Brothers and The Jackson 5. The musical acts tend to fall on different sides of the spectrum, though.

After being discovered as four kids performing an adorable Disneyland barbershop quartet, the four oldest Osmond brothers debuted on the Andy Williams Show in 1962. Their performance led to regular appearances that were soon punctuated by five-year-old Donny’s addition. The late 1960s and 1970s would see the kids go from child stars to cultural icons, first as a boy band and eventually as the Donnie and Marie Osmond duet. Though their fame allowed the Osmonds to dabble in an incredible variety of genres, reports remain consistent that the squeaky-clean Mormons from Ogden, Utah never indulged in showbiz’s excessive temptations.

Osmond Brothers - "Down By The Lazy River"

Their peers from Gary, Indiana, The Jackson 5, helped spawn The King of Pop, but there are many knottier elements to the Jackson story.

Hailing from a rough part of town, fearsome father Joe Jackson needed a way to keep the boys from the street’s temptations. From the time before the youngest member, Michael was five-years-old, the brothers performed in local malls and at parties. They’d become a smash on the heels of their first single, Big Boy, recorded in 1968 for Steeltown Records. The local hit led to a contract with Motown Records the next year. Though the band was a smashing success, this came at a steep price.

The Guardian reported that father Joe Jackson would beat his kids with a belt, a cord, or a branch if they dared make a mistake during practice. Michael, the group’s lead, would endure psychological abuse in addition to physical wounds. On learning the boy was self-conscious about the size of his nose, Joe Jackson began to refer to him as “Big Nose.” The Associated Press reported that Michael was so afraid of his father’s wrath that he would sometimes vomit when in the presence of the elder Jackson.

In spite of a tragic history, The Jackson 5 sold over 100 million records and established an enduring musical mark, especially on boy band conventions. Their music featured close soul harmonies in concert with catchy pop hooks. The group incorporated choreographed dance moves inspired by fellow Motown acts. All members sang a now almost universal boy band aspect.

The Jackson 5 "Who's Loving You" on The Ed Sullivan Show

Latin Explosion and Exploitation — 1970s to 1980s

With Menudo (a Spanish synonym for little and, in Puerto Rican Spanish, loose change), viewers get to see how ridiculously young these boy bands can be and how vulnerable these kids are.

Producer Edgardo Díaz formed the Puerto Rican-based Latino boy band in the late 1970s. Releasing their first album in 1977, the band became one of the most popular acts of the 1980s, especially in the Latin teen music world. While selling over 20 million records, the band had several radio hits, including A Valor and Quiero Rock. Like The Beatles before them, Menudo’s success led to two films: Una Aventura Llamada Menudo and Menudo: La Película. The band was a starting point for pop stars Ricky Martin (1984–1989) and Draco Rosa (1984–1987).

Menudo would eventually feature 32 different boys during its initial 32-year run. Díaz instituted a “Fountain of Youth strategy” for Menudo, where members would be replaced once they turned 16. Parents of the boys — many of them poor — would sign over parental authority to the manager. Both of these facts feature prominently in HBO’s new Menudo documentary, Forever Young.

In the video account, former members claim to have endured continual sexual abuse in addition to bullying, drug scandals, and oppressive working conditions under Díaz’s negligent and exploitative watch.

“We were pawns of his business,” Ray Acevedo (1985-1988) says in the film.

Quiero rock - Menudo (1983)

Into Superstardom — 1980s and 1990s

Beginning with Boston group New Edition in 1978, the boy band reached epic popular heights in the 1980s and 1990s, much of it backed by producer Maurice Starr.

Originally formed by Bobby Brown as a “new edition” of The Jackson 5, the band would put out hits throughout the 1980s and launch Brown’s solo career and the 1990s hit R&B groups Bell Biv DeVoe (known as BBD) and Boyz II Men.

Boyz II Men - Motownphilly (Official Video)

Really just a young group of men looking to break into the mainstream, Boyz II Men received their big break in 1989 when they met Bell Biv DeVoe member Michael Bivins backstage during a show, impressing him with an a cappella rendition of the New Edition song Can You Stand the Rain. Soon after, Bivins helped sign them to Motown Records (now in Los Angeles, California). Two years later, Boyz II Men would debut one of the most successful R&B records ever, Cooleyhighharmony.

Over the next 25 years, the smooth-singing group would release five hit singles and 12 albums, going on to win four Grammys, nine American Music Awards, nine Soul Train Awards, and three Billboard Awards, and earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Meanwhile, New Edition’s former promoter was busy. After Starr led the band to create hits like Candy Girl, he would eventually separate from the group enmeshed in legal battles. Determined to overcome this setback with an innovative idea, Starr evolved his boy band vision.

“If New Edition was as big as they were, imagine what would happen if white kids were doing the same thing,” Starr told The New York Times.

New Kids On The Block - Hangin' Tough

In the summer of 1984, he asked talent agent Mary Alford to scour hardscrabble Boston neighborhoods for “white boys with the ability to rap, sing, or dance.”

The five-teen combination they’d finally settle on would create one of the first true megastars of the modern boy band era, New Kids on the Block. New Kids (later referred to as NKOTB) would not only go on to sell over 70 million albums, but they were also a promotional force. In addition to 1990s neon-splashed magazines, the band would spray their faces on almost any product where their mugs would fit — notebooks, pencil cases, lunch boxes, and pillowcases — to the countless fans filling sold-out concerts.

Next Gen Megastars — 1990s to 2000s

The influence of Boyz II Men and NKOTB would lead to the height of the commercial teen pop explosion in the late 1990s, punctuated by a band formed in Orlando in 1993. The Backstreet Boys introduced a hybrid of R&B ballads, hip-hop juice, and magnetic dance pop that would eventually propel the group to global superstardom and multi-platinum albums. Total sales of over 130 million albums make Backstreet Boys the most popular boy band of all time.

Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way (Official HD Video)

Post producer Lou Perlman’s success with the Backstreet Boys set him out to find another successful group of teen idols and he found them in the same Florida town.

Hailing also from Orlando was a band of boys named by Justin Timberlake’s mother, who commented on how “in sync” the group’s singing voices were. This just so happened to line up to the founding members’ first names: JustiN, ChriS, JoeY, JasoN, and JC. When Jason Galasso dropped out at the last minute, however, the group recruited a 16-year-old from Mississippi named Lance Bass. Upon acceptance, Bass was dubbed “Lansten” to keep aligned to the “NSYNC” concept.

With a string of hits and multi-platinum albums, the band would achieve megastardom and sell over 70 million albums over the next decade plus.

*NSYNC - Bye Bye Bye (Official Music Video)

Going Global — 2000s to Present

In the early 2010s, there was a resurgence of boy band popularity not in the United States, but in places both old and new.

One Direction, the British-Irish male vocal group, made their impact in the early 2010s with a tried-and-true formula: Stylish looks and bright pop rock sound. They were also formed by record producers, and in this case, on the British show The X Factor, a televised talent contest for aspiring singers. Although the new group didn’t win X Factor, the show’s inventor, Simon Cowell, offered the charismatic act a recording contract soon after the season’s end.

One Direction - What Makes You Beautiful (Official Video)

In the tradition of earlier pop music “boy bands,” One Direction was promoted as a set of teen idols that were musically compatible while remaining distinct in style and personality. They also used new school tools to conquer the American market. After building their fan base by touring the British Isles with harmonized pop sugar on its 2011 album, Up All Night (highlighted by What Makes You Beautiful riding the top of British and Irish charts), the band hit the States via social media.

In 2012, when the band finally arrived in the U.S., Up All Night debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and went on to sell more than a million copies. Two albums, 70 million albums sold, and a 3D concert tour later, One Direction began to take off on solo careers in 2015. This opened the door for BTS, which is maybe the most popular boy group the world has ever seen.

BTS brought in $130 million in 2019 sales from merchandising alone, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In addition to record-setting views for YouTube music videos and album purchases, the seven-member K-pop group has become a worldwide sensation.

First discovered in 2010 by South Korea’s Big Hit Entertainment, BTS received intense training on how to become superstars after a grueling audition period. This included dancing and singing lessons as well as acting and media training. The difference between BTS and previous boy bands is that Big Hit stuck with BTS for over a decade.

The boy group’s youngest member, Jungkook, is now 24 after beginning as a 14-year-old trainee. This has led to a seasoned and stalwart group, on stage and off. In 2019, BTS became the first K-pop artists to present at the Grammy Awards, and the next year, the first to perform at the award show. The band members are staunch advocates for their Korean ancestry and dialect. BTS also donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement and reserved thousands of tickets for former President Donald Trump’s Oklahoma rally before leaving the seats vacant.

BTS (방탄소년단) 'Dynamite' Official MV

Boy bands may be bubble gum, but their music takes real talent and their melodic grooves are among the bestselling albums and tracks in industry history. Though often manufactured, legions of boy band fans are earned through hard work and sacrifice. If you can sneak in a minute to listen, you may find a melody that catches your ear.

Editors' Recommendations

Matthew Denis
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
This is what would happen if an asteroid hit Earth
Watch this scary video simulation of an asteroid's impact on earth
Earth as seen from outer space

You've seen the scenario in movies and TV shows: There's an asteroid headed for the planet, and it's threatening to wipe out all life on the planet. Of all the mysteries of what's out there in space, there's something uniquely terrifying about the prospect of a chunk of rock heading toward us fast enough to smash into Earth. Now you can enjoy a lovingly rendered video showing the destruction that might occur if such an impact were ever to happen.
Watch what would happen if an asteroid collided with Earth
A now-removed viral post on the Absolute Units subreddit shows what would happen to the planet if the largest known asteroid were to collide with the planet. Unsurprisingly, the 338-mile/545-kilometer-wide space rock would totally annihilate every living thing on Earth, destroying vast landscapes and covering the planet in smoke and fire. You can also view the full video (set to Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky.”)
Massive destruction
An asteroid hitting Earth is called an impact event. And while these are rare, the effects of one would be massively damaging to all life on the planet—and the asteroid wouldn’t need to be 338 miles across to do so. Even smaller asteroids can cause incredible destruction.

Read more
Do UFC fighters wear cups? A rule that changed UFC forever
Israel Adesanya fighting at UFC 234.

Before he appeared as the character Random Task in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and California inmate #AI7266, Joe Son was just an up-and-coming mixed martial arts fighter. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was only a few years old, and making it into the quarterfinals of UFC 4 was a big deal. Son was confident facing off against Keith Hackney. But a recently changed rule was about to end Son's run, contributing to the reformation of the sport and the establishment of all UFC men wearing cups. After the events of the evening, it was definitely for the better.
History of UFC's Cup Rule
When the UFC debuted in 1993, it only had a few rules, one of which was outlawing groin strikes. What would happen if a fighter struck his opponent in the Tractor Supply? It's hard to say, as it never happened. But with pre-internet viral fame of the UFC and its no-holds-barred bad boy image came an even more lax set of rules, and beginning at UFC 2, punches and kicks to the Orange Julius were fair game. It's with this switch that Son and Hackney met head on.

The fight started with the pair exchanging shots, but soon they clenched and Son, the stronger man, cinched a headlock around Hackney's neck, pushing him across the ring. As the two jockeyed for control, they fell to the mat, and Hackney, with his head still trapped in Son's armpit, ended up on top. Son did not want to open himself up to strikes, so he held on, while Hackney made it his priority to escape and take advantage. Thus, the stage was set for the most brutal ground-and-pound ever filmed.

Read more
F1 Bahrain GP live stream: How to watch Formula 1 for free
Formula 1 driver exiting turn.

Formula 1 is back with the first race of the championship underway later today. The Bahrain Grand Prix is sure to be a fantastic start to the 2024 F1 schedule. If you’re keen to check out the F1 Bahrain live stream, you’re in luck. We’ve got everything you need to know about how to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix for free today, along with some insight on what to do if you’re traveling.
How to watch Bahrain Grand Prix for free
If you’re based in Austria or Luxembourg, you can check out the Bahrain Grand Prix for free along with all of the 75th F1 World Championship. That’s thanks to there being free streams through ORF in Austria and RTL Zwee in Luxembourg. If you’re from either country and traveling abroad, you can still access these by using a VPN like NordPN (one of the best VPNs). It’s a good solution for ensuring you can catch the race in your first language rather than being stuck with it in English. It’s entirely safe and legal to do so for residents of the country in question.

If you’re in the US and want to stream it in English, you can sign up for a Fubo free trial. The streaming service is perfect for sports fans with plenty of options including ESPN which is the channel showing the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Fubo free trial lasts seven days so there’s plenty of time to see what else it has to offer with dozens of channels to choose from. Just remember to cancel it before the free trial ends so you don’t pay a cent. Fubo has sports channels like CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, NBA TV, NHL Network, Fox Sports, along with dozens of other TV channels to suit your mood.

Read more