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Earlier this week British pop quintet One Direction usurped Bruce Springsteen and Adele from the top of the Billboard 200 album chart, prompting a collective shrug from the rather significant portion of the population that’s neither Anglophile nor lusty tween.
Who are these mop-haired crooners that could move 176,000 units in just one week on foreign soil? They’re part of a small army of young gentlemen aiming to take over the airwaves, woo a generation of girls with deep pockets and ride that Justin Bieber-shaped wave to fame.
We are up to our elbows in another boy band renaissance.
One Direction is but one group in this resilient and timeless fad. They follow the recent success of fellow Brits The Wanted and Nickelodeon’s cross-market creation Big Time Rush. One is fluke. Two is a coincidence. And three is a trend that you want to father your unborn children.
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Sure, boy bands never really disappeared since ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys (and Hanson and 98 Degrees and LFO and O-Town …) reinvigorated the genre in the late ’90s, but their presence had been seriously diminished. Barring that awkward reunion and unification of New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys (“NKOTBSB” for you hepcats), Jonas Brothers has been the only boy band of consequence in the past decade.
So what’s a non-14-year-old girl supposed to do?
Pick a side, that’s what. The inevitable boy band battle royal is sure to divide us all, so while the lines are still being drawn, make your allegiances clear.
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To ease the burden of that decision, here’s a guide to the three biggest boy bands of the moment, broken down by style, genre and what kind of impression they’d make if you brought them home to mom.
But be sure to make your choice carefully. Like The Highlander, there can only be one!
Vital stats: Signed by Simon Cowell after placing third (third!) during the seventh season of The X Factor, One Direction consists of Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. Their album, Up All Night, made them the first U.K. act ever to debut at No. 1 in the U.S. with a freshman effort.
Sounds like: Postmodern Monkees. Maybe we’re a little influenced by the clear ode to the band in their “One Thing” music video (see below), but now the comparison is hard to shake.
Heartthrob factor: Completely inappropriate. Don’t let those skinny ties fool you. Most members of One Direction are barely into their 18th year of life. Fandom is best left to the younger set, though it should be noted that they are all older than Bieber — and the age of consent in their home country is a few years younger than in the States.
Vital stats: Not unlike the boy bands formed by creepy impresario Lou Pearlman, The Wanted came together via mass audition. And in the three years since that union, Max George, Siva Kaneswaran, Jay McGuiness, Tom Parker and Nathan Sykes have toured with such heavy hitters as Rihanna, Britney Spears and Bieber. They’ve also garnered the attention of Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun.
Sounds like: Pop jambalaya. Writer Steve Mac helped craft breakout single “Glad You Came,” which blends perfect amounts of world music, hip-hop, electronic and pop with a dancehall-anthem hook. It’s the kind of song that makes you forget you’re listening to a boy band, and their pronounced accents are much appreciated.
Heartthrob factor: Dangerously high. The Wanted have the advantage of a less pervy median age (most members are 24), sexually charged lyrics and just enough facial hair to make wanting them feel so very right.
Big Time Rush
Vital stats: Simultaneously getting a TV series and record deal in 2009, Kendall Schmidt, James Maslow, Carlos Pena Jr. and Logan Henderson were supposed to be Nickelodeon’s answer to the Disney’s Jonas success, but they have yet to match the brothers.
Sounds like: Kids Reincorporated. If this is all the States can bring to the table, we made need a boy band bailout. It’s not that Big Time Rush aren’t talented, they’re just not that adventurous — Daft Punk covers must be earned — which is why they’ve yet to nab mainstream appeal despite becoming household names among the Nickelodeon set. Still, an upcoming tour and some competitive spirit might prompt them to rise to the bar set by their imported contemporaries.
Heartthrob factor: Low, thanks in large part to haircuts that seem to predate their births. But we’re sure they make good impressions on parents and always respond to text messages in a timely manner.
Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV
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