Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Boy Bands Part II: New Kids on the Block

In the second part of my week long series regarding Boy Bands, today's spotlight is on New Kids on the Block, which first hit the charts in the fall of 1988 with the ballad "Please Don't Go Girl." When I first heard the song on the radio, I thought the group was black. A New Edition clone. The creator of the group, Maurice Starr, had also formed New Edition. His goal was to assembly a group of soulful white teenage guys to be more successful than his previous creation, which got away from him. He wasn't going to allow that to happen again.

The first rule an aspiring Boy Band should keep in mind is that if you want a long career, its probably best if you do not use the word "Boys" or "Kids" in your group name. You're going to be men at some point and it will be harder to make the transition if your name reminds music fans of your youth. Okay, so maybe the Beach Boys managed to escape this fate, but Backstreet Boys did not. Even New Kids on the Block started calling themselves "NKOTB" (awkward!). More like Old Kids on the Block!

In this Boy Band, Donnie Wahlberg was the resident Bad Boy while Joey McIntyre was the baby of the group. Before the group found fame, Donnie's younger brother, "Marky" Mark was a member, before he went on to solo rapping and acting fame. This group also featured two brothers: Jordan and Jonathan Knight, and the odd man out Danny Wood (he always looks like a thug who will rough you up).

New Kids on the Block accomplished a major feat in the summer of 1989. During that summer, they were the opening act for Teen "queen" Tiffany (of shopping mall and "I Think We're Alone Now" fame). I had wanted to see the concert at Six Flags over Georgia (I had a season pass), but didn't make it. By the middle of summer, Tiffany became the opening act for New Kids on the Block. I'm sure that probably did not sit well with her. However, she was coasting on the strength of her first two singles from two years earlier and her sophomore album wasn't selling nearly as well. In the summer of 1989, the New Kids on the Block found hits with their singles "(You Got) The Right Stuff", "Hangin' Tough", "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)", "Cover Girl" and a release from their first album: "Didn't I Blow Your Mind?" By year's end, they even released a single from their Christmas album, "This One's For the Children." Not bad for a bunch of young guys from the tough hoods of Boston.

My sister, who was the right age that Boy Bands aim for (8 years old), was a fan of Joey McIntyre. When I worked at Lionel Playworld before going into the Navy, we had a whole aisle devoted to New Kids on the Block products. It was an incredible waste. We did not sell much, which was a sign to me that their popularity was already cooling off in the fall of 1990. I bought a Joey McIntyre doll for my sister that Christmas. I wonder if she still has it. There was a young teenage girl at church who loved New Kids on the Block as well. In the spring of 1990, she was really excited about their upcoming new release and thought it would be an even bigger success. I told her that after their string of hits on their breakthrough second album, and with excitement among fans for the follow-up, I thought they would fizzle out. By that point, fame was already getting to them. Bad Boy Donnie Wahlberg was having fights on airplanes. This kind of behaviour would not sit well with tweenybopper parents.

The new album was just as I thought. Overproduced with only a couple good songs. The music video above shows New Kids on the Block at the height of their fame, with the release of their brand new single from the new album: "Step By Step." The video was a step up from their previous, low budget ones. The second single, "Tonight" was great in that it referenced their other hit songs by title and the music specifically evokes psychedelic-era Beatles. There was no mistaking their intentions. They wanted to replicate the Beatles success (the ultimate "Boy Band" that evolved into a critically acclaimed and artistic pioneers of rock n' roll) or maybe at least get some respect.

Too late. The new album satisfied their fan base and it would be a few years before they attempted a "comeback" (in 1994 under the name NKOTB). Since the guys in the group were a couple years older than me, it was interesting to see their rise and fall from my perspective. I had fantasies of being in a rock band, but I knew that I would not a fan base of tweenage girls. They are the most fickle, and wouldn't be around to support a career. The idols of tweenage girls today are Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers (who actually play instruments!), and Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus.

The smartest member of New Kids on the Block was Mark Wahlberg, who left before fame hit, became a rap star in his own right, showed off his physique in Calvin Klein's most famous underwear ads of the 1990s, and went into acting. His older brother Donnie has been in his shadow ever since. Mark has surprised me with his acting ability. He has a great sense of humour (watch Saturday Night Live or Scorsese's The Departed if you doubt this) and he chooses his roles wisely. When he first came on the scene in 1991 and with the underwear ads, my impression of him was that he was a meatheaded asshole. Perhaps it was all an act, for he has been a lot smarter than his "Marky Mark" persona would indicate. As I watch the excellent HBO series Entourage, which he executive produced, it makes me wonder how much of it was based on his life. Like Mark, the character Vincent Chase has an older brother who is always in his shadow. The older brother, Johnny "Drama", is annoying as hell.

When I listen to their music now, which isn't often, I'm transported back to my Junior and Senior years of high school, as well as the exciting summer between those two criticall years. They've tried solo projects and reunion tours with new albums, but nothing works. They are frozen in that era from 1988 to 1990. That's what happens when you call yourselves the "New Kids on the Block." You can't be the new kid on the block forever!

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