Friday, August 27, 2010

Boy Bands Part V: 98 Degrees

For today's Boy Band spotlight, I have chosen 98 Degrees. They have a slight difference on the "Boy Band formula" in that there are only four members, not the usual five. I never understood why five guys was the "standard"...particularly when none of them play instruments. Is it an aesthetic thing? One guy takes the lead and the four guys pair off?

In the early 90s, there were a couple of guy quartets: All 4 One (which had a one hit wonder with "I Swear" in 1994) and Color Me Badd (a two hit wonder in 1991 with "I Wanna Sex You Up" and "I Adore, Mi Amor"). In my first semester at college in the fall of 1997, one of the songs on the radio that I loved was "Invisible Man", which I often feel like in social situations. This was the debut single of 98 Degrees. I heard nothing more from them as Backstreet Boys and NSYNC racked up hit after hit single from their debut albums. Then, in 1998 came "Because of You" from the new album, which had an awesome music video set in San Francisco. I love that song and video.

What I like about 98 Degrees is that their music sounds really soulful. They have great harmonies and their second album, 98 Degrees and Rising, was perfect. The single "The Hardest Thing" caused some controversy among one of my roommates in D.C. He (Jantzen) actually paid attention to lyrics, so any music that got played would be questioned if he found the lyrics to be "immoral." So, we debated this song. He didn't like it because it was about lying to a girl. But it was lying so she could move on to someone better for her. Its a great song. For me, though, melodies matter more than the lyrics. If I don't like a song, its because the melody sucks. I did find it amusing that my roommate Jantzen was such the censor of music in the apartment. In case you're curious, he also found these songs "offensive" and said that it could not be played while he was in the apartment: "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" by Whitney Houston, "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang (obvious reasons!), and "Obsession" by Animotion.

The single "I Do" is probably one of the best songs to play at a wedding. It will certainly play on my wedding soundtrack someday, though it is not in the running to be a first dance song due to its obvious nature and rather cliched lyrics. I prefer something a little more unique. The video is interesting, because it starred the attractive lady from the Superbowl Doritos commercial, as she plays with the emotions of all four of the 98 Degrees guys. The music video is cheesy, though, because in the end, she marries "Screech" (from Saved by the Bell). One thing you can count on with Boy Bands: cheesy is part of the deal. Also on this album is a really hip song that I love: "Do You Wanna Dance", which samples the old Kool and the Gang classic "Get Down On It." I never really liked that song, so 98 Degrees took the melody and made something hipper and fresher.

The album also featured a collaboration with Stevie Wonder on the theme song from the Disney animated feature Mulan: "True to Your Heart." I like the song, but I think its slightly over-produced. It would sound even better if they quieted it down some.

Like New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees features two brothers: Nick and Drew Lachey. Jeff Timmons and Justin Jeffre make up the other half of the group. After their third release in 2000 (Revelation), Nick went on to greater fame with his Hollywood marriage to Teen "queen" Jessica Simpson. They decided to open up their marriage to the prying eyes of video cameras with MTV's reality series The Newlyweds. The show begins after the wedding and honeymoon. The interesting thing about having their marriage on a reality show is that when the show began, Nick was the bigger celebrity. By the end of the four season series, Jessica Simpson's career was bigger than Nick's. Their marriage couldn't seem to last outside of the reality series. They divorced soon after the show ended, which is a shame, because if they had children, their children would have had the great opportunity to watch their parents adjust to married life.

What made the show interesting to watch were Jessica's "blonde moments." She once asked Nick if the tuna she was eating was chicken or fish, "because it says 'chicken of the sea'." She was fun to watch. Incredibly naive, not too smart, but sweet at times, and beautiful. The show itself is revealing in the incredibly narcissistic waste by which these celebrities live their lives: mega-mansions in the Hollywood hills, fancy sports or luxury cars, jet setting off on vacations or for work whenever they feel like it, endless parties, and extravagent shopping sprees (Jessica would buy things just to buy things, not even thinking how outrageous some of the prices were for the things she bought). Is it an enviable life? I hardly think so. I don't think I could live in too much house and attend parties all the time. I'd love the travel, but it would be by the least expensive means possible. What I love most about the show, though, was hearing Jessica say in her sweet, pouty way, "Nick!" I could listen to her say my name all day, she's that sweet.

As I watched the series several years ago, I was struck by the idea of writing a novel about celebrity life in relation to real life. I haven't come across an actual storyline / plot or characters quite yet, but it will be along the lines of two pop celebrities in a marriage for public consumption. This reality series increased the profiles of both Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, so it was definitely a good career move. Britney Spears seemed to get jealous, because she decided to allow her marriage to Kevin Federline to be made into a documentary, which I had never seen. I heard that it was horrendous, though. Britney Spears might have been a much bigger celebrity than Britney Spears, but she married trashy and our televised culture prefers telegenic and physically fit people (i.e. Jersey Shore).

Out of the three major Boy Bands to emerge in the late 1990s, 98 Degrees was my favourite because their music simply sounded more soulful than the others. They had an R&B feel to many of their songs. Nick Lachey came out with a solo album in 2006, with a heartbreaking ballad about his divorce, "What's Left of Me." Its pretty heartbreaking to listen to. I have no idea what caused the dissolution of their marriage, but it was doomed for failure due to the intense media scrutiny. You know how some pairings seem to get the paparazzi and celebrity media outlets in a tizzy? For example, when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were an item, they were constantly in the tabloids. The media just had it out for them as a couple that it could never work. When both Ben and Jennifer married someone else (Jennifer Garner for Ben and Marc Anthony for J.Lo), the media seemed less interested and thus they are able to have a normal family life without the glare of a critical spotlight. I think the same can be said for the Hollywood marriage of two former teen pop stars. It was doomed for failure from the start.

There's a lesson in here somewhere for future aspiring Boy Band members. Like Take That sang in "Never Forget" ... "Never pretend that it's all real / Someday, this will all be someone else's dream." Enjoy the ride while it lasts. Some don't even get the pleasure of three albums and a string of radio hit singles. Also while I was in college, another Boy Band that went by the name of 5ive had one hit single: "When the Lights Go Out". There was also a reality series about the selection of guys to be in a Boy Band. I believe the name of that band was O-Town, but I never heard any of their songs on the radio. There was also a Boy Band trio, named LFO, which had a hit single with "Summertime Girls", which name dropped Abercrombie & Fitch and New Kids on the Block. The late 90s seemed to be a time of more of everything that you don't really need or that's not good for you. The radio seemed to have room for only three major Boy Bands at the time. Let's hope that never happens again!

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