Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson are:
a) Economics professors at Cambridge University
b) Secondary players on the upcoming season of Downtown Abbey
c) Op-ed columnists for the Times of London
d) The members of One Direction
The answer, as you might have gleaned from the title of this piece, is (d).
One Direction, for those of you without tween daughters or iCarly On Demand, are the boy band of the moment. Every kid between the ages of six and sixteen in both Britain and the United States knows One Direction—even the home-schooled ones. These guys are everywhere.
But as my little quiz demonstrates, one of the peculiar aspects of boy-band-dom is that, while boy bands are famous to the point of ubiquity, the boys in the band are generally anonymous. Boy bands are like the Wonder Twins. Individually, they are mortal. But with their fellow bandmates and enough rouge, they have super powers. Kendall Schmidt, for example, looks like any other corn-fed Kansan somewhere on the locus between handsome and dorky. If he has no trouble scaring up dates, there’s also nothing all that distinguishing about the guy. But give him James Maslow, Logan Henderson, Carlos Pena Jr., and some eyeliner, and sooner than you can say, “Wonder Twin powers activate,” every female in sight swoons. Because together, these four are Big Time Rush, the Nickelodeon concoction that is world’s second most popular boy band.
Boy bands, like all teen idols, have a short shelf-life. My daughter is six, and she already knows on some intuitive level that Justin Bieber is old news. Justin Bieber, who is younger than her babysitter—who is only 12 years older than she is! Uneasy lies the head that wears the mousse. When you get that big that fast, backlash is inevitable. Boys, ever competitive, view the Tiger Beat cover boys as rivals and want them eliminated. Girls, ever fickle, obsess about newer kids on the block. Record sales plummet. Web sites dedicated to the band’s extinction appear. The money dries up. There’s only one direction for One Direction to go from here, and that direction is down.
When we look back at notable boy bands, however, an interesting trend emerges: one member (and only one) typically survives the carnage to remain in the public eye—usually by distancing himself from his mates. Take a look at the rosters of some famous boy bands:
Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone…and Justin Timberlake
Johnny Lozada, Xavier Serbia, Miguel Cancel, Charlie Masso, Ray Reyes, Roy Rossello, Robi Rosa…and Ricky Martin
New Kids on the Block
Danny Wood, Joey McIntyre, Jordan and Jonathan Knight…and Donnie Wahlberg
Justin Jeffre, Jeff Timmons, Drew Lachey…and Nick Lachey
Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe…and Bobby Brown
The Backstreet Boys
A.J. McLean, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell…and Nick Carter
While there is some range of renown here—Nick Carter is known primarily for his reality show House of Carters, and is not exactly livin’ la vida loca—the trend is undeniable.
The solo acts, meanwhile, almost never recover. David Cassidy is still famous for being a teen idol, and he’s pushing 65; this nostalgia-based adulthood is probably where Bieber’s headed. Mark Wahlberg emerged from the teen scene relatively unscathed, true, but back then, he used the stage name Marky Mark. And he is the exception, not the rule.
Longtime readers of my various projects (hi, Mom!) will point out that I wrote about this curious trend once before, on December 5, 2000, on my now-defunct LARGEREGO blog. That column also began with a multiple-choice question. It was:
Question: If you witness Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, Lansten Bass, Justin Timberlake, and J.C. Chasez taking on A.J. McLean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell, you are watching:
a) Yakima vs. Quad Cities in a CBA basketball game
b) Andover vs. Choate in the prep school debating club finals
c) Georgetown vs. Syracuse in college “Family Feud”
d) ‘N Sync vs. The Backstreet Boys in a Battle of the Bands
Twelve years ago, then, Justin Timberlake’s name was so unknown that I didn’t think any of my readers would recognize it. Now, of course, he’s a superstar, an entertainer in the true sense of the word, a five-time host of SNL, and by far the most famous of the boy band survivors…as well as the most prominent example of my “one survivor” theory.
If the pattern holds, the career arc of a single member of One Direction will move in one direction, i.e. up, while the others will never again feel a rush as big-time. He might even blow up like JT. My money’s on Harry, for the most scientific of reasons: he’s the one my daughter likes best.