7 of the Worst Boy Bands of the 1990s

7 of the Worst Boy Bands of the 1990s

The Backstreet Boys | Scott Gries/ImageDirect

To chronicle the worst boy bands of the 1990s, we must first define what exactly a boy band is. A boy band is a vocal group made up entirely of young men, whose ages might range from preteen to early 20s; the members’ primary functions are to appear attractive, non-threatening, and accessible in order to win over their target audience of preteen girls.

Boys bands songs tend to be catchy through repetition and rely upon multilayered vocal harmonies overlaid on hideously overproduced musical parts that sound as though they were created in a laboratory rather than using any actual instruments.

That’s probably because the members of a boy band rarely play their own instruments, which would hinder their ability to perform their delicately choreographed dance moves. In fact, “choreographed” might be the best word to describe any given boy band — their songs are less products of artistic expression, and more meticulously controlled PR initiatives from record companies trying to get teenage girls to buy albums.

Let’s look back at the peak days of this unfortunate phenomenon in pop music, and be grateful that the boy band craze, for the most part, has died a deserving death. These are the worst boy bands of the ’90s.

1. LFO

Lyte Funky Ones set a high bar for terrible boy band names, and their hits, which managed to sell more than five million records worldwide, were just as bad. Though they had a handful of hit singles, the one everyone remembers is unquestionably “Summer Girls,” a song so backwards it references New Kids on the Block as a band to be emulated.

The sound is stripped back by boy band standards and yet still wreaks of overproductions. And the lyrics are so awful (“Hip Hop Marmalade spic and span”) you couldn’t come up with anything worse if you tried.

2. Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys are the bestselling boy band in history, so they must be doing something right — even if it’s just soldiering on far longer than logic dictates they should. My biggest problem with the Backstreet Boys is that many of their hits aren’t without merit.

Namely, they tend to have good hooks, but everything else is just irredeemable, from the intolerable synthetic instrumentation and persistent “mm-mms” inserted between every line to the generic R&B slow jams (a sound explicitly stolen from the far superior Boyz II Men) and ultra clean public personas. At least the band members make a frequent point of demonstrating that they can actually sing, unlike so many of their imitators.

3. O-Town

As painful as it is to hear a manufactured boy band try to play tough (more on that later), it seems like a relief when compared to the onslaught of groan-worthy boy band ballads hitting the charts in the late ’90s. O-Town actually emerged from MTV’s Making the Band series (basically Manufactured Boy Bands: The TV Show) as the decade came to a close.

They quickly became one of the worst offenders when it comes to mushy power ballads. Somehow O-Town managed to make even a solo piano sound overly slick, and the stripped back aesthetic of their supposedly heartfelt songs betrays what was truly at the heart of these boy band enterprises — laziness.

Record companies wondered, how lazy can we be while still creating monster hits? The answer, as O-Town can testify, was pretty damn lazy.

4. Dream Street

The concept of a boy band has always been a little exploitative, but it feels especially icky when the members of said band are actually, you know, boys. Dream Street was a short-lived group that enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight at the tail-end of the ’90s, despite the fact that they seem too young even for teenage girls to ogle over.

Their songs are so blandly inoffensive and musically uninteresting there’s pretty much nothing worth saying about them. Thankfully, the group was quickly disbanded due to disputes between their parents and management.

5. Upside Down

Upside Down was a manufactured boy band that starred in a “making of” documentary on BBC designed to promote the group and their record label World Records, which staked what little money it had left on the band’s success.

The band and their documentary, which contains a few hilarious scenes in which you can tell the members can’t sing all that well, arrived a few years before both the boy band and reality crazes took off, so their brand of overproduced go-nowhere pop hooks sung incompetently quickly disappeared.

Upside Down’s lack of success brought down World Records, and the band members failed to find success when they rebranded as Orange Orange.

6. A1

Just look at those heavily made-up, smirking faces, and those meticulously groomed Supercuts hairdos. Now listen to that relentless pulsing dance beat that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the song’s melody.

In fact, it sounds as though every person involved with recording this song never once occupied the same room. A1 was member Paul Marazzi’s attempt to ride the wave of the late-’90s boy band craze after missing the cut to join another manufactured band of the era called Steps.

A1 had a few predictably awful hits during their original run from 1998 to 2002, including a cover of A-ha’s “Take on Me” that really has zero reason to exist. The group was resurrected without Marazzi in 2009, because hey, what else are they going to do?

7. 5ive

If their pointlessly stylized band name isn’t enough to make you despise them, just try sitting through one of their songs, which wreak of typical boy band trappings like melodic simplicity and heavy repetition but also include sanitized rap rock lyrics and sampled beats meant too make the band seem just a little bit “dangerous” — as dangerous as a band signed by Simon Cowell can be, at least.

Give the band members credit for at least co-writing most of their songs, even if they were stubborn enough to refuse surefire hits like “Bye Bye Bye” and “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”

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