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Biggest Boy Bands: 1980s and Beyond

Boy bands, says UCLA musicologist Robert Fink, “feature tight choreography, positive entertainment values, and carefully marketed and producer-driven music.” Fink says the trend as we know it started in the 1980s. Here, a look back at the biggest players.

New Edition

Albums sold: 40 million

Discovered circa 1978 by producer Maurice Starr, this Boston-bred crew scored with their debut album, Candy Girl, and introduced a foundational template for subsequent boy bands.

New Kids on the Block

Albums sold: 70 million

Starr enlisted a Boston talent agency to form this all-white teen soul group. NKOTB had their first big hit with 1988’s Hangin’ Tough; their popularity dovetailed with the rise of the highly profitable CD market.

Boyz II Men

Albums sold: 60 million

This Philadelphia group signed with Motown Records (VIV:FP) and went on to become one of the most successful bands of the ’90s, with favorites such as End of the Road and I’ll Make Love to You.

Backstreet Boys

Albums sold: 130 million

The best-selling boy band in history, this Florida gang was founded by producer Lou Pearlman in 1993. Known for hits such as I Want It That Way and Everybody, the Backstreet Boys capitalized on the rise of MTV (VIA) with the help of heartthrob Nick Carter.

‘N Sync

Albums sold: 56 million

Famous for the hit Bye Bye Bye and for launching Justin Timberlake’s career, ’N Sync was also founded by Pearlman during what many consider the Boy Band bubble. “In the ’90s and 2000s the record industry was just rolling in money,” Fink says.

98 Degrees

Albums sold: 10 million

Arriving on the scene in 1997, this Ohio group formed organically. They eventually signed to Motown and had success with Because of You, I Do (Cherish You), and The Hardest Thing.

Jonas Brothers

Albums sold: 8 million

These three brothers from New Jersey became one of the most successful bands of the 2000s, with songs such as Burnin’ Up and When You Look Me in the Eyes. They sold out tours in seconds, their fame partially born of regular appearances on Hannah Montana, plus two original Disney (DIS) movies, a TV series, and a reality show.

One Direction

Albums sold: 12 million

Simon Cowell formed this English-Irish rock-pop band from contestants on The X-Factor. They found fame with Best Song Ever, Kiss You, and What Makes You Beautiful. 1D made up for an industrywide decline in CD sales with more tours, TV appearances, and movies. “There is now a model that will work even if these bands don’t last more than a year,” Fink says.

Van Syckle is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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