The high-pitched screams echo off the walls of Radio City Music Hall. Bright beams of light illuminate the dark stage, followed by explosions and a line of flames that materialize from the floor. Four silhouettes appear behind a rising screen as the sold-out concert hall bursts with shrieks and camera flashes. But this act isn’t Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber—it’s Big Time Rush, the band with a Nickelodeon show of the same name.
Boy bands such as Big Time Rush are becoming sensations in the American music industry again. After the popularity of New Kids on the Block in the 1980s and ’N Sync and Backstreet Boys in the ’90s and early 2000s, the allure of male vocal groups vanished the same time Justin Timberlake said “Bye, Bye, Bye” to his band and went solo. Such bands have tried to make it big in the U.S. since then, but they typically saw mediocre record sales and little to no success.
The term “boy band” typically refers to a group of young, eye-candy-status-worthy men who dance and sing, and whose music is written, played and produced by other people. They usually form through audition processes, or are “manufactured,” and mostly appeal to pre-teen audiences. Boy bands have been around since the early 19th century in the form of a capella Barbershop quartets, but the concept has since evolved.
Sociologists David Croteau, William Hoynes and Stefania Milan challenge the existence of boy bands in today’s music scene in the book Media/Society. “In the absence of any major boy band hits in recent years, a group of young men wanting to sing together today would have considerable difficulty in getting a major record deal,” they write. Big Time Rush, along with British-Irish band One Direction, however, rose to incredible yet unexpected fame over the last two years.
The groups are constant presences on music charts, they’ve acquired huge fan bases around the world and they both sold out headlining tours. Mainstream radio stations also play their songs, and invite them to their studios for meet-and-greet opportunities and live acoustic performances.
“I think that things go in waves,” Big Time Rush member Kendall Schmidt, said in an interview with PopStar Magazine. “I think it’s different than it used to be. I think we’re kind of recreating it, almost. I’m glad that it’s coming back because it’s a lot of fun.”
Big Time Rush—James Maslow, 21, Logan Henderson and Carlos Pena, both 22, and Schmidt, 21—is first known for its show, which bears a fictional plotline about four hockey players from Minnesota who try to make it big as a band in Los Angeles. The show premiered on Nickelodeon in November 2009 to 3.5 million viewers, making it the most successful live-action debut in Nickelodeon’s history. Today the show yields about 4 million per episode. The feature-length film Big Time Movie, for which the band received permission from Apple to cover six of The Beatles’ songs to release on a soundtrack, premiered earlier this month with 13.1 million viewers.
Almost all of the show’s episodes include songs from the band’s two studio albums, BTR and Elevate. BTR was released in October 2010 and spent 26 weeks on the Billboard 200, peaking at number three. The Recording Industry Association of America gave the album a Gold certification in April 2011. Elevate, released in November, debuted at number 12 on Billboard 200 and sold over 70,000 copies its first week. As of March 1, it has sold over 208,000 copies in the U.S.
While the band is not as popular as the Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync were, the guys of Big Time Rush are seeing more success than they and their producers at Nickelodeon expected.
“Nobody had any idea we’d be this big,” Maslow told reporters at a press conference in Mexico City.
Europe has always had a taste for boy bands. When the Backstreet Boys first started out, the group found more fame overseas than here in the U.S. Now, England is the producer of the biggest boy band phenomenon since The Beatles—One Direction.
Zayn Malik, 19, Louis Tomlinson, 20, and Harry Styles, Liam Payne and Niall Horan, all 18, competed on the British talent show The X Factor as individual acts in 2010. After each boy made it through several rounds of the competition, the judges, Simon Cowell amongst them, did not think any would have successful solo careers. Guest judge Nicole Scherzinger suggested they compete as group, which led to the creation of One Direction, also known as 1D. The band finished third in the competition and signed a deal with Cowell’s Syco Records shortly after.
One Direction’s fame blew up with the release of its first single, “What Makes You Beautiful,” which debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart in August 2011. Up All Night, the band’s debut album, peaked at number two on the UK Albums Chart when it released in November. The band sold out its first headlining tour in seconds and even won a BRIT, the UK equivalent of a Grammy, for best British single last month.
But One Direction did not expect tremendous fame in the U.S. The band went viral on the Internet, especially the blogging site Tumblr, and “Directioners” anxiously awaited the boys’ arrival to the states. Nickelodeon was quick to take them under its wing late last year, perhaps to prevent the group from overshadowing Big Time Rush, but also because of 1D’s outstanding popularity in England.
Nickelodeon introduced the group to commercial success here, pairing the Brits with Big Time Rush on the American band’s three-week long sold-out Better With U Tour. In February, the network broadcasted the U.S. premiere of the music video for “What Makes You Beautiful,” and the band guest-starred on an episode of iCarly that will air on Nickelodeon this spring. One Direction is hosting the network’s lineup of popular live-action shows every Saturday night this month leading up to the Kids’ Choice Awards on March 31, where the group will perform. This month Nickelodeon also announced that plans for One Direction’s own show are currently in the works.
Up All Night, along with a deluxe edition of the album, released in the U.S. on March 13 and took the top two spots on iTunes. One Direction spent that weekend in New York after wrapping up the Better With U Tour with Big Time Rush, holding CD signings at malls in the metropolitan area, including Long Island, and performing on the Today Show for thousands of fans crowded outside Rockefeller Center. In addition to the band’s booked performance at the Kid’s Choice Awards, the boys will perform on Saturday Night Live in April and tour the U.S. this summer. Newsday called the band’s explosive fame “another British invasion.”
Big Time Rush and One Direction are no doubt still growing, but their achievements show that the boy band has come back strong. Other bands such as The Wanted are gaining popularity, too, and the different images and styles of music these groups convey satisfy the varied tastes of millions of fans.
This time, the boy band might just stay around for good.