I have a 13-year-old cousin who I carefully monitor on Facebook, both for her safety and my edification. Not long ago, she began posting pictures of members of One Direction, a band I had specifically avoided even knowing about because, as far as I could tell, they were a boy band totally made up by some producer somewhere to sell records (downloads?) and get little girls whipped up into a frenzy. I'd seen that before and made a point of hating it (see: middle school). But then I happened to watch their adorable video for "Kiss You" and something snapped in my brain. Suddenly, I was the 13-year-old I absolutely wasn't at 13 (Counting Crows was my favorite band back then, obviously). I started going back into the annals of boy band-hood and wondering: What makes a boy band a BOY BAND and not just a group of dudes playing music together? Why are 'N Sync and One Direction boy bands but Counting Crows and Mumford and Sons just bands? Here, my friends, is what I discovered:
To be a boy band, you have to sing catchy tunes about girls.
Most people will tell you that The Beatles were the first boy band. I wasn't always convinced of this because they are MUSICIANS and wrote their own stuff and went on to each have pretty amazing individual careers. However, on closer inspection, I realized that they STARTED as a boy band and then morphed into just a band. Back in the "I Want To Hold Your Hand" British Invasion days, when they all dressed the same and had those cute haircuts, they were definitely a boy band. And the first clue is the peppy and sweet songs about girls. Songs that say: "Hey, we're just a bunch of nice, approachable dudes, hanging out together, talking about you, the girl we love, in a really respectful way." As a person who knows a lot of dudes well enough to know that generally when they are alone talking about girls the subject of holding hands RARELY comes up, I think this must be part of the appeal of boy bands. A horde of teenage boys can be quite a terrifying thing to a young girl in real life. And individually too, boys are scary. They hurt your feelings, don't ask you to dances, break-up with you on Valentine's Day because you won't have sex with them, etc. But not boy bands. They are always a group of cute dudes who just want to hold your hand.
There can't be a real front man.
I use Backstreet Boys as an example here because clearly, IN MY OPINION, this is the Nick Carter show. BUT, the band isn't "Nick Carter and the Backstreet Boys," just as The Monkees isn't "Davy Jones and the Monkees." Someone is always going to be "the cute one" and "the goofy one," but the lack of a front man is crucial because it shows that you are all on the same level, there are no divas (even if there are) and, in support of the subject matter of your songs and the non-threatening vibe you are going for, none of you are the silver back gorilla or the alpha male. You're just a group of good-time-loving beta bros, hanging out, not hurting anyone.