What makes a boy band so crushable? The songs, of course; without their declarations of love and well-timed key changes, the likelihood that they’d creep into the mass consciousness is low. But the personalities that make up the groups, often boiled down to easy shorthands like “the cute one” or “the shy one” or “the one who just sort of stood there but who I’m attracted to anyway,” are just as important; these archetypes allow different types of fans to hook into the groups, to argue over which band member is most deserving of their notebook doodlings, memorabilia money… and latent sexual stirrings.
We asked some of our favorite writers to share their first boy-band crushes, and the squishy feelings they bring up to this day.
More Boy Band Week:
“BRIAN AT LEAST LOOKED LIKE A MAN”
BRIAN LITTRELL // BACKSTREET BOYS
I’m not sure I had an actual crush on Brian from the Backstreet Boys, but I remember being confused and maybe angry that anyone would think anyone else from any other boy band was even remotely attractive. I still don’t think Justin Timberlake is cute. He looks like a little boy. A little boy! A baby. A pretty baby with a high voice. Who can dance extremely well, and is probably also really fun to hang out with. But not hot. Not hot.
Brian at least looked like a man. With a jaw, and he seemed serious. With his chin in his hand, unsmiling. “Brian backs” is all Google needs to know what I’m talking about. Brian Littrell. But also, Brian Littrell, I wish I hadn’t Googled you. Pictures indicate he’s dealing with a receding hairline by dying it blonde and combing it forward. He’s 37 and has apparently become a Christian musician. Speaking of manly, I wonder what Joey Fatone is up to. OMG, Joey’s actually looking really good these days. Being in a boy band is almost like… castration.
“I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A SUCKER FOR A FALSETTO”
JOEY McINTYRE // NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
I have always been a sucker for a falsetto. First it was Joey McIntyre of the New Kids on the Block, his high voice fogged by a sweet Boston accent; then it was Justin Timberlake of ‘N Sync, who thankfully outgrew his absurd and glossy curls in favor of tattoos and a sense of humor; now it’s the floppy-haired Harry Styles of One Direction. (Note: I have no idea what Harry Styles’ individual voice sounds like, but I do know he’s the cutest one. I mean, really, you can’t argue with that hair.)
There’s just something about impossibly high notes coming out of a pretty boy’s mouth that sets my heart aflame. When I was a child, the boy with the falsetto seemed the safest, the least sexual… like beautiful castrato singing three-minute pop songs. No matter what the words are, a boy with a falsetto isn’t going to break your heart. He belongs in a church, backed by a choir. He will bring you flowers and hold your hand. He will open your car door, or at least he would if he were old enough to drive. Joey was the better version of the boys at my elementary school. Not even his stonewashed jeans and mall haircut could deter me. If I told you that my husband serenades me with a voice a few octaves above his normal register, would it surprise you? It shouldn’t. After all, a girl never really gets over her first love.
–Emma Straub is the author of the novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.
“I FINALLY UNDERSTOOD SEXY”
TAYLOR HANSON // HANSON
I grew up in a firmly boy-band household. Though my sister and I had our grunge moments and I eventually receded into the Elliot Smith-scored shadows of sad bastard land, there were a couple of years when the house was filled with the nasal whining of BSB and ‘N Sync and their lesser cousins: the bratty Cockney quintet Five, the discount mall act 98 Degrees.
I was a few years away from coming out at the time, but I knew that a lot of these kids were cute. There was rain-soaked Nick Carter in the “Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)” video, Justin Timberlake lying down with one muscley arm behind his head in “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” He was still sporting his infamous Ramen-noodle hairdo at the time, but that JT moment (featured on some ‘N Sync VHS my sister bought at Strawberries) was frequently paused and, uh, studied when home alone.
But my real boy band love, perhaps true to the folkier musical taste I would later develop, was dreamy, effortlessly retro cool, cornsilk blond, and, yes, perhaps creepily religious Taylor Hanson. One summer, trapped in a Rhode Island farmhouse for all of August, my sister and I basically burned a hole in our copy of Middle of Nowhere. Without internet or even television, all we could do was listen to the songs, gaze at the few pictures we had and imagine what these teen angels must be like in their surely wonderful lives. Of course, I had to mute my Taylor obsession, letting my sister do the out-loud freaking out for the both of us, but inside a world of want existed.
I’ll never forget later that fall when we played Hanson’s Christmas album, Snowed In, for the first time and heard Taylor’s newly deepened voice. Standing by the stereo in my sister’s bedroom while she audibly gasped at her (our) beloved’s new timbre was, I must admit, a true made-me-a-man moment. I finally understood sexy, at all of 14. I’ll also never forget going to see Hanson the next summer, my first concert ever, rather embarrassingly, and by then feeling pretty over the whole thing. I’d moved on to less wholesome objects of desire, and anyway the band’s new music wasn’t quite as fun.
Still, I’ll have a picture of that hair forever, will always hear that particular Taylor “Yeah!” somewhere in my head. Vestiges from a time when I was, in many ways, in the middle of nowhere too, but at least feeling, when I closed my eyes and listened to that Tulsa boy’s song, like I was being taken somewhere new.
“I REALIZE HE WAS A BIT BORING. BUT!”
IKAIKA KAHOANO // O-TOWN
I think about original O-Town member Ikaika Kahoano at least once a week, more often than one would expect. After all, he quit the 2000 reality TV series Making the Band to preserve his artistic integrity (or something more scandalous?), then… started another boyband, LMNT. The name was picked by readers of Teen People. They had one single (it was bad) and then kind of disappeared.
Way back in 2000, I had a big crush on Ikaika, even though now I realize he was a bit boring. But! He had a cool Hawaiian accent and a really nice singing voice, and he seemed a lot more circumspect than the rest of the guys in the house. (That tells you something about 15-year-old me: “circumspect” was a quality I appreciated in boys.)
Twelve years ago, reality TV still had people who were genuinely uncomfortable with cameras in their faces all the time; the secret to making a living from reality shows–being as ridiculous as possible–had yet to be figured out. Ikaika spent a lot of time on the phone getting advice about his career and the band from his brother, so much that another future O-Town member, Jacob Underwood, eventually deadpanned, “Hey Ikaika, what’s your brother’s number? I need to ask you some questions.”
Ikaika comes into my head without fail when I’m loading the dishwasher. You know how some television moments are burned into your brain for all time? I’m never going to forget Ikaika loading the dishwasher in the MtB house and singing, to the tune of “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely”: “Tell me why I live with a bunch of slobs.”
–Shani O. Hilton is a journalist in Washington, D.C.
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