The Unfair Critical Treatment of Former Boy Band Members

Let’s see if I can get out some reviews for once…

I’m not being profound when I say that success is a great way to turn the less successful against you. In the burgeoning field of critical criticism, this fact is no more obvious than with music critics. Movie critics are relatively high profile (notably Roger Ebert), and there is a variety of widely known names in the field (Gene Shallit, Peter Travers, Leonard Maltin, etc.) and almost never write “I could make a better movie than this, I’m just choosing not to” types of reviews. If anything, for a really awful movie, they’ll just say, “Anyone can’t write (successful) music, but think that they can. This isn’t where every music critic comes from, but it’s a heckuva lot easier to say, “I’m going to tour the country, and sell my CDs to all the free-thinking Zydeco-Blues-Jamband-Trip Hop-New Wave-fans out there” and think you really have a chance than saying “I’m going to be a movie star,” and actually believing your own hype.

But the weird thing is that with music (well, like movies, too), one doesn’t necessarily need to be particularly talented to get really far with a career in it, for some amount of time, at least. Obviously, the poppy-est of pop music is the ultimate example of this. We’re sort of in a dry spell for “bubblegum” pop at the moment, but it’ll come back…it always does. Nsync sold (capital “M”) Millions of records, made lots of money, achieved a huge amount of fame, and those people with musical dreams in the previous paragraph? Not so much. See the part above about success and the unsuccessful.

In Soviet Russia, band boys you!

See, I have nothing against NSync (or any of those groups). First (and what should be the most obvious), I’m not and I never was their target market. It’s not my money spent on their CDs, merchandise, etc. If I’m that offended by their existence, I can change the channel, the radio station, whatever implement of the mass media on which I’d see them. And second, in interviews, they seemed like perfectly friendly guys who had a lot of fun and realized they were really a product of the current time, and they’d be “done” when they needed to be “done.” (to be fair to the “haters,” the Backstreet Boys didn’t seem to have quite as much perspective/insight into their fleetingness). Second-and-a-half-ly, there’s something to be said for making somewhat listenable music that gets played on Top 40 radio: I can’t stand most of their catalog, but “Bye, bye, bye” is a darn good song, you’re just afraid to admit it.

And third (where the music critic thing comes in), no matter how “unmusical” they might’ve been, it really doesn’t matter. Someone would laugh out loud if anyone in Nsync said he was “living his dream of being a musician,” but if he said, “I’m living my dream of being famous,” well, you really can’t argue with that. Toward the end of their popularity, you could tell that their “handlers” thought they could gain more fans if they were involved (in some nebulous capacity) in the writing of their music (as opposed just the performance of it), but the writing was already on the wall for their genre of “pop” as “real” signer-songwriters like Avril Leveigne took the torch and were equally not the type of music someone like me would in the market for.

But did these boy band members have any talent? Easy answer: of course not, they sold millions of records because of the people pulling their strings. Not-so-easy answer: they sold millions of more than one record, and no matter how smart the people behind the scenes were, there were five guys that needed to keep a rather limited “schtick” interesting.

Justin Timberlake, undoubtedly the most musically successful of the former members, gets the worst rap. He was probably the most popular among the ladies during his days with Nsync and let’s not forget his white-boy-fro: plenty of reasons to hate the guy. Basically, he managed to turn a boy band career into a “leading man in music” type of trajectory with one CD, and his upcoming CD will cement his role even further. Of course, he won’t be able to shake the “boy band” thing, but there’s something to be said for people always being interested in your next CD, if only so they can complain about it loudly, inadvertently helping to promote it.

Which brings us to the actual center of this review, a seemingly innocuous review of one of the new singles on Justin Timberlake’s new CD. Once again, let me call out pitchfork media. Now, I’ve not heard the song in question, but the review of “My Love” is the issue. But wait, you say, “Dan, but the review got five out of five stars, and pitchfork media doesn’t like anything.” I say, “Look more closely.” Sure, it got five big stars, but look to see why. It certainly doesn’t have much to do with Justin Timberlake according to the writer. Timbaland produced the song, which as we know, in hip-hop means he did either a whole lot or a whole little. It would appear that Timbaland, for this song, did “a whole lot.” In fact, according to the review, it’d look like he did the whole darn thing. As if there’s no way that someone who was, *gasp* in a boy band (much less one of the most successful ever) could accomplish anything after that on his own merits after this. Stereotyping and generalizing all people bitter at boy bands’ success to be like pitchfork media, it’s weird that they’d be so invested in seeing him fail, and if no one heeds their (the holier-than-thou’s) warnings, then they need to explain away how the guy got successful (Timbaland supposedly writing the perfect song, etc. without any help from a former boy bander). I’m still not the target market for Justin Timberlake’s music, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to fail.


The Unfair Critical Treatment of Former Boy Band Members gets two stars due to the fact that it seems like some people just can’t get past the fact that someone who became successful doing something unfathomable to them (doing a good job lipsynching while dancing, mainly) could go on to something larger and somehow respectable outside of the realm of middle-school girls. Like I said, a lack of success breeds a bitterness towards the successful. The two stars come from the fact that there is plenty of insignificant music churned out by former boy band members that even I (who’s half taking the role of Devil’s Advocate in this) couldn’t defend.


  1. Ooh…Dan, I have to give this review a thumbs-down. The writing quality was down in that first paragraph especially.

    I’m pleased you brought this up, though, because you’ve convinced me to take the offer of my local music/movies/books store: any Nsync or Backstreet Boys album for 49 cents!

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