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Despite the inarguable commercial success of groups like NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, and BTS, Boy Band music has rarely been given the academic and analytical attention we feel it deserves. I mean, something has to be said about the fact that it has connected on a deeply emotional level with hundreds of millions of fans globally.
So we decided to take on the challenge ourselves.
In fact, we’ve got a brand new online course launching June 4, called The Music of Boy Bands, dedicated to unpacking some of the most widely used musical and production techniques in the Boy Band pop subgenre. And we had so much fun making that course that we dedicated this week’s podcast episode to the same challenge; examining the output of some of music history’s favorite boyish heartthrobs.
So today I’m joined by Mahea Lee (my frequent co-host and the guiding voice of The Music of Boy Bands), and estimable producer, composer, and fellow bassist, Martin Fowler — who makes his return to the show for the first time since appearing in our inaugural episode — to talk about our favorite Boy Band hits. Enjoy!
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Dig deeper with The Music of Boy Bands, our new course on Soundfly.
If you liked this episode, you’re going to love our brand new course, which comes out June 4, The Music of Boy Bands, where we explore and break down the ins and outs of how this music functions and its cultural significance.
Taught by Themes and Variation’s own co-host, Mahea Lee, this subscriber-only short course is fun, whimsical, and nostalgic, and yet also chock full of keen analytical frameworks and actionable techniques and tips for songwriters, producers, and lyricists looking to make good on their childhoods spent listening to Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, and even BTS.
Check out the course here for more info and a pre-launch sneak peek.
Episode 21 Highlights
1. There’s so much more to pop music than what you hear on it’s surface.
Carter: “There’s also something to be said though about like when we talk about pop music and listeners, and I’m not even the biggest pop music fan, it’s not necessarily what I would choose to put on a personal playlist or anything, but when I do listen to it I love it and have a lot of respect for it because, when you dig into the finer details like I’m uncovering now, saying the right syllables is going to affect harmonically and melodically what’s going on… There’s so many layers to it. Yeah it’s commercial, and really fine tuned, and really polished but there’s a lot of intellect that goes into making this music as well.”
2. Marty uncovers the incredibly deep lyrics of BTS’ “Dope.”
Martin: “The song is about being a part of this ‘generation,’ this three-po generation, ‘Sampo’ generation they call it at first, which is about having to give up three things. That’s what it means in my understanding, and those three things are courtship, (essentially dating and enjoying being a young person with other young people) marriage, and child birth. Those are essentially the first three things you give up, because you don’t have time for that stuff, you gotta work yourself to the bone. And then they level it up and they say now we’re a ‘five-po’ generation, now we don’t care about employment or home ownership because we can’t get it, because we’re never gonna get it because we don’t have any chance. And then they go deeper to six and seven where essentially you’re giving up your dreams, your interpersonal relationships, and then finally your hope, but the point of the song is to be like ‘we’re not gonna give that up, we’re never giving up hope.'”
3. JT started to flex his songwriting chops on “Gone.”
Mahea: “This song takes on a little bit of an interesting character when you find out a little bit of the backstory and start speculating, which I’m one to do with songwriting. So this is, this is a song that Justin Timberlake has writing credits on and it seems he did a significant amount of the writing which is really really rare with boy band music. He might have only done this and ‘Girlfriend,’ I think those might be the only two NSYNC songs that he was a writer on. Most of the time there is no obvious frontman but Justin Timberlake stepped into that role in a really obvious way you know?”
Join Our Collaborative Playlist
Just like we do every time we launch a new episode, we’ve created a collaborative Spotify playlist in order to share every song mentioned in this episode and explore many others that fit the theme. We need your help, we want your help, and we can’t wait to hear the boy band songs you love!
Go ahead and add your selected songs to the playlist!
We’ll see you in a couple weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a line at [email protected]!
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