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A new crush of boy bands

Throwbacks -- but they're doing big business.

March 25, 2012|Gerrick D. Kennedy
  • Big Time Rush members performs at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Big Time Rush members performs at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Hundreds of glow sticks luminesced over the sold-out crowd at Gibson Amphitheatre on a recent Friday night. Prepubescent girls snapped cellphone pictures and out-screamed one another as younger kids were hoisted onto parents' shoulders for better views.

The cheers morphed into hysteria as Big Time Rush emerged.

The scene onstage is familiar: five seemingly interchangeable young guys linked by one band name and an ability to dance with military precision, deliver harmonies and exude boy-next-door charm.

Big Time Rush is at the crest of a new boy band wave, yet the L.A.-made group hearkens to an era when Backstreet Boys, 'NSync and 98 Degrees ruled the charts.

Judging from the recent sold-out L.A. shows for other young groups such as multicultural British heartthrobs the Wanted and R&B teen sensations Mindless Behavior, as well as the buzz surrounding reality show magnate Simon Cowell's creation One Direction, the reemergence of the boy band has only just begun.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, March 30, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Boy bands: An article in the March 25 Arts & Books section about a new spate of boy bands on the pop music scene said that the recent appearance of One Direction's "Up All Night" at the top of the U.S. pop charts marked the first time a British group had debuted at No. 1 in the United States. It was the first time that a British group had enterted the U.S. charts at No. 1 with its debut album.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, April 01, 2012 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 74 words Type of Material: Correction
Boy bands: A March 25 article about a new spate of boy bands on the pop music scene said that the recent appearance of One Direction's "Up All Night" at the top of the U.S. pop charts marked the first time a British group had debuted at No. 1 in the United States. It was the first time that a British group had enterted the U.S. charts at No. 1 with its debut album.

In what seems to be as predictably cyclical as the stock market, bubble gum bands are back and trying to fill a void left by the maturation of Justin Bieber and other precursors. And as always, they're working extra hard in competing with one another to stand out.

Mindless Behavior's Jacob "Princeton" Perez, who's from L.A., said he's aware their popularity could fade as fast as it arrived. "In this camp, they really believe in working hard. Our manager always told us to never get comfortable because it can all go away really fast," he said. "A lot of people think it came out of nowhere, but we've been at it for three years."

Though Mindless Behavior is geared more for the urban market, their music -- like that of their dreamy boy peers -- is loaded with enough sugary pop, dance and R&B melodies to charm tweens across America until at least the end of summer break.

Since Big Time Rush was assembled for the Nickelodeon show of the same name in 2009 the band's TV series has become a hit and it's now behind two albums, blockbuster tours and a slew of made-for-TV films, including the Beatles-themed "Big Time Movie," which attracted 13 million total viewers when it aired this month, according to Nielsen. After dates on the group's current tour sold out in minutes, it announced an extensive summer trek.

Big Time Rush follows a mold, once perfected by the Monkees, in which a fictional artist-based sitcom extends to profitable tours, music and merchandise. Its current album, "Elevate," has debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200, it has sold more than 3 million digital tracks, and its self-titled TV show, now in its second season, averages a respectable 3.6 million viewers.

The Wanted, managed by the man behind Justin Bieber, Scott "Scooter" Braun, hit No. 1 on the iTunes pop chart with its U.S. single, "Glad You Came." The song (on the Def Jam label, just like Bieber) was bolstered in part when the cast of "Glee" covered it. It's now sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S. since its release in January.

BTR member Kendall Schmidt says its latest success proves it's more than a novelty. "We'd all be lying if we said the first thing we planned to do was sing in a boy band. We all knew we were signing up for an opportunity of a lifetime," said Schmidt, 21, who's based in L.A. "We are trying our best to make it our band and not something we signed up for."

Not all the up-and-coming boy bands are Svengalied, but the majority are the product of industry masterminds looking to capitalize on the budding hormones of juveniles.

Mindless Behavior's co-manager, Keisha Gamble of Conjunction Entertainment, and the company's chief executive, Walter W. Millsap III, saw a void in the R&B market after B2K (a disciple of the 1980s sensation New Edition) fell out of fashion more than a decade ago. So along with Streamline Records head Vincent Herbert, they auditioned teens for the new group. "It had been 10 years since there had been a boy band that catered to the urban community," said Gamble. "Little girls want something to latch on to. There's only been Justin Bieber, so it was perfect timing for something like this to come along." Mindless Behavior, whose debut came out in September, is the only band of the bunch whose members are all African American.

Herbert said the goal was to calculate a "bulletproof" strategy for the band of 15-year-olds. Since he has a joint venture with Interscope and clout from signing Lady Gaga, he was able to fast-track them into a deal and secured plum opening slots on tours with the Backstreet Boys, Justin Bieber and Janet Jackson. The band's debut, "#1 Girl," bowed at No. 2 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop albums last fall .

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