Boy band or rock band? Here’s how to tell the difference

jackson5Angsty male teenagers sing a soulful ballad, and next is a power pop rock track. Someone who typically listens to rock music might check the radio frequency — is this rock, or is this the teen pop station? Angsty rockers are ok, but boy bands are definitely not rock.

Boy bands have proved themselves to be a hugely popular niche of the music industry ever since the Jackson 5. It becomes difficult to differentiate between a boy band and just a teenage rock band, however, since in the last 20 years boy bands have experimented with rock ‘n’ roll. Some even argue The Beatles were the first boy band.

The working definition of a “boy band,” however, is “male vocal group that doesn’t play instruments.” That rules out The Beatles, but that means Jackson 5, N Sync, The Backstreet Boys, and One Direction are definitely boy bands. However, what makes a boy band is more than just checking to see whether the members play their own instruments. The fact of the matter is, teenage girls love boy bands for three main reasons: looks, style, and sappy, cutesy love songs — they don’t care if Harry Styles doesn’t write his own songs or play the lead guitar in One Direction’s hit single, “Story Of My Life.”

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Distinctions between “boy band” and “rock band” get fuzzy when rock bands start writing music that sounds like it belongs in a boy band, and vice versa. The pop punk movement of the early 2000s gave us The All-American Rejects, We The Kings, and Boys Like Girls — all definitely rock bands, but writing boy band-worthy material.

Some critics might group The All-American Rejects with The Backstreet Boys based on the similar subject matter the bands cover, but that’s not fair treatment of rock bands like the Rejects: after all, Rejects frontman and bassist Tyson Ritter collaborates with lead guitarist Nick Wheeler to write everything their band produces. The members of The Backstreet Boys — which is the No. 1 bestselling boy band in history — didn’t start collaborating with producers to help them songwrite until their fourth album. Brian Litrell is the only band member with two songs attributed to his name alone.

The difference is simple: boy bands don’t play guitars, rock bands do. The critique of modern songwriting, or lack of good songwriting in newer rock bands, is a separate discussion. For now, rock listeners will have to accept the fact that The All-American Rejects — and all its punky, angsty brother bands — are in fact, a rock band.

Photo: By CBS Television (Original text : eBay item photo front photo back)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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