A colleague showed her teenage daughter a Backstreet Boys music video and her daughter “LOLed.” Or more like, “ROFLed” herself to tears. The song was “I Want It That Way,” and her daughter found the choreography hilarious. “Who dances like that, Mom?” she exclaimed. In defense of the ‘90s, I told my friend, “One Direction dances!” But come to think of it, no one dances like the Backstreet Boys anymore. The boybands of our youth, they performed as a unit and their performances told a story — usually, one that involved mild, synchronized gyrating, come-hither gestures, and making puppy dog eyes at the camera.
Each member was assigned a persona: there was the one with abs, the one that sings well but isn’t that much of a looker, the one that never does anything, the one that raps, and the cute blonde one that every girl wanted to marry. Their performances had an underlying sexiness that jived with their boyish masculinity — often, this involved dancing in the rain with a white shirt on (Quit Playing Games is my absolute favorite), walking on the beach with unbuttoned shirts, or just dancing really, really aggressively.
Today’s boybands — whether they’re from Korea or the UK — are regarded as rockstars. They don’t have the, should I say, basicness of the boybands we old millennials grew up with. For one, they don’t wear slacks. I clearly remember Brian Littrell wearing slacks in one BSB music vid. They have basic boy hair, basic boy goaties, basic boy voices — no one growls or yells and everything is just soothing to the ears and pleasing to the eyes. The boys-next-door as exactly what they are, and their appeal was that they were painfully regular and seemingly attainable.
I don’t think anyone from my generation would call the Backstreet Boys rockstars, but I know 1D or Big Bang fans wouldn’t hesitate to label their idols as such. One Direction definitely has the swagger of a British rock ‘n’ roll band. When Zayn Malik left the band, it was like a Beatles breakup that trended worldwide for a good three days — a world record in the age of hashtags and short attention spans.
And those K-Pop guys? They definitely are the glam rockers of today with their over-the-top hair, super skinny pants, and penchant for flamboyance. They don’t appear to be fueled by testosterone. (In an interview with a K-Pop singer who was being launched as an ambassador of a Korean makeup brand, he told me he prepares for a concert by sleeping early, drinking lots of water, and wearing a hydrating facemask before going to bed.) I honestly can’t imagine Nick Carter or, heaven forbid, Gary Barlow doing that, no matter how pretty they are.
Watching a boyband — an authentic ‘90s boyband — perform live is like listening to the radio. They don’t do any vocal runs, they don’t really veer from the script. They deliver exactly as what one would expect from a boyband and along that comes the comfort of knowing that you can sing along to every song without the fear of making a mistake because they suddenly decided to change their lyrics to something cooler. You can rest assured that while everything else is changing, they have remained the same old guys-next-door that you grew up loving, whether you admit it or not.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Nostalgia binds generations together long after they have come apart. This is our generation’s answer to those who question why the Backstreet Boys or Boyzone still even bother touring. They certainly aren’t game-changers in music and they, for sure, know that. They are reminders of our silly, silly youth — of silly synchronized dancing, now-middle-aged idols, and all the fun that we’ve had swooning over their every move. They are antidotes to the hyperstyled, man-bunned boys of today, the new generics, the new Nicks and Justins. Trust us kids, you’ll look back at your Biebers when you are a tita yourself and laugh, like you laugh at us now. And it’s really okay. We know it’s embarrassing — and that’s one thing we will have in common soon enough.
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Ovation Productions bring the Backstreet Boys Live in Manila on May 5, 2015 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
For your viewing pleasure, dear millennials (and non-millennials):