Music Industry

What is the Shelf Life of a Boy Band?

The problem with being in a boy band is that the members and their audiences grow up. No matter how successful a group might be, there is a demographics-powered expiration date to their fame. Just ask New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, et al. With few exceptions (Justin Timberlake and, um…), it’s very, very hard for a former teen idol to age and grow with their audiences. Justin Bieber and One Direction are trying to do just that right now, but time will tell if they can pull it off.

But back to this idea of a best-before date. What’s the lifespan of an average boy band? takes a look.

All boy bands have a shelf life, and the five-year mark appears to be the outer limit of it. *NSYNC managed three albums between 1998 and their own “indefinite” (now permanent) hiatus in 2002; the Backstreet Boys and the Jonas Brothers delivered four apiece during their heydays, lasting from 2000 to 2005 and 2006 to 2009, respectively.

Someone must have studied this history when they drew up One Direction’s contract with Sony: the band needed five albums to fulfill it, and they’ve just managed to deliver, recording on the road, taking two or three weeks between touring for one album and starting promotion for the next. The constant, grinding pace of their output is at odds with the insistently friendly, regular-guy vibes the boys perform in public; looking at their schedule, you can’t help but be reminded that behind their big grins, easy banter, and on-stage antics is a very profitable machine which has been working frantically against a set deadline since the minute the ink started to dry on their contracts.

This is not to say that the band is doing badly, exactly. They haven’t put out a commercial disappointment yet. Their latest, Made in the AM, debuted at number two in America, just under Justin Bieber’s Purpose, which was released the same day. (And in their native UK, 1D did manage to best Bieber for the number one spot.) Its first single, “Drag Me Down,” sold more copies in a week than any of their previous tracks. In terms of sheer dollars, One Direction might have a few years left in them yet.

Keep reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38513 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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