Pop music has been ruling the airwaves for a few years now; solo artists like Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha among the chief main operators, while other artists like Chris Brown, Flo Rida, and Pitbull have made recent success by pairing up with other artists. But as for the quartets and quintets of the 90's age, where have they been? Outside of the US, predominantly, but also on our shores, mainly in the form of attractive rock groups. Pop rock groups achieve notoriety easily, each member marketable for their hairdo, tattoos, or private lives (and yes, Fall Out Boy, I'm looking at you), but there has been a serious dearth of mainstream pop groups. You know, young, fit, personable, and facially distinctive members singing about that which lords above all pop music: young love. Which is, of course, fleeting, giving the bands a slew of material spanning the lifespan of a young relationship (which, as you may know, is comparable to that of the common fruit fly), all in a deliciously catchy package which is graciously eaten up on radio, YouTube, and media outlets like Soundcloud and Spotify. Fans give the singers cute names and idolize their favorites, and it seems American radio is destined to give these groups a loving home. So here I'll tell you what you need to know, based purely on their hits.
Background first, folks. The Wanted is a five-piece British/Irish pop outfit. Their first album The Wanted yielded three singles, while their second album Battleground has so far produced four. Five out of seven singles have peaked within the Top 3 in the UK, giving The Wanted some weight in their fight against other bands. Their biggest international hit, and the one making waves on American radio, is "Glad You Came." Endorsed by Ellen DeGeneres, the track features a cool party vibe over some pretty sick beats. Lyrically... the track lacks. But it makes up for it with charm and style, proven by its Top 3 position on the US Billboard charts and a cover done by the modern-day Mickey Mouse Club, Glee. The track does leave room for humorous scrutiny, as many pundits will add lines like "On my face" onto the title. However, this is merely a sign that the track receives attention. What American audiences can expect is to be fully exposed to the group's prior hits in an April release of the US debut album, also self-titled. Having listened to other tracks by the group, namely "Lightning," the group does have some solid lasting potential on their hands. It also doesn't hurt that they have a healthy mix of singer archetypes. The mature visual appeal and earlier entrance of The Wanted onto the scene makes this group the Backstreet Boys of 2012's boy band emergence. I find their music tends to grow on you. "Glad You Came" didn't really hit me until I heard it at a clothing store and I went, "Ooh! What's this?", even though I had perused it in the past in my YouTube spelunkings. Tracks like that may take longer to climb the chart, but they also stick around longer.
Pop groups come and go, but to the biggest critic of them all, Simon Cowell, One Direction must have been like a dream come true. All five members were X Factor contestants who were taken out of the solo competition and funneled into a five-piece all-male pop group. Since their inception, the five boys have released one album, Up All Night, and three singles. You may be aware of "What Makes You Beautiful," which holds the distinction of being the highest debut on the Billboard 100 (#28) from a UK act since Jimmy Ray's "Are You Jimmy Ray?" which hit #26 in 1998. Just one year prior (in 1997) "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls debuted at #11, and you know how THAT went down. On the other hand, the US release of Up All Night netted One Direction the notoriety of being the third British act to debut atop the Billboard 200, following Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle. It's a real toss-up here, being in such mixed company. So basically, while One Direction has an initial punch on their side, The Wanted has achieved consecutive high-charting singles that give them the benefit of experience. This group's young look and the fact that they arrived second on the scene clearly makes them the 'N Sync. "What Makes You Beautiful" definitely hits hard, immensely catchy within seconds of hearing the song. I haven't gotten tired of it yet, but I'm also not chomping at the bit for their next hit.
Big Time Rush
With a lyrical nod to Stardust (you make recall "Music Sounds Better With You" from 1998) in "Music Sounds Better With U", California quartet Big Time Rush are making a bid for themselves in this latest skirmish in the Boy Band War. Although if past experience is to dictate anything, Big Time Rush is the 98 Degrees of this trio of bands. Will they peter off as time goes by, or will Big Time Rush make enough of a name for themselves to last? November saw the group release their sophomore album, Elevate, which is already gaining them more attention than their debut, BTR. The boys' start on Nickelodeon definitely gives them an edge in the American market, with TV visibility being essential to the promotion of any artist, especially when connecting with the tween demographic. Their material is a little more standard to those, like myself, who are familiar with mainstream US radio. Perhaps having their competition in the form of two successful UK boy bands may effect a later stylistic shift for Big Time Rush to match the material The Wanted and One Direction are doing so well with.
So who do you choose? It's hard to deny how utterly catchy these tracks are or how guilty you'll feel for liking them, bringing the fanbase almost solely based on looks. Do you like British bad boys, skinny cuties, or all-American boys next door? Honestly, we just want to know who's going to tear up the dance floor! (and who's going to come out of the closet first!)