Between NSYNC reuniting (however briefly) and the One Direction documentary hitting theaters this weekend, EW’s PopWatch is getting a serious wave of nostalgia—and the urge to revive one of the most important debates: What is the all-time greatest boy band?
Any good fan girl (or guy!) knows this debate is about so much more than just the hits. There’s things like group appearance, harmonies, music videos and dance moves to consider. For the next week, each day all the bands listed below will be competing in various categories. While an EW writer will be advocating for each, the final decision is up to you. Each day a band wins the vote, they’ll receive a point. At the end of a week, whichever band has the most points will be declared EW’s Ultimate Boy Band.
Yesterday, Backstreet Boys beat out the others for Best Dancing. Today’s category? Best Vocal Moments (Harmonies).
People can say what they want about boy bands, but BSB’s harmonies have always been respected, even by the greats. Why else do you think they were invited to perform a Beach Boys song at a Brian Williams tribute, or lend their harmonies to Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” at the 2000 Grammys? And as someone who watched the guys perform an acoustic set less than two weeks ago, let me assure you that they’re having more fun than ever, and they still got it. But when it came time to choose the best video to showcase their talent, it essentially turned into my own personal Sophie’s choice, so here’s how I’m breaking it down: My dad’s pick – yes, I asked dad for help — is an AOL Sessions performance of my all-time favorite song, “I Still.” If you’re a fan of their wide array of harmony combinations, that’s your video. My other option is my favorite opening 30 seconds of any performance ever, which shows BSB at the 2000 Grammys, kicking things off with a Bee Gees song. And finally, I knew I had to go a capella, so below is a little mash-up of “All I Have to Give,” “I Want It That Way,” and “Time.” It will give you chills. Now don’t make me throw more videos at you, because I will. -Samantha Highfill
Boyz II Men:
There may be other bands that have better videos. There may be other bands that have better dance moves. But no other boy band in existence — or at least in this contest — has better harmonizing skills than Boyz II Men. There’s a reason every college a cappella troupe wants to be them. They even improved the Beatles’ “Yesterday” with an iconic a cappella rendition. Who else can do that let alone in both English and Spanish? Although we now miss McCary’s bass, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, and Shawn Stockman have masterfully adapted their sound. They had it then, and they still got it now. -Maricela Gonzalez
Can you stand the harmonies? Because “Can You Stand the Rain” is LOADED with them. But “Candy Girl” is still the sweetest; Ralph Tresvant, you are a tiny angel and God made you. -Leah Greenblatt
New Kids on the Block:
Times were simpler then. For most of their heyday, the New Kids really meant Joey McIntyre and Jordan Knight, who led the vocal charge atop spare backing vocals from the other guys. Crazy five-part harmonies and slippery vocal runs just weren’t the standard in NKOTB’s prime. But — as can be seen in their debut single, 1988’s “Please Don’t Go Girl” — the whole group did master some fundamental boy-band techniques, including the angelic falsetto (no doubt Justin Timberlake took inspiration from Jordan) and the seductive whisper-sing (a practice expanded on by former Boyz II Men member Michael McCary). Perhaps the best testament to the New Kids’ vocal power, though, is how much they’ve improved with age. Check out this year’s “Remix (I Like The)” — if not for the ridiculous video (which is almost as bananas as “Please Don’t Go Girl”), then for the guys’ booming, beautiful voices. In the 25 years since “Please Don’t Go Girl,” they’ve developed texture and benefited from the depth of manhood. It’s not that they couldn’t pull out the bells and whistles back in the day, they just didn’t need to. Now they’ve proven that not only did they have those tricks in their arsenal the whole time, they’ve been able to keep themselves in fighting shape. Do we expect the same of Harry Styles? -Lanford Beard
Thank God it’s Friday (night) and I just – just -just -just -justttt got paid. Has five-part singing ever sounded so electrifying? A special shout out is deserved for JC Chasez, who never met a harmony he couldn’t improve. Beyond their ability to sell even the cheesiest lyrics, these guys knew their way around a swoonworthy ballad. It’s tearin’ up my heart to realize that moments like this may be in the past, but these guys’ emotional ballads will always be in our hearts (and iPods). This I promise you. -Erin Strecker
For this one, I’m going to go back to the beginning: the boys’ roots on The X Factor. These days, the members of One Direction are forced to harmonize over the screams of Directioners at performances, and even the na na na‘s and yeah yeah yeah‘s in the hooks of their hits aren’t the best examples of their vocal skills. But when they get the chance to just sing, as they did back on the show, you’re reminded that, oh right, they placed third in a singing competition judged by Simon Cowell—or “Uncle Simon” to the boy band. -Shirley Li