One Direction to rehab, oblivion

The newest boy band boys are fame causalities waiting to happen

We all know how this is going to end for One Direction.

Shame, really. They seem like nice enough lads.

One Direction is the newest kid on the block in the world of boy bands. They blew up after appearing on Simon Cowell's singing/dancing competition show "The X Factor." They didn't win, but Cowell saw potential in these five London boys and shrewdly signed them to his record label. He is now cackling and snarking all the way to the bank.

Say what you want about Cowell, but you can't deny the dude knows his way around sugar-pop music. From what I understand, "American Idol" is unwatchable since he left.

One Direction has filled a void left by previous boy band flame-outs such as Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. Of these boys, only Justin Timberlake was able to break away and make a notable career for himself. He was able to do that because, unlike his mates in 'N Sync and his rivals in Backstreet Boys, Timberlake possessed real talent.

Boy bands are part of the fabric of rock 'n' roll. Music snobs who claim they were listening to Big Star on vinyl in college and saw REM before they were big might whine and whine some more about this, but boy bands are every bit as vital to pop music history as rougher-around-the-edges pioneers such as Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.

You can make an argument that The Beach Boys were the first true boy band. They filled the requirements. White? Check. Non-scary? Check. Sang songs about puppy love and holding hands? Check.

Only difference is The Beach Boys were musical virtuosos led by the legitimately insane dictator-genius Brian Wilson. But if you would have seen The Beach Boys circa 1964 and withstood the screeching of 10,000 pre-teen girls, would you have had any clue that this boy band would go on to perfect psychedelic freakout rock with "Pet Sounds?" I suspect not.

The issue here is The Beach Boys are the outlier in terms of boy bands. The Beach Boys were clearly a talented bunch from the very beginning, as they subverted the whitebread So Cal beach scene with each lick from Carl Wilson's 12-string Rickenbacker.

I don't see a lot of subversion going on with One Direction. Let us consider a small lyric sample from "What Makes You Beautiful," one of our lads' biggest hits: "Baby you light up my world like nobody else/ The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed/ But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell/ You don't know/ Oh, oh/ You don't know you're beautiful/ If only you saw what I can see/ You'd understand why I want you so desperately."

Nothing political or philosophical going on in here. However, the underlying misogyny ranks right up there with anything off '80s-era Kiss or Motley Crue.

The basic idea crooned by our lads is that the girls are unable to foster a sense of self without affirmation from the young males in their lives. "If you only saw what I see" makes it clear that the girl's view of self matters little in One Direction's world of hair flipping and desperate wanting.

I've just spent the past 30 minutes picking through the wreckage of Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync lyrics and, though I found plenty of jaw-clenching, syrupy pop garbage, I didn't come across anything as aggressively patriarchal as what One Direction is selling in "What Makes You Beautiful."

You certainly didn't see such an ugly world view from other teenage groups such as The Jackson 5 or, hell, New Kids on the Block. That's not to compare The Jackson 5 with the New Kids. God no. The Jackson 5 was great because it had Michael Jackson, and no other boy band since then has possessed that type of talent.

(And keep the snarky Michael Jackson commentary to yourself. Go ahead and wallow in filth. Meanwhile, I'll be listening to "Off the Wall" and enjoying my life and the world's beauty.)

Right now, One Direction is riding the wave that comes when culture rediscovers a formula that has worked for decades. In a way, the band is being treated as a breath of fresh air, while, in fact, what it is doing is a rehash of a rehash.

There is proof that the boy band sound can serve as a vehicle for subversion and experimentation. See The Beach Boys and The Jackson 5. However, there doesn't seem to be anything of the sort coming down the hall by One Direction.

Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync caught the last of MTV relevance as a music taste-maker. In an era of digital distribution, we'll see whether the boy band sound can last longer than the three-year window normally given to this type of music before the culture turns on it en masse and the lads spiral into post-fame lives of drug addiction, DUII arrests and desperate reality TV bids.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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