There might be a few of you who are familiar with the new ABC reality competition, “Boy Band”. I say “a few” with minimal sarcasm, because aside from a handful of well-targeted social media ads, I have not observed a whole lot of buzz about it. It aired toward the end of June and is now about 6 episodes in.
Most of you are probably assuming that I would have dove in head first on Day 1 and not come up for air since, which would not be unjust…but this assumption would be inaccurate. My interest was piqued, for sure, but I had a lot of hesitations about it.
First, I was just straight-up confused, because I mistook it for the scripted series spearheaded by Zayn Malik that I had been promised previously, titled “Boys”, and thought that the producers had dropped their balls and resorted to yet another unnecessary and unoriginal reality series instead. Shame on me for not reading up more carefully. Who could commit such an error?
Second, it just…didn’t seem relevant. Which I hate to say, because I always want boy bands to be relevant. But aside from One Direction’s half-decade heyday, there hasn’t been a substantial demand for boy bands since the early 2000s, so I didn’t see the need for supply. In short, It felt like they were trying to make fetch happen.
As the release date approached, I did a bit of research. And by “research” I mean I sat through the “meet the boys” segment on the series’ Instagram story. As I had expected, I was greeted with 30 perfectly chiseled faces with expertly coifed hair, carefully constructed outfits and panty-dropping smiles. All between the ages of 14-19, which seemed like a ridiculous age to embark on such a journey until I remembered that was a standard set by the boy bands of my era and I’m just old and regretful. There was an impressive range (from my caucasian perspective) of ethnic diversity, but for the most part, the guys all looked relatively the same.
Personally… I was bored.
I know that sex appeal is a gigantic factor in a boy band’s success, but I got the impression that the casting team was relying too heavily on looks before giving their vocals or (god forbid) their personalities a chance to shine. With a package so pristinely decorated, I couldn’t help but question the quality of the actual contents, so I did not approach with high hopes.
When I finally took the plunge, my expectations weren’t immediately proved inadequate. There were a lot of fine voices, but none that really stopped me in my tracks. Save for one, who ended up being the first one kicked off. Because fuck my opinions. What reeled me in almost instantly, though, were the judges: my idols from my pre-teen years, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and Spice Girl Emma Bunton, along with Timbaland, whom I was not very familiar with as a personality but won me over within five minutes. All of them, as well as host Rita Ora, gave some of the most solid feedback that I’ve seen on any reality competition, while still contributing to a fun, “we’re all in this together” atmosphere. Encouraging, and completely sincere.
Once the competition was officially underway, my perspective began to warp. I watched as the boys rotated and formed new bands every week (Six weeks, which I consumed in two days. Naturally.) I watched as the judges developed relationships with the contestants. I watched them all work together to create music together, and about halfway through, I had an epiphany:
This show may be the best antidote for toxic masculinity that I have ever seen.
And I know that’s a bold statement, but hear me out.
The last time reality TV was used to create a boy band, it was the very first “Making the Band”, where late
record producer scumbag Lou Pearlman auditioned naive talent to form what eventually became O-Town. My memories are faint, but I recall a substantial amount of conflict and egotism, as well as Lou’s unsubtle and unbridled greed.
Now…here…we have eighteen teenage boys, who are constantly being rotated throughout different teams, selflessly supporting each other without hesitation, hugging and showing each other physical affection, crying together when the time is right, and overall, just not giving a damn about their masculine presentation. There was one moment where a singular ego disrupted the flow of things… but that was it. And sure, there’s a bit of talk about making the girls go nuts, but it is far from a priority for anyone. It is mainly about the music and the bonding for everyone. It’s pretty magical, to be real with you.
The moment that really rocked my socks off to the fullest was on an episode that was dedicated to movie soundtracks. The first band, ‘All In’, performed “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s Moana. If any insecurities emerged here, or during any of the other songs the boys sang that were made famous by female vocalists, they were promptly edited out. But when the song began, I bit firmly into my fist, waiting to see how tragically they would alter the lyrics to be more becoming of a group of young men. The answer: none. My fist flew from my lips to the air as Sergio Calderon sang “I wish I could be a perfect daughter”, as if nothing was unusual. As if to say, “What? I might be a perfect daughter. You don’t know my life.” My emotions were amplified exponentially when 19-year-old father Chance Perez brought his daughter (who is a *huge* Moana fan, I hear) up on stage to meet the crowd. That. Shit. Was. Precious.
I feel odd putting this much weight on a reality competition, as I have been dismissive of the value of almost every single one that’s existed in a decade and a half, but there is something very special happening here. A show that encourages sensitivity, allows room for growth, and refuses to capitalize on failure… especially with a cast full of young men…is groundbreaking, I feel. If you have even an ounce of patience for pop music… preferably a ravenous thirst for it… I encourage you to give the show a watch.