In 2013, the third season of “The X Factor” introduced Restless Road. They are the country version of One Direction — a group of solo singers put together by Simon Cowell because none of them would make it far on their own.
Basically, a country music boy band.
In late 2014, Great American Country premiered a program called Chasin’ Crazy, a reality show following another country boy band of the same name.
Naturally, most country faithfuls were not excited to see their favorite genre slide further down the hair gel-lubricated slippery slope that is the country-pop crossover world. But the truth is, country music has fully endorsed its own special kind of boy band for a long time.
SEE ALSO: 25 Best Country Songs of the Early ’90s
In fact, country stars played a big part in the boy band resurgence of the ‘90s.
It’s no secret that a lot of boy bands are “put together” by managers, producers and labels. Lou Pearlman, for instance, orchestrated the rise of both the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, among many others.
In the ’80s, Opryland USA, a theme park in Nashville, Tenn., served as the de facto “Lou Pearlman” of country music. Opryland hired musicians and put them together as acts, whether they were tribute bands or “theme” bands.
Three of the most popular bands of the ‘90s were formed either by Opryland or after meeting at Opryland: Lonestar, Diamond Rio and Little Texas. These bands were a departure from the country groups of the ‘80s, which largely focused heavily on rural roots and a rough-around-the-edges approach to their look.
Instead, groups like Lonestar, Diamond Rio and Little Texas focused on heavy vocal harmonies, good looks, smooth production and, most importantly, tender love songs pointed right at the heart of their largely female audience.
Nobody saw that formula work better than Lonestar, which debuted in 1995 and scored nine No. 1 hits and a crossover smash with 1999’s “Amazed”, which also reached No. 1 on the pop charts (the first to do so since 1983). For the sake of comparison, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC only have one No. 1 between them (NSYNC’s “It’s Gonna Be Me”).
Everything about the way Lonestar presented themselves was a departure from typical country acts, from the slick, urban music videos to the heartthrob promo pics. The look would eventually be emulated by bands like Rascall Flatts, one of the first country bands to really be criticized as a country boy band.
Similarly, Diamond Rio was put together as an attraction at Opryland in 1982. The band had several names and members before finally settling on the permanent six in 1989. The act was subsequently signed and released their debut song “Meet in the Middle” in 1991.
Diamond Rio saw success following the typical boy band structure. The band fully realized their boy band-ness with 2002’s “Beautiful Mess”, a hit song with a music video that bears a striking resemblance to the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” video.
Not coincidentally, it was one of the band’s last mainstream hits. Meanwhile, the ’90s boy band resurgence was fading out. Lead singers were going solo (like NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake and Lonestar’s Richie McDonald). Former members were gaining success elsewhere, like John Rich with Big & Rich.
Most fans were starting to grow up and move on to adult contemporary, or in country’s case, the short-lived golden era of the strong female.
But the country boy bands are making a comeback. In addition to Restless Road and Chasin’ Crazy, you may recognize a similar boy band formula in a lot of mainstream male duos. Why only duos? Probably because they’re cheaper to manage and most boy bands boiled down to two people anyways.
Dan + Shay, The Swon Brothers, Waterloo Revival — all acts that emphasize good looks, slick pop production and heartthrob lyrics aimed directly at their young female audience. And with not a minute to spare, as the boy band resurgence of the 2010s is in full swing.
That’s just kind of how music trends go. “Boy band” to the average listener used to mean The Monkees and Jackson 5 before New Kids On The Block and Boyz II Men. Then it was Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, and now it’s One Direction and 5 Seconds Of Summer.
Country music has a tendency to both set and follow trends. In some cases, Nashville is hilariously behind the curve. It’s the reason early ’90s country sounds more like late ’80s pop.
The country music boy band is real and it’s here to stay. Again. That is, before it goes away again. In the meantime, hang tight and take solace in the fact that Chris Stapleton is up for “New Artist Of The Year” at the Country Music Association Awards.
And then have absolutely no shame when you get excited for their reunion tours in a few years. Because you know you jammed “Amazed”, just like you jammed “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”
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