Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pilot Review: Boy Band

Boy Band (Thursdays at 8:00 on ABC)

It's pretty easy to dismiss Boy Band, ABC's latest entry into the singing competition arena, just based on title alone. In 2017, how relevant, really, is a show that is purporting to search for the next big boy band? This isn't the 90s, when the pop charts were dominated by the likes of N Sync, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, O-Town, or any other of the dozens of copy cat acts that tried to replicate their success. The Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees both released their last albums independently, in 2014 and 2013, respectively; O-Town recently reformed, minus their most popular member, and released an album that failed to chart anywhere on Billboard; One Direction, the last of the dying breed of boy bands, has been broken up for over a year after losing one of their four members in 2015. The boy band isn't the hot commodity it once was.

Then again, 2017 is also a time of nostalgia. With the current global political climate, the comforts of youth are seemingly more desirable now than they've ever been. New Kids on the Block is selling out their current tour (paired with another 90s boy band, Boyz II Men). The Backstreet Boys started a residency in Las Vegas that broke box office records at Planet Hollywood, which is also the home of Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. Justin Timberlake is in a current promotional campaign for Bai drinks using the N Sync song "Bye Bye Bye." Maybe the idea isn't as dated as it seems upon first glance, and Boy Band capitalizes on that need for millennials and beyond to relive their adolescences.

The Boy Band setup is straight-forward: thirty pre-auditioned young men ranging in age from 14-24 perform for mega-producer Timbaland, former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, and current Backstreet Boy Nick Carter. The three are not "judges," as we are used to calling this panel, but rather "architects," as they will use the talents of these performers to construct a boy band out of the five best. After whittling down the thirty to eighteen, the guys are split into three groups of six to work with a vocal producer and choreographer. One member from each team will be eliminated before going to live shows, when audiences will decide who they want in the boy band.

The format doesn't deviate much from the standard of Idol or The Voice, though we are luckily spared any bad singers thanks to the pre-selection process. There is, however, an added layer of interest in the judging. It's made clear from the first episode that Boy Band will be concerned with more than just vocal talent, because it takes more than a pretty voice to be one fifth of a successful boy band. It's also about blend and harmony, looks, stage presence, dance ability, likeability, work ethic, and more. We see several talented vocalists get cut because they're deemed better soloists than bandmates, and that's a totally valid critique for a show like this that you won't see on other singing competitions. Additionally, the judges are quite personable, with Emma Bunton coming across as the Paula Abdul of the bunch and thereby the most charming. Nick is, understandably, the most set in his view of what a boy band should be and probably the toughest critic, with Timbaland lending some attitude and suavity.

There's definitely a cheese factor you have to overcome before enjoying Boy Band, though. Everyone involved knows that they're making a silly show, and it shows in the hosting (from a perfectly fine but so far unexciting Rita Ora) and judging (Emma and Timbaland slow dance during one audition; Nick cracks puns and teaches some of the boys the "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" choreography to test their dance skills). This is a show that doesn't take itself too seriously. The contestants get backstories, but they're not sappy and over the top like they tend toward on other shows. Boy Band emits a feel-good, campy vibe that's perfect for summer viewing. For those who are bored with America's Got Talent (or who only watch it for the singers) and can't wait for another cycle of The Voice to start up will be right at home with Boy Band, even if the end result of finding the "next big boy band" probably won't go anywhere once September begins.

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