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75 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time

From the Jackson 5 to BTS: here are the most scream-worthy boy band songs

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Irresistibly catchy, unapologetically inauthentic, sexy and they know it — the boy band is the most fabulously pre-fab of all musical outfits. From the scripted TV shenanigans of the Monkees to the charming folkiness of One Direction, as long as there are junior high school notebooks to deface, there will be outfits providing pop spectacle in its purist, least filtered form.

As music has evolved, so have boy bands. Their existence is a pop constant but parameters have always been blurred: sometimes they dance and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are total strangers, sometimes they have known each other since birth. Sometimes they sing words they’ve written themselves, sometimes they sing other people’s. Sometimes they are literally boys, sometimes they’re twentysomethings with boyish charm. But like any other form art, you know a boy band when you see one. The main defining factor? The venues full of screaming fans — always young, mostly girls — who help turn a boy band into a cultural artifact worth admiring and singing along to even after their inevitable disbandment or “hiatus.”

In honor of their continuing impact and dominance, here are the boy band heartthrobs’ pop confections worth screaming for.

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New Kids on the Block, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” (1988)

This lighter-than-air bubblegum track was the second single from New Kids’ Hangin’ Tough, and it ably showed off Jordan Knight’s ability to embody an R&B crooner. It’s a bit of an improbable hit, if only because it has so much space — thumping bass and drums, synth hits only when absolutely necessary, Knight’s voice carrying the whole thing on a wave of infatuation and moxie. (Not to mention the Bauhaus shirt he wore in the song’s careening-around-Boston video.) But that mix, especially when added to the “oh, oh, oh-oh-oh” chant that became a siren call in school hallways, was — and is — a potent one.

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Aventura, “Obsesión” (2002)

Before Romeo Santos went on to sell out Yankee Stadium multiple nights in a row, the King of Bachata was selling out stadiums with his group Aventura. Their sophomore album, We Broke the Rules, did what Santos would master more than a decade later as a solo artist: infuse American R&B into bachata without watering down the genre. Aventura’s single “Obsesión” helped ignite generation next — as their debut album was titled — for Latin music. Though the band is on hiatus and Santos dominates the market, they reunited at Yankee Stadium in 2014.

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One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful” (2011)

In 2010, Simon Cowell saw potential in five teenage boys who auditioned as solo artists on The X-Factor. Instead of advancing them in the competition separately, he decided to form a new group called One Direction. That would prove to be a fortuitous decision for all involved: The quintet came in third, but they were so popular that they were a shoe-in for a deal with Cowell’s Syco label. “What Makes You Beautiful” would be released over a year later and tee off the band’s whole career with a major bang: The reassuring pop hit is classic boy band clichés above a less-classic pop-rock sound. Fans were so hooked on the song and its beach-set video — which premiered a month before the single’s official release on YouTube — that they flooded radio stations to request a song they hadn’t even received yet. The track is so unimpeachably good that member Harry Styles broke one of the biggest boy band taboos in history by including it on the set list for his first tour as a solo artist in 2017, a few years after the group disbanded.

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BTS, “Moon” (2020)

BTS have turned into the world’s biggest group, yet they did it all their way — by totally defying the clichés of how the music business is supposed to work. To conquer America, the K-Pop heroes didn’t compromise their sound or their ideas; they didn’t even bother trying a lame crossover hit in English. All they had to be was themselves. “Moon” is from BTS’ latest blockbuster, Map of the Soul: 7. It’s their version of that classic boy-band staple: the love song to the fans. The music is spacey guitar pop, and Jin sings about how the audience is his Earth, while he’s just the moon that revolves around it, orbiting and shining. Jin pledges his devotion, even switching into English for choice lines like “All I see is you” and “All for you.” “Moon” sums up everything that’s made BTS massive. And they’re just getting started.

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Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)

Swedish songwriters Andreas Carlsson and Max Martin were still working on their English when they came up with the couplet “You are my fire/The one desire.” “The lyric doesn’t really mean anything,” the former would eventually admit. “The record company was like, ‘We need to bring in maybe another lyricist to help work on this.’” Jive flew Def Leppard and Shania Twain producer Mutt Lange to Stockholm’s Cheiron Studios for edits, but the Backstreet Boys preferred the original and recorded it as “I Want It That Way.” Then the two songwriters completed the finishing touch: “The last thing that was added was the [opening guitar line] ‘ba-do-do-ba-do-do-do,’ which was like a Metallica kind of riff — which was off for the boy band scene at the time.”

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New Edition, “Candy Girl” (1983)

When Maurice Starr saw Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe and Ralph Tresvant at a talent show in the Dorchester section of Boston, he had a feeling … that he had another Jackson 5 on his hands. Enter “Candy Girl,” an extra-sugary update of the Jacksons’ “ABC” that gave New Edition their first taste of fame. Tresvant’s high, sweet voice made him the band’s Michael analogue, but the bridge — where the boys rap their devotionals to their girls of choice — added just enough edge to help it top the R&B chart in the U.S.

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‘N Sync, “Bye, Bye, Bye” (2000)

“There’s a little more edge to this album, a little more grit,” Justin Timberlake told Rolling Stone shortly before the release of 2000’s No Strings Attached, joking about the lawsuits that prevented its release. “We’re pissed off now — that’s what it is. We’re angry white boys who didn’t get our props.” ‘N Sync’s opening volley was “Bye, Bye, Bye,” a kiss-off from Sweden’s Cheiron Studios that had previously been turned down by Britishers Take That. It remains their defining track, a four-minute blast of big hooks, tight harmonies and intriguingly meta subtext.

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The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back” (1969)

Sure, the soaring strings on the Jackson 5’s first Motown single skip along like carefree first-graders, and the thumping bassline is one of pop’s closest appropriations of the heartbeat. But the real hero of “I Want You Back” is Michael Jackson, then still a preteen but blessed with a voice and interpretive skill that could turn a desperate attempt to rekindle romance (originally thought of as a Gladys Knight or Diana Ross vehicle) into something visceral and joyous. Jackson’s octave-leaping tour de force established him as a star almost as soon as the song’s first 45 was pressed.