I spent a bunch of last week immersed in the music of my youth and today’s for a piece in The Atlantic on boy bands, specifically The Wanted and One Direction, which are taking teenage girls’ radios (or whatever the newfangled equivalent is) by storm. Our default assumption tends to be, I think, that boy band songs are substanceless trifle meant to make girls feel all lovey-dovey. But listening to this stuff through the years is a reminder that when boys talk to girls about love, even and maybe especially in commercial packaging, things can get awfully creepy.
Take the Monkees “Daydream Believer,” which is kind of breathtaking in its condescending dismissiveness. The girl in question is a “daydream believer / and a homecoming queen.” She couldn’t possibly have real concerns:
Then, there’s the Jackson 5’s “Stop (The Love You Save),” which is literally slut-shaming from the lips of a kid who’s too young to be having sex:
From my own era, ‘N Sync’s “Girlfriend” is textbook negging. “Does he even know you’re alive?” are not words to make a woman feel treasured—they’re words to make her vulnerable:
And the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” is the weirdest, neediest thing of all time, the inverse of wooing, paired with a truly terrible attempt at a “Thriller” ripoff:
I don’t know what it says about how conditioned preteen girls are that we listen to these songs and hear professions of adoration. Clearly, the only solution is to hook the young women in our lives up with Boyz II Men sooner: