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The Boy Band Matrix: A Definitive Categorization of Pop Music’s Weirdest Groups

You heard us: The Boy Band Matrix is here.

This is not a difficult thing to understand, so I will do my best in the coming moments not to make it such. In fact, I make it clear in the least difficult form I can think of, which is to answer fake questions that I’m asking myself.

What am I about to look at?

What you will be looking at is the Boy Band Matrix.

What does the Boy Band Matrix do?

It charts the locations of 20 separate boy bands, placing them in quadrants based on dancing, standing, sexuality, and asexuality.

What qualifies as a boy band?

There are three factors to consider, two of which are quantitative and one of which is qualitative:

First, there have to be at least three members in the boy band. Fewer than that isn’t a boy band, it’s just two dudes being weird. Furthermore, a DJ cannot be used to get to the three count. So, say, Jodeci qualifies, but when K-Ci and JoJo left and were on their own, that’s a no-go.

Second, instruments can occasionally be involved, but they’ve got to be (a) used for something other than instrumentation (like when Donnie kept jumping over the drum set in New Kids on the Block’s “Step by Step” video), or (b) used for real, but in a way that nobody can take seriously (like when Niall Horan from One Direction plays the guitar). This eliminates the Beatles, the Monkees, the Osmonds, the Jackson 5, and so on.

Third, a group does not qualify as a boy band if any member involved was 24 older during its most popular moment. That’s just too old. This was the hurdle that tripped up the most bands. More on this later.

How were the boy bands chosen?

First I made a great long list of about 50 or so boy bands. There was no preference given to era. Boy bands that have long since retired were placed alongside boy bands that are young and meaningful and meaningful to young people. The list of 50 was culled down to 27 boy bands considered entertaining and enjoyable. Then each was weighted and given a cumulative score based on important things like the depth of the boy band’s cultural impact, its most popular song’s level of success, and whether or not a member who was not black ever had dreadlocks.

That seems like a lot.

Yeah, I’m kind of churching it up some. Mostly, I just picked the ones I wanted to.

I don’t see my favorite boy band on the chart. To whom should I email my complaint?

Yo mama.

This started out sounding legit but is devolving pretty quickly. Five questions ago you used the word “quantitative” in your answer and now you just answered the last question with “Yo mama.” Perhaps we should just get to the matrix.

Agreed. Here it is:


Wait. I thought you said no group with someone over 24 years old was allowed.

Well, the no > 24 age thing mentioned above nixed eight of the 27 boy bands from the final list. I had no idea how old some of these guys were before working on this.

The numbers: 98 Degrees had Justin Jeffre. He was 27 during their prime popularity. All-4-One had Delious Kennedy (24). Az Yet had Dion Allen (26). Day26 had Willie Taylor (27). LFO had Rich Cronin (25). Shai had Marc Gay (24). The Backstreet Boys had Kevin Richardson (28) and ’N Sync had Chris Kirkpatrick (also 28). All those groups were cut from the matrix.

Except they weren’t.

Rules are rules and I respect that, but a band that makes this video …

… or a band that gives us one of the four greatest awards show performances in eternity …

… gets lifetime immunity.

Oh, also, 98 Degrees was included because two of the members had visible 98 Degrees tattoos and I appreciate that sort of dedication. All-4-One got a pass because they were the least likely boy band of all time. (Have you ever even looked at them? Each one was less cool than the one before him. It was like the Penrose stairs of nerdiness.) And LFO made it because they have one song where they sing “Chinese food makes me sick” and another where they sing “Shooby doo-wop and Scooby snacks” and so that’s why. Shai made “If I Ever Fall in Love,” so of course they get to be included. And Day26 had an all-world reality TV moment (discussed below), so they’re in too. Basically, what I’m saying is that I changed my mind about the age thing. Everyone qualifies. Sorry.

How good was 112’s 1997 hit “Cupid”?

It’s as good as their 2001 hit “Peaches & Cream” was bad.

Whoa. 98 Degrees didn’t end up where I thought they would. Are you as surprised as I am?

Yes. Definitely. I remembered Nick Lachey as being a handsome man, and he was (and still is), and so I guess I’d just assumed he was getting down all the time, or at least singing about getting down all the time. But he wasn’t (singing about it, anyway). The 98 Degrees boys were certainly trying to hint that they were having lots of sex. But they just never felt sexual. I mean, they did a video where they walked around in a desert — which is the second-sexiest biome for a music video — and even that didn’t work. They didn’t look alluring. They looked like, “What am I doing in a desert?”

There’s a second-sexiest biome?

For sure. There are five types of biome, right? There’s the desert, the aquatic, the forest, the grassland, and the tundra. For music videos, the desert is the second sexiest (Enrique Iglesias, “Hero”; Shakira, “Whenever, Wherever”; Britney Spears, “Work Bitch”; Beyoncé, “Sweet Dreams”; Faith Hill, “Breathe” — there are about 25 million other videos set in the desert). Forest is fourth. Tundra is the last place (unless you’re a penguin, I suppose). And aquatic is the tops (Aaliyah, “Rock the Boat”; Wreckx-N-Effect, “Rump Shaker”; on and on and on).

How do you explain All-4-One’s Tony Borowiak?

Who knows, man? There’s a whole fake Wikipedia page about that particular conundrum.

Have you seen the video for “Last Night” by Az Yet?

Yes, I have. A thought here:

What an amazing video. It’s like one of those green-screen videos you used to be able to make at the mall. The most expensive video ever made was Michael Jackson’s “Scream.” It cost $7 million. I figure this one probably cost, maybe, about $17. Here is the group walking on a sunset:


Some video director was like, “You know what’d be hot right here?” And then one of the guys in the group was like, “What?” And the director was like, “If you guys were walking on a sunset.” And then the guy in the group was like, “Oh, fuck. Do it.” And then a separate guy, slower but more clever, was like, “That sure would be hot.” And then he crossed his arms and smirked. And then everyone else got the joke and they all laughed.

Oh, man. Weren’t the New Kids on the Block terrible?

WHAT? No. Bite your tongue. They are a top-tier legendary boy band. Possibly the greatest. More than 80 million albums sold worldwide. “Hangin’ Tough” was the best rap song of the ’80s. Donnie, the group’s bad boy, was basically the first Tupac, if you really want to get technical. Jordan, the group’s star, falls short only to Justin Timberlake (and maybe Sisqo) in the Boy Band Individual All-Around Battle Skills Competition. I can’t believe you would ever even think they were anything other than critical. I’m embarrassed for you.

Where does B2K rank in the Boy Band Group Dance Competition?

Great question. Top five:

5. New Kids on the Block: Jordan single-handedly pulled NKOTB into this spot. Without him, they fall to 63rd, right in between All-4-One and One Direction.1


New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys went on an old-man tour together and called it NKOTBSB. We deserve an All-4-One Direction tour.

4. New Edition: They were so good because they worked so hard.

3. ’N SYNC: They had JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake, and those two guys are all-world, but they also had Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick, and those two guys are all-toad. Lance was serviceable.

2. Backstreet Boys: I actually have a tattoo of AJ on my thigh, so.

1. B2K: God mode, sir. Crisp, complicated, energetic. Did you ever even see the masterpiece You Got Served? The only way these guys ever get bumped off is if Columbus Short from Stomp the Yard clones himself four times and makes a Columbus Short from Stomp the Yard boy band, in which case please point me toward his doctor so I can clone myself four times, too, so I can marry all of the members of the Columbus Shorts from Stomp the Yard boy band. He’s the greatest movie dancer. 

Can you talk a little about Another Bad Creation?

ABC was popular in the early ’90s. They were from Atlanta. They were supposed to be the new version of New Edition. (Michael Bivins, who’d been in New Edition, and then later Bell Biv DeVoe, said as much during ABC’s “Iesha.”) They were kids so they mostly rapped and sang about kid stuff, which is super-charming to revisit now as an adult. In “Iesha,” they all fell in love with the same girl, then tried to woo her with oversize lollipops, handwritten letters, go-kart antics, overalls, monkey bar flirtations, Nintendo, and so on. I have three sons right now. My goal is to have three more so then I can withdraw them from school and have them be an Another Bad Creation tribute band. They’re going to be called Yet Another Bad Creation. We’re still working on the name. :/

What about Color Me Badd?

Most famous for “I Wanna Sex You Up,” an amazing song that turned out to be kind of ridiculous when you actually listened to it. Three key moments:

“We can do it till we both wake up.”

Wait. You can have sex until you both wake up? I’m super-confused right now. I think I’ve been having sex the wrong way all this time. I’ve been doing it the opposite way, I think. Great. Just great.

“I just wanna, I just wanna look at you. Don’t say anything. Just lay back and enjoy the ride.”

The ride of you looking at her? You are a very aggressive looker, my friend.

“Makin’ love until we drown.”

Drown? Yikes. Nope. No, thank you.

How important is New Edition to history and to today?

Without Ralph Tresvant, there’s no Young Thug.

How have you made it this far and not linked to Bell Big DeVoe’s “Poison” video?

Bomp, bomp-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp, dunh!

Bell Biv DeVoe is, as a case study, the most interesting boy band that’s ever been. The group was made up of holdovers from New Edition, and that’s not crazy, but none of the three were ever really the star in N.E. (it was always either Ralph or Bobby or, later, Johnny), and that’s definitely crazy. I’m saying, “Poison” is the greatest song by any boy band ever. When has that ever happened in history? When has a team lost its three best individual players and then gone on to even greater success? Bell Biv DeVoe is like if LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh all left Miami, then Mario Chalmers, Birdman, and Udonis Haslem rattled off four or five rings in a row.

Also, what’s cool is that Bell Biv DeVoe danced, but they only ever seemed completely and fluidly cool when they did so. They didn’t just dance to dance. They danced with purpose. They dance with designs. They danced for women. And that’s a whole different thing.

Also also, what’s cool is this:

Scrubs was low-key incredible.

One Direction vs. Jonas Brothers vs. Take That vs. 5 Seconds of Summer?

I can’t respect any boy band that doesn’t dance.

That said, if a decision has to be made, it’s gotta be the Jonas Brothers. 5 Seconds of Summer gets nixed because they play instruments, but also because they have that one guy who looks like the albino in the Da Vinci Code movie, but also because they do that whiney-whine-whine sound that was very popular in the early 2000s. Take That gets nixed because they’re 1 million years old. And One Direction gets nixed because they don’t have Nick Jonas.

You mentioned a thing about Day26 and reality TV earlier. What was that?

Oooh. Wow. The most powerful moment in singing-based reality TV was when Puff Daddy, who was overseeing the season of Making the Band2 that eventually led to the formation of Day26, brought in a bunch of alternate R&B singers to challenge the people who were already well into the Making the Band process. It turned into an R&B sing-off to the death, similar to the battle-rap thing that Diddy orchestrated in the Making the Band season that ended with the formation of Da Band (which Diddy also oversaw). This is the clip. The new guy went first. He sang “Gone” by ’N Sync. Brian responded with Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road,” only, hold on to your pants now, he didn’t respond alone. Because when he got to the chorus HIS WHOLE ENTIRE TEAM JUMPED IN. Watch:


This is the same show that produced O-Town.

It was a death blow. The new guy knew he’d lost as soon as it happened. There was nothing he could do but stand there and die. It was the only memorable moment of the Day26 movement, and it came before the band was even fully formed.

What happened to Dru Hill?

I don’t know. I’ll tell you what didn’t happen. What didn’t happen is they didn’t get the accolades they deserved, which was all of them. You needn’t see anything more than the video for “These Are the Times,” which is a spot-on remake of The Man in the Iron Mask, to understand that:

How [clap] did [clap] these [clap] guys [clap] not [clap] sell [clap] 100 [clap] million [clap] albums???

Do you have any strange personal connections to Immature, the fun young boy band that eventually became the sticky boy band IMx?

One of my first girlfriends actually was super in love with Marques Houston. She had his posters and whatnot all over her room. There was one time when I was being very insecure and I was like, “You know what? This is ridiculous. You gotta choose. You can either have me or you can have these posters.” She was like, “The posters.” I was like, “I mean, you can think about it.” What a sad day. I was real happy that House Party 4 turned out to be such trash.

I’d not realized how asexual the Backstreet Boys were.

Yup. Nearly the most. They literally have a song where AJ asks, “Am I sexual?” If you have to ask that, then the answer is no, no, you are not sexual.

Sidebar: Has any woman ever had sex with a white guy with dreads? That can’t be a thing that’s happened, right?

’N Sync vs. Backstreet Boys?

Backstreet Boys.

More specifically: Chris Kirkpatrick’s dreadlocks or AJ’s dreadlocks?

Chris. Because not only was he bold enough to get dreadlocks, he was bold enough to ask for the dreadlocks with the highlights:


That’s a little thing called being a true trendsetter.

Are you for real not going to talk about Jagged Edge, Jodeci, LFO, O-Town, Pretty Ricky, Silk, Shai, Alvin & the Chipmunks (superb animated boy band, really), Menudo, 5ive, Another Level, Boyzone, East 17, Yell 4 You, Hop Scotch Love, Buttafinga Lovers, or Fensanti’s Riddle?

No. Also, I know you just made those last three up.