they don't make ‘em like they used to: 90s boyband music videos

It was all perfectly parted curtains and fake rain trickling down ripped chests – treat yourself to a cheeky spoonful of boyband sugar from the likes of Boyz II Men, Five, and A1.

by Tom Aspaul
25 August 2017, 8:28am

Screenshot von YouTube aus dem Video "'N Sync - Tearin' Up My Heart" von NSYNCVEVO

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about One Direction and everything they lacked: dance routines, iconic videos and ridiculous outfits. There was a time, not so long ago, when the boyband was king. From slick American R&B vocal groups to the cheesy dance-pop of the UK, it was a sparkling world full of embarrassingly matching outfits and improbable haircuts; industrial sized vats of hair gel and tacky blonde highlights, uncontrollable male pheromones and clutched teenage hearts. The 90s. The apex, if you like, before Westlife made standing up from a seated position a dance move and ruined everything. Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

Take That, Do What U Like (1991)
Chainmail thongs? Check. Bondage wear? Check. Naked jelly wrestling? Why not! Knowing what Take That would eventually turn into - I actually couldn't believe they had allowed this video to remain on their official YouTube channel. No one would sign this video off in 2017, that's for sure. The sight of their bare arses has been permanently burnt onto my retinas since I was a small child. This was the exact moment I knew I was a gay. My sisters had the video and I'm pretty sure I wore the tape out from pausing when some lucky girl gets to mop jelly off Robbie Williams's pert back-side.
Rewatching this now, all these years later, eagerly waiting for that moment towards the end I find... nothing. No arses. The version on their channel is actually an edited, sanitised, assless chap of a video. You'll have to make-do with this for now and use your imagination.
Legacy: Pretty sure this was the first boyband music video to overtly make a play for the Pink Pound.

Color Me Badd, I Wanna Sex You Up (1991)
The early nineties were a bit weird weren't they? I barely remember them, but they were definitely an odd time for fashion and music -- almost like the death rattle from the worst bits of the 80s. Coming off the back of the success of new jack swing and New Kids On The Block, some wise-guy A&R thought to himself, why don't we combine the two? And hey presto! Color Me Badd were born. To be fair to them, this song is a smooth as Galaxy Chocolate (why have cotton, when you can have silk?) and at least two of them are hot.
Whoever came up with the concept for this video deserves a VMA. It's basically as you'd imagine for a song named I Wanna Sex You Up -- although it would be more accurate to call it I Wanna Sex You Up In The Office and Then Probably (And Deservedly) Get Done For Sexual Harassment.
Legacy: Pretty sure this is the video that started the 'jaunty camera angle' thing that makes you feel a bit sick and is frequently used in Hollyoaks today.

Boyz II Men, I'll Make Love To You (1994)
Another, gentler way of saying I Want To Bang You, there was way too much plot in this video. I can't keep up. But at least there was a plot. It's shot like a low-budget Australian soap, lots of soft focus and candlelight. You wouldn't get this nowadays. Boybands in 1994 weren't afraid to go high-concept.
From what I can make out: a very hot guy (played by an actor and not a member of Boyz II Men -- quite an odd move if you think about it) fits a security system (?) in this very hot woman's palatial home. He doesn't seem to be wearing any kind of overalls or work clothes, he's actually very well turned out for an electrician. She says he makes her feel "safe". She then takes a long bath. He writes her a letter. She reads the letter, sort of touches herself a bit. And that's that -- all while the four guys from Boyz II Men are wailing about making love to her, outside, on the steps of her gaffe. 1994 everybody.
Legacy: I need to get a home security system immediately.

Backstreet Boys, Quit Playing Games (with My Heart) (1996)
Continuing with the homo-erotic theme from Take That (file next to another very wet video Back For Good) this was the pinnacle of not-so-subtle gay imagery being used to peddle music to teenage girls -- albeit amazing music -- literally no one can fault this song. Unlike other BSB videos, this one doesn't have much of a dance routine, which is a shame, but who cares when four and a half hunks are having their very own wet t-shirt competition on a school playground? Am I right ladies?
Legacy: Howie's. Nipples.

Five, Slam Dunk (Da Funk) (1997)
From one Max Martin hit to another. I love Max Martin, but what the fuck does Slam Dunk (Da Funk) actually mean? I guess it doesn't matter any more, but even back then I was genuinely puzzled why a group of five lads-lads-lads from England would be singing about basketball and rapping in American accents on a council estate. However, therein lies the beauty. The preposterousness of the whole thing. The strength of Five's early years came from their ability to copy their American counterparts a little bit sloppily -- it's quite cute isn't it? Their dance moves were on point. They were all pretty hot. What's not to love?
Legacy: Let's just be thankful this is the video that brought Jason 'J' Brown into our lives…

NSYNC, Tearin' Up My Heart (1997)
Yet another Max Martin banger, this video uses all the textbook boyband tropes - with their earnest lip synching, incredible synchronised dance moves and cute little synchronised black and white outfits -- they really were 'in sync' weren't they? Lol. There's something special about videos from early on in any boyband's career. Maybe it's the hunger for success? It all feels very pure when Justin Timberlake sings: "I am down on my knees", and his four band mates drop to their knees, doesn't it?
Legacy: Watching this now and wondering why it had to be Timberlake who did a Robbie Williams and not JC Chasez :(

A1, Be the First to Believe (1999)
On paper, A1 should have worked from day one, they had all the right ingredients… the smiley blonde one, the hot one with the floppy curtains who loved giving the camera a cheeky wink, the slightly podgy one with a very sunny disposition and that one with spiky hair who keeps walking round in just his towel. Boyband gold, right? That could be a description of Take That from 1992 or the Backstreet Boys from 1997 -- but even with choreography, perma tans and a 5/10 song, something just didn't sit right with me. Not until their awful cover of Take On Me, did things really get going for the A1 boys, maybe as the decade began to close, we'd had enough?
Legacy: Caught In The Middle was a bonafide bop and half, so they redeemed themselves, but this was when the 90s formula began to show signs of weakness.

B2K, Uh-Huh (2001)
Slightly cheating here by squeezing this one in from a whole other decade, but Jesus Christ it's worth it, what a banger. The big-budget set-pieces. The outfits. The eight-packs. The thrusting. The eight-packs. And they were only 15?! How was this legal? Why weren't they at school? Were people giving them steroids? I was literally playing The Sims until 1am every night or eating an entire KFC family bucket while chatting on MSN when I was their age. Kudos to whoever put them together.
B2K deserved a much bigger career so it's a shame they imploded, although we did get some proper gems from Omarion's solo career.
Legacy: Omarion has an album called Sex Playlist. Cool.

So there we have it. Makes you feel nostalgic for wet look hair gel doesn't it? Of course, since the 90s we've had JLS, Busted, McFly, and The Wanted. Not to mention boyband behemoth 1D, who were pretty great, even if they couldn't dance. But now there's a seemingly massive boyband-shaped-hole in the Western pop universe. Will we see a return to the heady days of choreography, dodgy double entendres and homoeroticism? Are Simon Cowell's all-singing, all-dancing, new project PRETTYMUCH the ones to lead the way? I hope so.

Tom Aspaul writes songs for your favourite popstars. Listen to his very funny Bottle Pop podcast here.

Backstreet Boys
Boyz II Men