The 10 Greatest Albums Ever Released by a Boy Band
Almost everyone who is young enough to have grown up during a boy band craze has at least one strong opinion about boy bands.
“Backstreet Boys are better than *NSYNC.”
“Zayn is the cutest member of One Direction.”
“All boy bands are inherently lame.”
And the singles. Oh, dear lord, the singles. It’s hard to picture “I Want It That Way” coming on at a party without a chorus of “Yeeeaa-aah!”s following those initial somber acoustic guitar notes. It’s also hard to listen to “Bye Bye Bye” without vividly recalling the ridiculous puppetry dance from that classic music video.
The album, on the other hand, is a completely irrelevant entity in the boy band market. Boy bands are strictly marketing ploys; a formula is stuck to, sounds are created and there remains no trace of expression to be found. It’s an approach that produces wildly popular, often viral singles. The drawback is that those singles rarely have any staying power past three years or so, as they aggressively utilize the flavor-of-the-month mindset. In this “creative” process, the album is an afterthought.
And, well, no shit; the money ain’t in the albums. Sure, the Backstreet Boys sold over 100 million records, but the money was more wisely invested in singles and the profit more easily found elsewhere: concerts, merchandise, endorsements, etc.
So, has any boy band ever made a good album…ever?
The answer is a surprisingly resounding “Yes!” followed by a less enthusiastic “I mean, sort of, but….”
I pored through almost 200 albums, and, if you ask me, exactly 10 of them are worth a listen. How convenient!
- The music must be considered teen pop.
- The band members must have been younger than 30 years old, on average, at the time of release.
- The band must have been marketed as a “boy band” at the time of release.
- The band must have two or more members.
- The band can be from anywhere in the world.
I will consider both my own personal rating and the average rating on RateYourMusic.com to determine rankings.
I will then grade the albums based on the following: consistency (how well the album is paced and what percentage of the songs are worth listening to), excellence (how strong the best songs are and how confidently delivered the album is), cohesiveness (how each song contributes to a singular vision), memorability (how often one might find oneself thinking about or coming back to the album), and originality (how little the album sounds like its predecessors).
However, I will not be adhering to any respective formula in order to determine album rating. This is still supposed to be art, after all.
No One Does It Better
RYM Rating: 3.09/5
My Rating: 3.10/5
While soulDecision was trying to avoid being associated with the infamous ‘boy band’ label, they weren’t exactly marketed with that in mind, and they were certainly making music for teens.
What sets No One Can Do It Better apart from other boy band albums made around the turn of the century is its incorporation of disco in lieu of bubblegum. In the context of the boy band universe, those disco influences represent an effort to draw on inspirations outside what was profitable at the time, resulting in a much less forced and more genuine sound.
Obvious dance-floor highlights “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy”, “Faded”, and “Stay” make it evident that these young men were more influenced by soul than most of their contemporaries were. If you were to listen to this 2000 album without seeing the artwork or knowing anything about the band, you would probably guess that the album is from the late ‘80s-early ’90s. Conversely, just about every other boy band album in existence sounds like it could have only come from the year in which it was actually made.
Unfortunately, to a kid, this is music for adults, and to an adult, this is music for kids. While they did sell a million units, that “no man’s land” is probably why I’d never heard of these guys before I started this article. This identity crisis becomes even more apparent when comparing the two versions of this album’s artwork. One looks like a nu-metal band posing for an edgy teen magazine and the other (pictured) looks like that same band’s preppy younger brothers posing for a GAP Kids ad. No one knew who these guys were meant for.
Paradoxically, the boy band we all thought we were asking for was the boy band that nobody wanted. It’s like when we all asked Nickelodeon to start reviving our old favorites, only to discover that virtually no target audience exists for those reboots.
Four years after No One Does It Better, soulDecision dropped a heavier, adult-themed album named Shady Satin Drug that went over even worse than you’re currently imagining it went. It struggled to sell 10,000 copies and forced its label, Sextant, to declare bankruptcy. Whoops.
RYM Rating: 2.10/5
My Rating: 3.20/5
The highest-selling album on this list, Celebrity is easily the best, most eclectic album released by either *NSYNC or rival powerhouse Backstreet Boys. Frankly, I was astonished by the amount of songs that I thoroughly enjoyed. It sounds like it was made by a combination of American R&B and Korean pop producers, and it consistently entertains, though no one could blame you for being nauseated by its frantic, sugary onslaught.
“Pop” and “Girlfriend” are the headliners. “Celebrity”, “Tell Me, Tell Me…Baby”, “See Right Through You”, and “Just Don’t Tell Me That” solidly showcase the classic danceable Y2K R&b production prevalent at the time. “The Two of Us”, “Up Against the Wall”, “Do Your Thing”, and “The Game Is Over” feature irresistibly inventive production. Slow jams “Gone”, “Selfish”, and “Something Like You” make up the weakest parts of the project.
It’s easy to see why this is hands-down the lowest-rated album on this list according to RateYourMusic users; they’re *NSYNC. They sold a shitload of records, primarily to teenage girls, and that is a very socially acceptable thing to hate. Virtually every other boy band album rated under 3.0 on RateYourMusic deserves a low rating, but I think Celebrity’s score of 2.1 is an egregious underestimation.
At first glance, the artwork is horrendous, but after listening to the content, fuck it, it fits. While there may be very little cohesion to the album, and while it’s all still an abhorrent marketing ploy, some of these beats are just too shockingly ahead of their time to overlook. Hell, I would confidently classify the beat from “Up Against the Wall” under the electronic production style known as UK funky, yet that sub-genre didn’t even exist until 2006. One could certainly argue that it’s over-produced, what with that layer of fabricated bubblegum blanketing the entire thing, but it’s original and consistent enough to make me wish *NSYNC had kept making records, and that’s certainly something I never thought would come of compiling this countdown.
RYM Rating: 3.08/5
My Rating: 3.25/5
Behold: the easternmost contenders for the boy band throne. SHINee is a South Korean K-pop group known for their fashionable ways and their futuristic, often chaotic pop production.
If you ask me, as far as boy bands go, these guys are the uncontested kings of Asia.
I admittedly have very little tolerance for the hyper-synthetic sounds of K-pop, but SHINee take the boy band cake thanks to their signature freshness. I’m not exactly sure of how good this album will sound ten years from now, but what I do know is that no other boy band in the world sounds like they have more fun in the recording studio than SHINee do. That energy addictively pulsates throughout this record and makes it easy to see why these guys are so popular in South Korea. Each member is a huge fashion trendsetter, and together they make up one of the most talented dance ensembles to ever grace pop music. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that SHINee actively try to set the standard of what’s cool in the South Korean entertainment industry.
True to its great cover art, Odd is a refreshing rollercoaster ride of alternative R&B (“Odd Eye”, “Trigger”, “Alive”) and nu-disco (“View”, “Romance”, “Black Hole). The first half is noticeably stronger than the second half, so it loses some points to inconsistency.
SHINee had already been releasing albums for seven years before Odd came out; this is the album that definitively proved that SHINee are one of those rare bands that get better and better at what they do over time. Upon viewing the artwork and listening to the opening track, it’s hard not to expect Odd to be South Korea’s answer to a Frank Ocean album, but upon further listening, this affair is a lot more contrived and hectic than that.
Basically, if I had to choose one word to describe this album, it would be “momentous”.
by New Edition
RYM Rating: 3.16/5
My Rating: 3.35/5
When it comes to determining who the greatest boy band of all time is, the answer is almost blatantly clear: these boys. In their younger years, New Edition were composed of Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, and the members of Bell Biv Devoe. They were all 16 years of age or younger when they released their debut album, Candy Girl. They specialized in contemporary R&B, pop soul, and synthesizer-driven funk and disco tunes.
New Edition were just so much more consistent in their boy band years than any other boy band in history, and it’s not even close. And no, not because they predate everyone else eligible for this list; I’m no traditionalist. They are responsible for each entry in RateYourMusic’s top three English-language boy band albums of all time.
Unsurprisingly, Candy Girl is the most bubblegum-flavored record of their boy band years, and, according to RateYourMusic, the weakest. The album was named after the single it was known for, so please, don’t immediately hate me for including it. New Edition, contrary to what logic might suggest, are much better appreciated in album form. “Gimme Your Love” and “Popcorn Love” are standouts, but the last three tracks are especially delectable. “Should Have Never Told Me” is one of my favorite pop songs of the ‘80s, “Gotta Have Your Lovin’” is an uplifting synth-funk gem, and “Jealous Girl” is a childishly endearing slow jam.
Sure, New Edition might have been too young for many tastes in 1983, and Candy Girl may not have aged as well as their two other boy band albums, but this record contains so many guilty pleasures that it’s impossible to cast away.
1 of 1
RYM Rating: 3.36/5
My Rating: 3.30/5
SHINee cultivated some extraordinarily chill vibes with their 2015 album Odd, but 1 of 1 sees them forgoing vibe cultivation for all-out blast-having. 1 of 1 may not be as cohesive or even as memorable as Odd, but its combination of execution and originality is unmatched on this countdown.
The pacing isn’t so wise; the weakest songs collect towards the middle of the album, producing an off-putting pit of mediocrity halfway through the experience.
But let’s focus on the positives. “Prism” is an impressive party-starter featuring an equal amount of dubstep and UK funky production. “1 of 1” and “Don’t Let Me Go” manage to employ late-’90s contemporary R&B production without sounding the least bit outdated. “SHIFT” is a classic dance-pop/deep house number that goes all-in on the hook. “U Need Me” is a head-spinner, splitting its style between glitch hop, synth-funk, and electro-swing.
As is typical with SHINee (and many other K-pop artists), the styles are, to an extreme extent, all over the place. Usually, this would be a tough hurdle for an album to clear. For SHINee, however, using a wide variety of styles has kind of always been the whole point, as the band celebrates each member’s individuality and unique energy more than most boy bands do, while still pulling off exceptionally tight dance choreography.
Their next-level confidence resonates throughout the album, and while traditionalists may despise even their best work, the rest of us can tell that this boy band is more than just a haphazard pile of gimmicks. Although, for all my North American ass knows, they very well may also be that.
by New Edition
RYM Rating: 3.30/5
My Rating: 3.40/5
New Edition, who some consider to be the ’80s’ answer to The Jackson 5, weren’t exactly adored by older audiences after dropping their debut in 1983. Their second album, at least, implored the grown-ups to reconsider.
“Cool It Now”, the lead single, is a sublimely catchy pop hit that oozes as much authenticity as it does bubblegum. While it’s not as deeply embedded in our pop culture subconscious as New Edition’s “other” hit, “Candy Girl”, it still enjoyed commercial success, hitting number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1985, and is surely the superior tune.
As far as the rest of the album goes, you could argue that eight out of the nine remaining songs are worth a listen (I’m not a fan of “Lost in Love”). You wouldn’t expect to hear a bass line as dirty as the one on “I’m Leaving You Again” come from one of the youngest boy bands of all time. Funky tracks like “Hide and Seek” and “Baby Love” keep the party going, and smooth R&B songs like “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Maryann” keep the pace just right.
The problem is that, similar to its predecessor Candy Girl, New Edition’s self-titled album doesn’t quite experience those “high highs” like many of the other albums on this countdown. It’s a consistent affair but the greatest parts of the record just aren’t great enough to be worth a safe spot on my to-purchase list (though your boy is always down for “Cool It Now”). These teenagers certainly matured between the two albums, but that growth results in a style that is less vibrant than their debut and indistinguishable from many of their ’80s counterparts.
Still, New Edition is more strongly executed than Candy Girl. Simply put, it’s more impressive. It’s the album that made several music fans in the mid-’80s ponder whether or not New Edition’s existence was all that detestable. I would never call it outstanding but it’s a respectable effort.
by No Authority
RYM Rating: N/A
My Rating: 3.50/5
Around the turn of the century, few white boys exercised their contemporary R&B chops quite like No Authority did on this album. I refer to them as the Blackstreet Boys, considering they sound like a perfect mix between Blackstreet and the Backstreet Boys. Of course, that can make the listening experience awkward for some. To put it bluntly, one might not be able to help but wonder if these white kids knew they were white.
These were some jams, though!
Instead of crafting R&B geared towards pre-teens, Keep On emphasized the most fun aspects of R&B adored by young adults. Almost nothing sounds over-manufactured and the sampling is as good as it gets for boy band production. Sure, the sound could only have come from the late ’90s, but what separates it from similar projects is that it actually makes you crave the late ’90s all over again. Keep On also has more of a West Coast flavor than any other boy band album, but not to the point where it’s obnoxiously impossible to ignore.
If you’re like me, these are all good things — good things which are made abundantly clear by the lead single, “Don’t Stop”. Slow jams “Girlfriend” and “Please Don’t Break My Heart” are just plain tasty. “Up and Down”, “She Drives Me Crazy”, and “One More Time”, among others, are pleasant, hidden ’90s R&B gems that double as audio honey.
It’s still unmistakably teen pop, but it makes teen pop seem like a versatile genre. It’s the kind of teen pop that makes you think, “Hey, maybe the idea of ‘the saviors of American teen pop’ can actually be a real thing someday.”
Messages from the Boys
by The Boys
RYM Rating: 3.60/5
My Rating: 3.65/5
Whoa, what the hell? Where did these kids come from? The answer is simple: the Abdulsamad family. Brothers Khiry, Hakim, Tajh and Bilal, birth years ranging from 1973 to 1979, made up a long-forgotten funky late-’80s boy band that went by one of the greatest names you could possibly give a boy band.
The Boys offered contemporary R&B and synth-funk tunes for the ’80s crowd, much like frequent comparison New Edition, but with a less polished, more assertive, and funkier sound. One factor that kept The Boys from having access to the volume of fans New Edition had was their unusually young age. Teenagers didn’t exactly want to be caught listening to a band of little kids, and the kids who were young enough weren’t as capable of supporting their favorite musicians monetarily.
Flat notes are scattered throughout the ordeal, but the palpable familial chemistry almost completely forgives them. The only weaknesses on the album are “Love Gram” and “Happy”. “Dial My Heart” and “Lucky Charm” both hit the #1 spot on the R&B charts, and the rest of the record, especially the B-side, is filled with brilliant R&B and pop tunes. The fact that they’re the youngest of all 50+ bands I explored only adds to their legend. Most importantly, the Motown production is undoubtedly some of the most well-crafted on this list.
Messages from the Boys may be assuredly corny, but the wildest part about listening to the album is how quickly you forget that fact. As long as you can get past the justifiably high-pitched voices, these young kings deliver a formidable classic that doubles as one of the greatest hidden gems of the ‘80s.
All for Love
by New Edition
RYM Rating: 3.41/5
My Rating: 3.75/5
All three of New Edition’s boy band albums are similar in many ways, but All for Love is unmistakably the most cohesive and memorable.
The ordeal begins with two impressively constructed synth-funk tunes: “Count Me Out” for the daytime crowd and “A Little Bit of Love” for the nighttime crowd. “Sweet Thing”, “Let’s Be Friends”, “Tonight’s Your Night”, and “Who Do You Trust” make up the glue of the record, each a uniquely charming and memorable R&B classic. Dance-pop jam “Kickback” keeps the bodies movin’, while the title track, a blissful pop soul wonderland, does a remarkable job of tying it all together. Ballads “With You All the Way” and “Whispers in Bed”, as well as the sophomoric novelty rap effort “School”, provide the gaping holes in the album’s quality.
For the first time in New Edition’s discography, the album artwork actually provides creatively accurate visual accompaniment to the sound the record is aiming to achieve. Their first two albums were designated for social listening, best for ’80s pre-teens to enjoy with friends. All for Love, on the other hand, is best enjoyed on a lonely night by slightly older R&B-inclined teenage fans of any generation who find themselves swept up in either love or heartbreak, accessibly tucked away with all their other teen lifestyle essentials. It’s what makes the album the most cohesive boy band record of all time and a must-own for ’80s soul fans of any age.
by Another Level
RYM Rating: 3.75/5
My Rating: 3.85/5
These four hunks dropped back-to-back R&B albums in 1998 and 1999, but it was their second and last album, Nexus, on which Another Level was truly on another level. The vision for the album is a little ambiguous, but from a track-by-track perspective, this is a truly remarkable ’90s R&B record.
First, let’s discuss the weakest tracks.
The Diane Warren-penned ballad “From the Heart” was the hit from the album, and while it is objectively cheesy, it at least avoids being trite. The same can be said for “I Like the Way” and “Ain’t Nothing Going On but the Sex”.
Meanwhile, “Bomb Diggy” is flagrantly misleading as a first song, sounding like it was produced for The Wild Thornberrys Movie. When I played it the other day, my girlfriend asked, “Dear God, where did this album end up ranking?” When I sheepishly broke the news to her, she decided to break up with me right there on the spot.
That last part isn’t true, but I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.
I swear, though, the rest of the album is as mature as teen pop gets. “We’ll Meet Again”, “Nothing Left to See”, “Ain’t a Damn Thing Wrong”, “What You Know About Me”, and “That Girl Belongs to Me” are all extremely solid Y2K R&B jams. “Summertime” is a simple yet sneakily catchy house number that’s been getting heavy rotation on my Spotify as of late. “My Girl” and “Hide” are slow jams that are actually engaging enough to be worth a listen in one’s free time.
Nexus holds the distinction of being the only boy band album that appeals to R&B fans of all ages, and while they may say “hell” and “damn”, they still aim to please the children. It’s one of the extremely rare teen pop albums that nobody will judge you for listening to recreationally. Is there a chance that, after your first listen, you’ll forget about it for a while? Sure. Will you get hyped once you do remember it? Most likely. As long as you don’t take the initial one-two punch of “Bomb Diggy” and “Summertime” too seriously, the quality of Nexus is almost undeniable.
- “Almost” is the most you should hope for.
- Track 1 is always a banger and track 4 is always a slow jam.
- New Edition, the pioneers of the boy band genre, are still the kings.
- I’d figured it would’ve essentially been curtains after “MMMBop”, but Hanson actually evolved into a half-decent band.
- The synthesizer hooks from both “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back” by *NSYNC bear striking resemblances to their predecessor, the synthesizer hook from “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”, and I’m honestly kind of upset about it.
- Despite #3 and the fact I harbor more nostalgia for the Backstreet Boys, I’d now have to choose *NSYNC as my favorite of the two. The Backstreet Boys simply have no answer to Celebrity, and they were always just a bit more infantile. Plus, *NSYNC quit while they were on top, and that counts for something.
- In literally every case, the best teen pop albums are made from a healthy mix of dance-pop and R&B. Too much of one or the other will kill you.