Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wanted: A Wand Erection

No need to check your calendar. It's not 1999. Boybands are a "thing" again in the UK and they are beginning to make their way across the Atlantic. While we've had various domestic boybands come and go in the years since NSYNC and BSB ruled the planet, barely making a dent on the music industry, there are two British boybands, One Direction and The Wanted, whom I believe you'll be hearing more about in the coming months.

Left to right: Harry, Liam, Louis, Zayn, Niall
Do you ever wonder how Nicole Scherzinger landed her current job as a judge on X-Factor US despite her solo career tanking stateside? The main reason we are forced to endure her is because during a stint as a guest judge on last year's X-Factor UK, she had a rare moment of genius: take five failed solo contestants, form a group and enter them in that category. Her hunch payed off as the group, now known as One Direction (or if you prefer their rather affectionate nickname Wand Erection), went on to finish third in the competition, winning the hearts of many a teenage girl in the process. As with any singing competition contestant, it wasn't clear just how well their success on the show would translate into record sales, but so far I'd say it was going well. Their first single, "What Makes You Beautiful," smashed pre-order records and easily debuted at #1 on the UK chart.

Where One Direction deviates from the typical Boyband Formula is the fact that they are all young. And when I say young, I mean barely legal: the oldest, Louis, turns 20 in December. Could you have conceived such a thing back in 2001? I mean, the formula has always been one young guy to be The Heartthrob and appeal to the 13 year old girls with the rest being slightly older. But One Direction is truly a sign of the times in this Bieberization of the music industry. Not that this is a slight against them, mind you. For a young band aimed at young girls, One Direction is surprisingly beloved by people of all ages (including myself, obviously). I think they are successful mainly because they are one the few boybands around these days who fully embraces being a boyband. One Direction isn't pretending to be anything than what they are: a good old-fashioned pop group. You have no idea how refreshing that is in today's climate when most pop artists are almost embarrassed to be labeled as such. This is part of the reason why "What Makes You Beautiful" is easily one of the best songs of the year. If you heard someone describe the song--a boy declaring his love for an insecure girl--it doesn't sound like much. But the song is so cleverly written (by one of the co-writers of "...Baby One More Time," in fact!) and sung with such joyful exuberance, it's hard not to fall head over heels for it, or One Direction, for that matter. Look at them. They're adorable! How can you not fall in love with this?

They coordinated their outfits, for God's sake!

I'm not sure what the future holds for One Direction--there are talks that Simon Cowell will have them perform on X-Factor US to begin their American invasion--but for now, I'm just enjoying the ride.

Left to right: Siva, Tom, Max, Jay, Nathan
In contrast to One Direction's youthful exuberance, The Wanted are their slightly darker older brother. Don't get me wrong, they are probably an even more conventional boyband than One Direction in terms of structure (The Heartthrob, The Leader, The Bad Boy, etc.) and their target audience is still primarily teenage girls, but for such a commercial band, their first singles were all about the pain of heartbreak and being alone. Quite a contrast from the peppy optimism of One Direction, don't you think?

Led by Max George, the Brian Littrell of the group and himself a former member of failed boyband Avenue, The Wanted hit it big last fall with their hit "All Time Low". I must admit, I wasn't a fan of them when they first arrived on the scene (I believe my exact words were "I would blow two of them but I wouldn't tell anyone about it."). But I slowly came around, primarily because of the third single from their self-titled album "Lose My Mind". Now, after the mega success of their Ed Drewett-penned singles "Glad You Came" and "Lightning" in the past six months, I am crazy in love with them. In fact, I've even upgraded their hotness: I would now have full-on sex with three of them (Max, Jay and Nathan) and tell everyone about it.

Let the prison rape fantasies begin.
Now that One Direction has entered the boyband game trying to corner the Youth market, I thought it was in The Wanted's interest to become a more mature, adult boyband and focus on older teens and young adults. Judging by their latest work, it sounds like they have listened to me. The masters of the Serious Face lightened up on "Glad You Came," one of the cheekiest, naughtiest, but not explicit, pop songs since Britney's early years. And "Lightning" is a pure sonic pleasure, miming the breathy sexiness of the beginning of Girls Aloud's "Biology" and the hard/soft sound of Britney's "Hold It Against Me"/"Til the World Ends". Not exactly bad for a group I had initially written off not long after their debut.

The Wanted's "All Time Low" has been available on American iTunes for a few months now and "Glad You Came" appears to be the single they are pushing over here in the States next. No word yet on whether or not they will be doing promotion over here, but I imagine as soon as their next album, Battleground, drops in the UK they will be ready to tackle America.


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