Imagine if the five members of New Kids on the Block — who sold more than 80 million records in the 1980s and ‘90s thanks to their hits “Hangin’ Tough” and “Step By Step” — were coming up in today’s music industry rather than in 1984, which is when they were assembled in Boston.
Would the boy band have an easier time getting its big break these days? Would the guys find life as pop stars in the TMZ era more challenging? And what would the band members once known for their acid-wash jeans and rat-tail hairstyles look like as teenagers now?
Here is what New Kids on the Block’s Jordan Knight — who is touring on his own in between NKOTB tours, including a solo show at Mojoes in Joliet Friday and Viper Alley in Lincolnshire Saturday — described when asked to picture life as a teenage boy band in 2012:
Social media would have made life easier: “Back in the day, we tried starting our own grassroots fan club in Boston,” Knight said. “We figured we could start having parties at one of the fan club leaders’ houses and perform at high schools and grow from there. It never worked. It would have been a lot easier to do that with Facebook and Twitter. And now you can get on Youtube. Justin Bieber got discovered on Youtube.”
Camera phones would have made life harder: “(Tabloids) were around then like National Enquirer and ‘Inside Edition.’ And you’d go to the Roxbury on the Sunset Strip and the paparazzi would be there. But it wasn’t as easy to get a video of you, like of Miley Cyrus smoking a bong or Beyonce falling (during a concert). I wiped out on stage once running down a ramp signing ‘Right Stuff.’ Busted my (butt). Luckily, there was no YouTube or camera phones back then.”
The public is now more open to boy bands: “If you’ve got the chops, people these days are more accepting of you,” Knight said. “Like Justin Timberlake with ‘N Sync. They were extremely pop. They liked loud, fun colors. I think it now comes down to whether you have the skills or not. We had more of a struggle.”
Tour buses have come a long way …: “We toured back in the day with all five of us on the same bus with bodyguards and a tutor,” Knight said. “We were like sardines — nine dudes on a tour bus. Now I have a shower on my tour bus and satellite and Wi-Fi. We didn’t have that. We had Nintendo in the back of the bus. Later on when we started doing stadium tours, it got a little better.”
… And so have celeb gift suites: “When you go to awards shows these days, you can walk through a room and they give you everything for free: sunglasses, guitars, stuff for the wife,” said Knight when asked to name what he feels the band most missed out on.
Endorsement deals are no longer as frowned upon: “Back in the day, if you did any commercials or were affiliated with a company you were a sellout. Now it’s kind of normal to do that,” said Knight, whose band endorsed Coca-Cola. “We didn’t take any heat for Coke, but we did for the merchandise and the 1-900 numbers where you would hear recordings …”
Tattoos might have been unavoidable: “We would look like the teenagers out there,” Knight said. “When we came up, we hit the scene with stripes in our hair, rat-tails and rope earrings. We would have all the different fashion statements you see these days.” Cyrus, Bieber and fellow pop star Demi Lovato have tattoos, and Knight believes some of his band members might have followed the trend as well had they been teenagers in this era. “A couple of us would probably rock tattoos,” Knight said. “Not me, but Donnie (Wahlberg) for sure.”