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Guilty Pleasures, Round One: Backstreet Boys (4) vs. Duran Duran (13)

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Duran Duran

EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also post a comment explaining why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.

BACKSTREET BOYS

Something tells me this is gonna be a close race, and nothing I write is really going to sway votes one way or the other. I also suspect that if you need me to explain why the Backstreet Boys are a guilty pleasure, you’re either a) probably not reading this post in the first place, or b) have already posted on any number of message boards telling your friends to get over here and leave a lot of exclamation points in the comments. So instead, I’ll just say a few words about why I chose this group to represent the eternally-shameful genre of pop music known as “boy bands” when there were so many other viable candidates — honestly, we could have done a 32-team bracket just for this crap alone — and then, if you’ll permit it, I’ll toss in a quick endorsement before we move on.

There were three bands worthy of this spot on the list. The New Kids on the Block, naturally, were the founding fathers of the modern boy band era — while credit must be given to the Monkees, the Jackson 5, and even the Beatles for generating the notion that many cute boys are better than one, it wasn’t until NKOTB that all-important factors like “must participate in god-awful, short-lived fashion trends,” “must have super-fly dance moves that look terrific in baggy pants,” and “must make fundamentally non-threatening, painfully trite music” really came into play. And let’s be clear: the New Kids’ music wasn’t just trite, it was downright bad — and I’m speaking as a girl who willingly attended one of their concerts at the local Six Flags amusment park. Have you listened to “Hangin’ Tough” lately? I’ll still accept the occasional spin of “Cover Girl,” but really — no. *NSync, on the other hand, have almost the opposite problem: They gave the world Justin Timberlake, and are therefore disqualified from ever being insulted again.

That left Nick, Howie, Brian, A.J., and the dearly-departed Kevin “Gramps” Richardson as your Guilty Pleasure Boy Band All-Stars, and I’m glad it did, because it gives me the chance to make one of my very most favorite ludicrous proclamations: Say what you will about the rest of their oeuvre (no really, don’t hold back), but it is an indisputable fact that the key change in “I Want It That Way” is the greatest key change in the history of pop music.* The glorious modulation between “don’t wanna hear you” and “saaay-aaay-yeah-yeah-heh-heh” is what transforms the group’s best song into a transcendent masterpiece for the ages. And since key changes are the very definition of guilty pleasure — cheap emotional manipulation via tonal modulation designed to gloss over the fact that you never really got around to writing a third verse — I’d say that shift from tentative F-sharp minor to triumphant B major pretty much sells itself. And yes, I did just throw down music theory in a discussion of the Backstreet Boys. — WP

*(unless you count the one in Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You,” but where’s the fun in having to qualify a ludicrous proclamation?)

DURAN DURAN

There is no shortage of reasons to feel guilty about liking Duran Duran. They’re white British boys trying to play funk (and, on occasion, hip-hop). The poorness of frontman Simon Le Bon’s singing is exceeded only by the lumbering wretchedness of his dancing. They’re responsible for the most irritating Bond theme of all time (“A View To A Kill”). And as someone who once played in a band that supported them on a couple of shows, I can report that they’re less than generous in the backstage refreshment department. (A 12-pack of beer? Really? You guys were the pop party animals of the ’80s, and all you give your opening act is a few Heinekens?)

Yet I defy you to argue with the catchy, pop-tastic qualities of early singles like “Girls on Film,” “Rio,” or the fabulously absurd “Union of the Snake” — the tracks that allowed this bunch of fiercely ambitious chancers to fulfill their dreams of wealth, stardom and having sex with models. They got even better later on with the clattering funk of “Notorious” and the terrific ballad “Ordinary World.” And when they’re bad, they at least have the decency to be hilariously bad: witness their infamous butchery of “White Lines.” It also should be pointed out that keyboard player Nick Rhodes is a man of such Olympic-standard loucheness that presumably he will one day simply disappear into thin air, having returned to the pages of the whichever decadency-filled Oscar Wilde opus he came from.

Still not convinced? Then I leave you with the assessment of Chic founder and “Notorious” producer Nile Rogers: “Duran Duran have gotten the short end of the stick,” the music legend told me a couple of years back. “When we’re all dead and gone, people are gonna look back and realize how amazing they were. Even the records I didn’t do!” — Clark Collis

Want to vote in a previous matchup? Click here to visit Guilty Pleasure Bracket Central!

Photo Credits: Backstreet Boys: Everett Collection; Duran Duran: Gunter W. Kienitz/Rex USA/Everett Collection