The hitmaking Irish quintet aim to shed their boy-band label

By Liane Bonin
Updated August 04, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Scott Garfield/ABC

Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, ‘N Sync, 98°… in the overcrowded field of hormonally charged boy bands, what’s the difference, right? Plenty, says Boyzone’s Keith Duffy. Unlike those other young whippersnappers, Boyzone has scored four No. 1 albums in the U.K., including a greatest-hits compilation, ”By Request.” But to most Americans, ‘Zone remain unknowns, despite their recent hit from the ”Notting Hill” soundtrack, ”No Matter What.”

”We’ve spent a lot of time in the places where we’ve already been successful, like Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia, so we’re only getting over to the U.S. now,” says the 24-year-old Duffy, who will be performing with his band mates on Wednesday’s ”General Hospital.” ”But straightaway we’ve been pigeonholed with the boy-band label. It’s a little difficult being asked all these childish questions like ‘What’s your favorite color’ and all that crap.”

Despite their underage name, Duffy and band mates Stephen Gately, Shane Lynch, Mikey Graham, and Ronan Keating pride themselves on having pushed beyond the boundaries of the teenybopper trend. After all, not every boy band sings with Pavarotti (at the ’99 War Child Concert) and shows up in a U2 video (”The Sweetest Thing”). ”Most boy bands’ fans are just young girls, but our music has changed and grown over the years,” says the 22-year-old Keating, who became a father this March. ”So we have older men and women coming to our shows, even though we haven’t alienated our younger fans.” The only catch is that grown-ups don’t exactly demonstrate their love with the same passion as the average teen. ”They don’t scream,” jokes Duffy. ”It’s difficult, because you don’t know if you’re doing a good show or not.

But even though fans have stuck by the band through marriages and fatherhood, predicting the reaction they would have to Gately’s announcement this March that he is gay was hardly a no-brainer for the band. ”You never know which way something like that’s going to go,” says Keating. ”But the response from the fans and the press has been unbelievably positive. And it’s brought in more people to see us. Now it’s cool for gay guys to like Boyzone, too.” Finally, an audience-building technique the Backstreet Boys haven’t tried.