Between NSYNC reuniting (however briefly) and the One Direction documentary hitting theaters this weekend, EW’s PopWatch is getting a serious wave of nostalgia—and the urge to revive one of the most important debates: What is the all-time greatest boy band?
Any good fan girl (or guy!) knows this debate is about so much more than just the hits. There’s things like group appearance, harmonies, music videos and dance moves to consider. For the next week, each day all the bands listed below will be competing in various categories. While an EW writer will be advocating for each, the final decision is up to you. Each day a band wins the vote, they’ll receive a point. At the end of a week, whichever band has the most points will be declared EW’s Ultimate Boy Band. Today’s category? Best Appearance.
Here’s the deal: After 20 years of boy band fame, The Backstreet Boys have done it all, from the Michael Jackson-esque leather jackets and the golf-inspired outfits to the Hockey jerseys, the shiny suits (complete with) disco balls, the sparkly tops with snakeskin pants and even the occasional pantsless moment. And let’s not ever forget AJ’s mesh belly shirt. But the point is that not only have these men perfected the art of nearly every ridiculous, classic, over-the-top boy band look (including overalls), but they have, most importantly, grown out of them. Now, they know how to be casual, they know how to accessorize, and they know how to be individuals while always blending together, much like their beautiful voices do with every performance. Plus, aren’t they pretty? -Samantha Highfill
Boyz II Men:
Boyz II Men are the kings of ‘90s fashion — pleated khakis, paisley ties, high top fades, and many, many pairs of sunglasses. Keeping it sharp even in casual Nautica track suits, the Philly-native group nailed effortless ‘90s sophistication, (almost) seeming hip today. With closets worth of tailored white suits, they had no need for the trendy pleather costumes that often plagued their successors. The men of hip-hop doo wop have evolved their styles with the times but never abandoned their stylish suits and ties. Every boy (to man) band from the ‘90s wished they were as fly as Boyz II Men. –Maricela Gonzalez
While I do enjoy the Chess King Rayon Years (which in boy bands always segues, inevitably, to the White Linen Years) there’s something about the earliest, uncostume-iest days that is just so freaking sweet. Look at these teeny babies in their teeny short shorts and pink polo shirts! One day they will issue warnings like “Never trust a big butt and a smile/That girl is poison.” But in this era there are only smiles, and I trust them 1000%. –Leah Greenblatt
New Kids on the Block:
I could point to the “Summertime” video so as to tantalize you with maximum shirtlessness, but the New Kids — despite the free-flowing crotch thrusts back in the day — have never relied on their sexuality to get them ahead, so I shan’t now. What they did rely on were the fluffiest of pompadours and the shoulder pad-iest of cheetah print blazers. If New Kids videos were night clubs, Saturday Night Live‘s Stefon would undoubtedly tell you that “Step by Step” has everything: matching leather-sleeved varsity jackets, Danny’s American flag blouse (don’t try to convince me that’s actually a man’s shirt) with matching bandanna under a leather baseball cap, Donnie in a Public Enemy shirt, Jordan swiveling his hips in overalls(!), requisite pumping-iron shots, Joey doing a little soft-shoe, wind machines blowing on Jordan’s half-step-down-from-a-Cosby-sweater-button-down, Jon doing an “I miss my rattail” head toss… even a Marky Mark cameo (at 3:43)! And that’s without mentioning the intricate choreography (on stairs, natch, just in case we didn’t get the song’s theme) and the blown-out color washes interspersed with
blackblue-and-white proto-Photoshopping. Throw in a Hypercolor T-shirt and a slap bracelet, and this video would be the canonical record of late ’80s/early ’90s fashion. And that’s exactly what NKOTB were reppin’ in their prime. Show me a thirtysomething woman who didn’t swoon at Jordan in those ill-fitting overalls, and I’ll show you a liar. –Lanford Beard
It ain’t no lie: These guys set the style chatter of the late nineties, and cheesy costumes (like these brightly colored coats) were just part of the package. Whether the guys got down in casual wear on TRL (Overalls!), rocked five-part matching outfits, or Joey Fatone went rogue to experiment with red streaks, these guys gave you plenty of inspiration for how a guy just on the cusp of adulthood should dress…if the target demo is butterfly clip-wearing tweens. Plus, let’s be honest, NSYNC should win this category for Justin Timberlake alone. He may be Mr. “Suit & Tie” now, but a decade ago he was making girls swoon with a rotating roster of curls and cornrows. Not to mention frosted tips. -Erin Strecker
The One Direction boys know exactly what makes them beautiful. Though the boy band may not don the crazy costumes of their ‘90s predecessors, they do deliver on the fashion front with a polished, impeccably color-coordinated formula that works for every occasion. Casual meet-and-greet? Beanies, jeans and graphic tees, it is. Formal red carpet event? Blazers, vests and bow ties do the trick. (Bonus points for a designer varsity jacket or an unbuttoned shirt to show off some tattoos.) They’ve even got squee-worthy photoshoots with puppies covered. And don’t forget the hair—the boys’ gravity-defying coifs have inspired countless YouTube tutorials. So say what you will about Liam, Niall, Zayn, Harry, Louis and their hordes of fangirls. At least there’s no denying their style. -Shirley Li