Lately, there seems to be a lot of New Kids on the Block fans writing blogs about what the band means to them. A lot of them are reading more and more like a “what did I do last summer” type of essay, but I’m finding that more than anything else, the blogs are the fans’ way of legitimizing their love and trying to explain what I can only say is unexplainable. That might sound a bit egotistical and biased, but the truth is, if you read any journalist’s critique of a NKOTB appearance or concert, it speaks only of what is on the surface. It can’t go any further than that unless the writer is a fan and the love of the New Kids on the Block goes much further than five “sexy grown men”, even further than poppy bubble gum music and a barebones stage.
So, in my desire to join the crowd, here is my attempt to explain why I am a fan, a supporter, a shareholder of the New Kids on the Block.
First, you need to understand, it was never about the music. I find it funny that journalists have continued to mock boy band music. Now, I’m not a boyband groupie, so I can’t speak to the other groups like Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, etc, but the fascination with the New Kids on the Block is not about the music or the lyrics of their old school albums – with the exception of “I’ll Be Loving You Forever” or if you’re a Jon fan, “Step by Step”. Perhaps when we were pre-teens and teenagers, we thought that the songs we played over and over were the best songs in the world, but now, we listen to the songs and giggle because it sounds like some of the lines were written just so that they rhymed or some of the lyrics sound a bit too stalkerish or childish. But still, there’s a catchy beat we can’t get out of our heads and the words, let’s face it, were memorized long long ago. I wish critics would for once understand that we know it’s not about the music. That isn’t the reason we flock to the concerts or play the music over and over again. Critics’ patronizing words fall on deaf ears because nothing they say about the songs or the dancing or the concerts will change my mind about why I’m a fan. I would even go as far to say that if someone says she love the New Kids on the Block because of their music, I might slap her! It is sad, though, that much if not all of their new music is ignored or mocked simply because their 80s and 90s music was not the best music ever written. Some of the new songs are definitely worthy of critical acclaim, but they will never receive their due worth because of old stigmas.
So, what is it about? Well, it depends who you ask. For many it’s the remembering of innocence that was the first time the New Kids on the Block became famous. It’s that first puppy dog love that stays with any pre-teen, and with any luck, that pre-teen will grow up and fall in love with a significant other who has those same qualities of that first crush. And for those fans who came back because of that puppy love, they were rewarded with five grown men who are even more desirable and sweeter than before. Many child celebrities followed a similar path once the spotlight was gone – finding eating disorders or drug and alcohol abuse the only means to remind them of the fame they once had. But this didn’t happen to any of the New Kids on the Block. Or rather, if it did, the problem was dealt with in a manner such that none of the men were drug through the mud by paparazzi, and all of them were able to deftly manage their fame and their finances to be successful both professionally and personally.
Many of the blogs I have read recently speak to a tragedy that has befallen a fan or is occurring just prior or during the New Kids on the Block reunion. While I too have dealt with some very difficult personal issues over the last two years and definitely am grateful for the diversion that has been the New Kids, for me, being one of the five brothers and a million sisters has meant more than that: learning about friendships, setting new goals, and exploring interests that I might never have had the opportunity to explore. Before I continue, let me tell you that it is my personal belief there is nothing wrong with having superficial reasons for being a fan. Certainly, there are other artists and celebrities of whom I would call myself a fan, but if you asked me why my simple answer would come down to looks, voice, and/or singing and acting ability. The New Kids on the Block, I think, are the only group where I am compelled to go beyond the superficial or simply walk away from them forever.
MUSIC I’ve mentioned the radio station before in this blog, but I have to say owning and operating an online radio station would have never been a thought or a possibility without the New Kids on the Block. I guess it is funny now that I think about it. I say that the New Kids on the Block were never about the music, but for me, they taught me more about music than I would have otherwise learned in any classroom. NKAirplay was born out of a desire for us as fans to hear New Kids on the Block music on mainstream radio. Of course, it seems in this day in age, it isn’t the listeners but the radio owners who dictate what gets played. The NK Army, as we have been called, have been excellent at getting a song or two its first airplay on a given radio station, but it’s usually its last airplay unless there is a DJ at that radio station who is also a fan. So, because of the stigma and fans’ desire to listen to goofy sappy New Kids’ music, my friend Jaime and I created and developed NKAirplay. I suppose it is a blessing that there were regulations in place banning us from playing strictly New Kids’ music. We were required to find other artists’ music to play, and it made sense to reach out to those artists that have supported or have been inspired by the New Kids on the Block – both new school and old school. Now, I have always been a fan of music and have what I would call a very eclectic taste. There are very few genres I won’t listen to. I simply require a good memorable melody and solid meaningful lyrics. So, while I’ve been learning about broadcasting, audio editing, improvised introductions and transitions, conducting artist interviews, etc., I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about new artists and really listen to their lyrics. And, I’ve been fortunate to meet new artists via twitter, myspace, reverbnation, and over the phone simply because of NKAirplay, which again would have never come about had I never been a New Kids’ fan. The New Kids on the Block are so incredibly transparent with their fans. They have no problem introducing their fans to their backing band members, the individuals and/or bands who open for them, and the writers, producers, and musicians who have worked with them. Talk about networking! I wish being an educational researcher could be so easy! But all that said, I might have become a fan long ago because I thought Jordan Knight was cute. But I remained a fan because these guys have opened the door for me to gain a deeper appreciation for music, not just the sound or the lyrics, but the behind the scenes operations that go into producing it, the hard work required to promote it, and the incredible opportunity to learn and be mentored in an industry I would have never considered before.
FRIENDSHIPS The theme of friendship is probably one you will find common in almost any blog you’ll read in discovering why so many are fans of the New Kids. When I first heard of the New Kids’ reunion, I didn’t give much thought to it. Yes, I had been a huge fan back in the day, but I had given up those pre-teen loves and fantasies when *I thought* the band had broken up. (You see, I didn’t know that there was one last album produced in 1994 before the band separated; I thought the guys had parted ways and simply faded away in 1993.) At any rate, I didn’t want to be consumed with what I thought would be another huge commercialization or another boy band phenomenon. That simply was not me anymore. Having said that, I was quickly caught up in EVERYTHING shortly after I heard the New Kids’ first new single – Summertime – on the radio. No stranger to message boards, I quickly signed up on the New Kids’ website and began chatting away with anyone who would listen. Now, almost 20 months later, I feel blessed with all the friends I have made. And the depth of those friendships simply amazes me. These people, some of whom I’ve never met in person, wouldn’t think twice about offering me a place to stay if I were in town, driving me to around town if I needed a ride, or answering the phone in the middle of the night simply because I need to talk. These are the kinds of friendships I would think would take many years to build, but instead they were created in less than two, and I love every single one of these men and women who care so much about me and about each other. We may only have that one strand in common, but there’s nothing wrong with smiling and giggling every once in a while.
GOALS The first time I met the New Kids on the Block was in November 2008, when they performed at the Tacoma Dome. It wasn’t my first New Kids’ concert, but it was the first time I had meet and greet passes, was able to hug each of them and have a photo with all of them. While Jordan was my first favorite New Kid, the grown up in me has fallen in love with Danny Wood. So, in preparation for meeting him and the other 4 guys, I wrote him a letter introducing myself and saying thank you for the reunion. The letter had to be re-written multiple times, but one thing that didn’t change was my opening – “First of all, I want to say thank you for being the man that you are — true and authentic. You found your talent and your passion, and it has made you successful both personally and professionally. I can only ask of myself that I would strive for the same goal.” It occurred to me that these five grown men were really no different than I. They had a talent as we all do, and they found a way to be successful with that talent in a way that brought them satisfaction. How many times do we miss that simplicity in our desire to make money, make our family happy, or simply separate ourselves from society. It’s certainly not a bad thing to want these things, but the reality is we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, what are we good at? Danny Wood can sing. He can write and produce songs, and because of his celebrity status, he can be a fabulous spokesman for the Susan G Komen foundation, an organization that promotes awareness and finding a cure for breast cancer. All of the guys are also family men. They grew up in large close-knit families, so they have taken that nurturing quality into both their professional and personal lives. True, there is a double standard here – celebrities do tend to fare better than ordinary folk, but why can’t we all capitalize on our natural talents and those innate gifts given to us through the way we were raised? These are the questions I have been focusing on as I continue my quest toward who I want to be when I grow up. And, I am fortunate to have found role models who have shown me that “maybe you should take a look in the mirror; all I’m saying is sometimes who you are ain’t hard to find” (Joey McIntyre, Walk Away).
So there you have it – My “why I love the New Kids on the Block” essay. It is my hope that in finding and reading these blogs, those of you who simply can’t understand the fascination will think twice before mocking. Remember, we don’t just love the guys because they’re cute – but it certainly doesn’t hurt!