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by Gil Kaufman

Just a few years ago, boy bands ruled the planet. Between 'NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, B2K, O-Town, LFO and any number of other acronym-happy wannabes, the sound of sweet harmonies and young girls screaming filled the air and the airwaves.

But times change, girls grow up, fake dreadlocks fray and beats get stale, which explains why, if you look at this week's chart, there is nary a boy band to be seen in the top 40 (unless you count Lil Jon's East Side Boyz) ...

Sure, Backstreet Boys just finished their first new album in five years, but for the most part, these groups have faded away and been replaced by sensitive, sweet-faced singer-songwriters or pop-punk bands who've replaced cheesy braids with mohawks, eyeliner and way more attitude.

Gone are the matching flashy suits and asymmetrical hairstyles; in are baggy bondage pants, vintage rock tees (somehow less corny than when Justin wears them), matching black suits with white ties and messy, er, often asymmetrical hairstyles.

"All The Small Things"
Enema of the State

In retrospect, it makes Blink-182's 1999 boy-band-bashing video for "All the Small Things" all the more amusing, because the screaming crowds in that video could just as easily be in a pop-punk band's audience today.

The new boy bands are more likely to resemble Good Charlotte, My Chemical Romance, Sum 41, Simple Plan or Dashboard Confessional, with a bigger emphasis on originality and realness than matching threads and hot dance moves. The cycle is pretty predictable, as yesterday's teenyboppers grow older and move beyond the candy pop of their youth, searching for something a bit edgier to annoy parents with and separate them from their Franz Ferdinand-loving older siblings. But even with "TRL"-worthy videos, hit albums and singles, some of the bands reaping the benefits aren't sure how they got there ... or how long it will last.

"It's definitely weird," said My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way, whose band has broken through to the tween and teen set with the emotional rocker "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)." "I guess we are taking the place of the boy bands and pinups, so these girls now have these dysfunctional heroes on their wall. We always thought we'd be underground or on the fringes, so we're shocked by it.

"But if you pay attention to music history, it was just a matter of time before all the boy bands and assembled girl bands went away and real bands came into focus."

Way added that the band's new status isn't changing its focus on singing about non-pinup issues, like suicide and speaking out against racism, sexism and homophobia, even if some of the kids in their audience now are wearing "football equipment."

"When I was growing up, we all loved [Pearl Jam singer] Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain, and then Britney and Backstreet happened and I think it's back to a backlash against that now," said Anne Ichikawa, entertainment editor for Elle Girl magazine. "Anything shoved in your face as a teen, you're going to rebel against. It's cool for girls not to be mainstream now, it's cool to dress a certain way and look for something different. The idea is the same — some guy in a band to fixate on — but they just look different now."

Both the boy-band and pop-punk formulas get a twist with new heartthrobs like Tyler Hilton, Ryan Cabrera, Howie Day, Gavin DeGraw and Jesse McCartney, who look like prefabricated pop singers but write their own songs. And while not all of them will break through the "just another pretty face" barrier like multiplatinum singer/guitarist John Mayer, these guys take their songwriting as seriously as their hair gel.

"What can you do?," singer Tyler Hilton said about the "curse" of his good looks. "I guess I've got a look that people dig, and I thank my parents. It's the same thing for all my favorite people: James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis, they were really talented, but it's their look. I'm sure one day I will have a look about me that people won't want to look at anymore."

NEXT: 'I know exactly when boy bands will be over,' says 'NSYNC/ Backstreet Svengali Lou Pearlman ...
Photo: MTV News

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Matching outfits
(Boyz II Men)
Anything and everything
(My Chemical Romance)

Sappy pop ballads
Sappy emo ballads
(Dashboard Confessional)

Dance steps
(Backstreet Boys)
Ironic dance steps
(Sum 41)

Tight, R&B-inspired harmonies
(98 Degrees)
Tight, Ramones-inspired harmonies
(Taking Back Sunday)

Bad rapping
Bad rapping
(Good Charlotte)

Blowing it up onstage
Throwing up onstage
(The Used)