Unless you are a glacier or a giant sequoia, 15 years is a long time. In the music business, it’s a very long time. In the teen-pop world, it’s an eternity. And the past 15 years have been a time of such dramatic, fundamental change in the music industry that today the “biz” looks like a different “biz” altogether.
So you’ll forgive Jordan Knight, of the newly reunited senior citizens of boy-band-dom, New Kids on the Block, when he speaks of a “new CD” coming out in the fall, or of the band’s new single called “Summertime” that’s “climbing the charts.” It’s quaint, but somewhat antiquated language.
“Wait! Do they even have ’charts’ anymore?” chimes in Donnie Wahlberg. “No, it’s ’we put our song into a computer bank. And you can go download it onto your — your not Walkman.” (Now that’s more like it!)
Yes, much has changed since 1993, the last time the NKOTB performed together, and until recently few would have taken the bet that we would have ever seen the quintet at it again. But sure enough, in only nine months, it’s gone from Wahlberg discovering a song (“Click Click Click” — on his birthday, actually) that he figured might be the right one for a reunion, to the guys finishing up a full album, beginning preparations for a fall tour — and making comeback appearances on the “Today” show and at two radio station concerts, in New Jersey and Boston.
Backstage at the Jersey show — Z-100’s “Zootopia” concert — the new New Kids seem excited, gratified and humbled by the frenzied reaction to their return from many now 30-something fans. They seem to be in something of a zone.
“Everything is just really flowing,” says Joe McIntyre, who always, along with Jordan, was one of the two strongest singers in the group. “I feel like we’re in a good place, and we’re doing it for the right reasons and we’re having a good time.”
The right reasons. That, in a nutshell, is why an NKOTB reunion is happening now, when one might least expect it, when seemingly few people — OK, actually quite a few people — were clamoring for it, and in the absence of any demonstrable boy-band wave like we saw in the late 1990s and early ’00s. Heaven knows, plenty of people — outside parties, including the MTV Video Music Awards and VH1 — tried to make it happen in the past. Pleas were made, checks were no doubt waved, but Wahlberg — ever the heart, soul, conscience and mouthpiece of the New Kids — says he wasn’t interested. “Every attempt in the past … they weren’t real. They were for other people’s agendas, you know? It was always to serve someone else.”
Not one to hold back, he continues, “You know it was ’Backstreet’s huge, ’NSYNC’s huge … why don’t you guys reunite on the MTV Awards?’ And that’s what our old record company [Columbia Records] wanted. Well, why don’t you just put us in the studio and finance an album and let’s see if that’ll work? As opposed to throwing us onstage and seeing if we get cheered or booed. You know what I mean? It was to serve their agenda. It didn’t matter. If Chris Rock ripped us up and it turned into a disaster that we reunited on the MTV Awards, what was our record company gonna do the next morning? What would they do? They’d be like ’Bye, guys! Enjoy your flight home.’ And I personally was not gonna put myself in that position, or us in that position.”
That kind of self-respect, Wahlberg says, was not always there, but was borne of having pulled himself up in the mid-’90s, post-New Kids, and having fashioned a career as a respected Hollywood actor (“The Sixth Sense,” “Band of Brothers,” “Ransom”). He didn’t “need” to do a reunion but says he never closed himself off to it, if it went down the “right way.” “And for me it was never gonna be ’Let’s go onstage and let’s go on tour and scoop up all the money that’s out there.’ It was gonna be about, ’Let’s make a record.’ ”
As for that record, tracks reportedly include “Click Click Click,” “Looking Like Danger,” “Big Boy/Big Girl” and, of course, “Summertime.” While the single is nostalgic, evoking memories of 1988, the guys seem intent on focusing on the here and now.
Jordan says they’re looking forward to busting out vintage hits on the fall tour, though some will be reworked: “We’ve performed those songs so many times that we want to give ’em a slight twist, not to get so far off where it’s unrecognizable, because we don’t want fans to not have that feeling they had when they were young. We want to re-create that for them.”
When it comes to their place in the pubescent pop pantheon, having paved the way for the boy bands that followed, Danny Wood says he’s proud that New Kids left their “little stamp” on the music business. But he adds that he does not envy the 24/7 microscope of TMZ Nation that the Mileys, Britneys and Jonases of today must contend with.
“The way the Internet is, there’s all the sites that are always trying to get dirt on everyone, so they got it a lot different than we did. That’s the part that’s a little unfair, because you’re walking on eggshells these days.”
Wahlberg concurs and knows that teen idol status ain’t all roses. “I can relate to somebody being put in a fishbowl and sort of being told by the world who they are, what they are, and wanting to not be that. You know, and fighting for that autonomy. I know what that’s like, you know, so I can relate to it on many levels.”
That does not, however, mean he would presume to give them advice. Donnie says that back in the day, he wasn’t really interested in advice from his predecessors like Donny Osmond and wouldn’t dole it out today. Or if he ever did, he would do it in private.
“I’m not gonna do it walking down the red carpet for ’Entertainment Tonight.’ Like, ’What do you got to say to Britney?’ You know, I’ll say it to Britney, I’m not gonna say it to you. You know what I mean? I’ll talk to her. It’s just false. Sure, I probably could give a lot of people advice. But it’s like all of this: It’s gonna be for the right reason and in the right way.”
Seasoned wisdom from a onetime — and future — New Kid.