One Direction, The Wanted And Boy-Band Explosion 3.0

Our columnist comes to terms with the latest wave of tween heartthrobs, in Bigger Than the Sound.

No matter what my detractors (or therapist) might claim, I am not a 13-year-old girl. This probably explains why, up until this weekend, I remained largely unaware of the entire One Direction phenomenon — which is sort of indefensible, considering they made chart history with their #1 debut just last month, have spent quality time with Justin Bieber and display the kind of comb-over acumen that a slightly balding man like myself should probably be taking note of.

Though now, thanks to their (genuinely not totally terrible) performance on “Saturday Night Live,” and a creeping sense of inevitability that only comes from living through the previous two boy-band eras (O-Town 4 Ever), I am willing to admit that it’s probably time I get to know the guys in 1D. Their names are Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis, they were formed from the ashes of the U.K.’s “X Factor,” and they are the logical successors to everything that has happened in the past five years of tween pop: a tight-trousered hybrid of the Disney factory’s saccharine hooks, Bieber’s hair, Miley’s Ziplocked vocals, Cody Simpson’s looks and the clean-cut camaraderie of the Jonas Brothers (or AllStar Weekend, who must really be jealous right now). In short, they were basically destined to happen. And happen big.

In fact, One Direction might end up being the biggest thing to happen in a long time. Either them or fellow band-of-heartthrobs the Wanted, who only seem to be different in that they are older, hornier — their biggest hit to date is called “Glad You Came” — and able to unbutton their shirts (though, it should be noted that 1D’er Harry could probably be an honorary member of the Wanted, since he once dated a 32-year-old).

Perhaps both of them can coexist peacefully. After all, one need only look back to the last great era of boy bands — the late ’90s and early ‘aughts, when ‘NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys battled for supremacy — to realize that the music industry truly is big enough for two titans of tween. If that’s the case (and it probably is), well, then 1D are unquestionably this generation’s ‘NSYNC, and the Wanted the new BSB, since the former display a youthful exuberance and the latter, well, they’re not afraid to show off their guns (which was A.J.’s only notable contribution to the Boys).

All joking aside, though, I can’t help wonder if we know what we’re getting ourselves into here. I am aware that most 1D or the Wanted fans are probably too young to remember the last wave of boy-band mania, but suffice it to say, it was pretty terrible. Dudes had frosted tips and wore baggy neon pants. Aaron Carter got a recording contract. Are we really prepared to live in a world where boy bands are king? Are we ready for the dozens of coattail riders that will surely follow? Can we live with LFO version 2.0? The new Dream Street? 99 Degrees? All of this will happen, mark my words. Be prepared.

And yet, I am beginning to realize that perhaps my opinion does not matter. After all, I am a 33-year-old music critic. I like the Cloud Nothings record and was not aware until today that Harry sleeps naked and Louis likes girls who eat carrots. And these are important things to know! By now, I’ve been around long enough to realize that pop music is eternally cyclical, that boy bands were bound to rise again, and that, as always, youth is king. Perhaps I’d be best served to just step out of the way, watch as the same mistakes are made and marvel at the sheer spectacle of history repeating itself. It is as inevitable as One Direction’s rise, really, if not more so. Enjoy it, kids, because I guarantee: Eventually you’ll look back on all this and laugh. And if that sounds like the ranting of a bitter old man, well, so be it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do my hair like Liam. He’s “the sensible one,” after all.

What do you think of the latest wave of boy bands? Do you think there will be more to come? Let us know in the comments!