Most people who have met me in my various stages of life know at least one thing about me: I am a sucker for boybands. My list is not very extensive and really, when I think about it, I can split my life into three periods, each one correlating with a specific boyband.
Assimilation, Deflecting and Finding myself
I was twelve when I moved to the United States from Nigeria with my mother and siblings. I didn’t know a lot of western artists, I mean, of course, I knew of Beyonce, Jay Z, Eminem, Usher, Akon, and Michael Jackson. They are global sensations. Yes, I had heard of the song "I Want it That Way" at some point in my life, everyone sang it while I was in boarding school. I butchered the lyrics a lot, but it was a fun pop-y song, and I had zero clue who sang it. Cue November 2005. The song "I Want it That Way" is randomly stuck in my head. I have one thing now that I didn’t have easy access to before my move.
So, who the hell sang this song?
The Backstreet Boys
I discovered BSB at a time when they had just come back from an almost two-year hiatus, and it seemed like most of the listening public didn’t know this nor care. It’s not memorable how exactly I fell into the rabbit hole, but the internet was new to me and so were my researching skills… I looked up everything: Old interviews, music videos, fan-made montages, articles, you name it. Before long I had dragged my five-year-old sister into the fray. We memorized songs, picked favorites, I loved AJ Mclean and she chose Nick Carter. YouTube gave me everything I needed, and it wasn’t long before I memorized every album cover to cover, knew the nicknames of all five members, I even read AJ’s mom’s book (it was that serious). This was all fun and exciting, but aside from my baby sister, I had nobody to share this experience with.
I call this period The Assimilation Years. BSB opened up the door to my discovering 70s, 80s, and 90s American pop/rock. My constant streaming and reading helped me mentally download America’s pop culture history of the previous twenty-five years. So, when references were made in school or on TV or the radio, I got it. I was in the know. I was brushing up on my “American” and not paying attention to other areas of my life. My father had died five months prior to this, two months later I moved to a different country and lived in a socio-economic neighborhood vastly different than what I had come from. In short, I was not coping well. I was withdrawn, stressed, and depressed and I didn’t even know that I was all these things. I was terrified of speaking in school, didn’t want to interact with people or join any extracurricular activities, but I had the internet and BSB made me happy for as long as I kept watching them. At home, I could dance, sing, and laugh along with them. They weren’t getting the attention they did in the '90s, my choice of music wasn't cool to my peers, but it was okay because I didn't need anyone. At the end of the day, however, I wasn’t getting any better. My happiness and joy were fleeting and over time, BSB just wasn’t enough...
One Direction came at a time when I needed another distraction. I had just left one university to start at a state school for financial reasons. I recently declared my major in English Literature, and I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I still didn’t have friends because I still hated talking to people, and I could barely handle any extracurricular activities. I was unhappy, still had not dealt with my depression nor considered why I was in this space. I was itching to get lost in something else and avoid being introspective.
Deflect. Deflect. Deflect. What could I do that would take my mind away from myself? Cue my now eleven-year-old sister:
"What Makes You Beautiful" was making the airwaves. 1D was growing popular in America and all her middle school classmates were listening to them.
“This group is better than Backstreet Boys,” She said one afternoon while I was working on an assignment. I was insulted. I wasn’t an active fan, but I still held BSB dear in my heart and I refused to hear anyone say anything negative about them.
She played me 1D’s first two singles. "What Makes you Beautiful" and "One Thing". I didn’t agree and that was that.
A couple of weeks later, my mom not being able to drive for a while needed my help, so I had to drive her to her full-time job, pick her up and then take her to her part-time gig where I’d wait with her. My sister loved to accompany me sometimes and it was during one of these drives that she made me watch interviews of One Direction from the X-Factor. I found them charming, silly, and I loved the accents. "Stole My Heart" got my attention. My sister joined me on more drives, and it was during these times we bonded over One Direction (No, I still don’t believe they are better than the Backstreet Boys). Soon, we had watched their season of the X-Factor and what was even more amazing, they were current and active and there was this incredible thing called social media! I could expect tweets from the boys, I could interact if I wanted to, I could see the millions of fans who loved them just like I did, and best of all I had their future albums to look forward to. This was the happy bubble I needed to get lost in once again, and just like the previous band, it turned out it was not enough.
When One Direction broke up, I was a little sad, but it was fine. I was an adult now, I had a job, plus Harry, Niall, Liam, Zayn, and Louis weren’t going anywhere as everyone was working on individual projects. I’d still hear from them. During this period, I decided my boyband days were way over. I soon found whose sound out of the 1D boys was more to my taste and as the years passed and I built my “adult” Spotify list, my favorite BSB and 1D songs showed up once in a while.
2020 comes and the world is hit with this terrible pandemic and I am in the worst place of my life. I am living in my NYC apartment with just my dog. I am isolated from the world and my family. Work is on Zoom; life is on Zoom, it’s too quiet, so the T.V. is on all day. I can’t stop eating, I’m not calling the few and precious friends that I have, and I can’t sleep.
I can’t get lost or deflect away from facing my issues again. I need to fix myself.
In June my sister, now twenty, comes to rescue me. She hates that I’m alone. I try to be less of a slob because of her. On a good day I’ll comb out my hair… maybe. She brought a lot of energy and joy though. Always baking and experimenting with foods and ingredients. Our mutual hobby this year was foreign shows. We started off with the Spanish shows and then fell into K-dramas and boy was I hooked.
“I bet you’ll become a K-pop fan soon.” She said.
I swore my boyband days were over. I was determined to prove her wrong. I was not going to get into another boyband.
It started with Carpool Karaoke.
A friend of hers recommended it. I was a fan of the show, so I watched it too. It was the BTS episode.
In all honesty, I had heard of them. I immediately recognized RM from random interviews I had seen in passing. I knew nothing about K-pop, but this was probably one of the funniest episodes I’d ever seen. I remember looking at the comments and feeling overwhelmed immediately by all of the information there. Everyone was so joyful and welcoming to newbies. There were names and purple hearts and inside jokes and none of this made sense to me and I was intrigued, but… I wasn’t doing the boyband thing anymore, so I moved on.
My sister was on a mission. As her friend fell deeper into the rabbit-hole, she recommended more content, each time my sister would make me watch. The first song I really listened to was ON. I didn’t understand what it meant, but the Tonight Show performance at Grand Central Station was like nothing I had ever seen before. Backstreet Boys danced, but not like that. One Direction did not dance and that was their charm. I had never seen a performance on that scale before and I was impressed, but again, I WAS NOT DOING THE BOYBAND THING ANYMORE.
"ON" refused to leave my brain. So, a couple of days later, for the first time I look BTS up on my own, and I listen to this song that refused to let me be. My sister is side-eyeing me at this point. I explain that I’m just curious. I look up more songs, each one different and unlike the last. I don’t know what they mean, I still don’t know who’s who, but I like what I’m hearing. So, still in my curiosity, I learn the names, RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, Jungkook. Then I learn their real names, Kim Namjoon, Kim Seok-jin, Min Yoon-gi, Jung Hoseok, Park Ji-min, Kim Taehyung, Jeon Jung-kook.
I’m a veteran boyband fan at this point and I know how it works. There’s the popular one, the bad boy, the baby, the quiet one, the funny one. But I didn’t really see that here. I was struck by how honest, open, and truthful these men were with their fans, their Army. There is no popular one or bad boy, each member is different, relevant, and insanely talented. I was struck by how close they were, they aren’t just bandmates, they are a legit family.
I respected them and I wanted to know what they were saying to me, so I listened to their music and read the translations.
What I needed was not a distraction, but inspiration. And BTS constantly told me to dream and that when I couldn’t, not to be hard on myself. I was told to love myself. That’s the epiphany and most important thing of all.
So, I listened. I left the city where I wasn’t happy anymore and I quit the job I had come to hate for years now. It happened slowly, and by the end of 2020, I find myself in a place where I am starting afresh. Everything is new, the world is still being wracked by COVID-19 and I have no clue what I’m really doing. But I wrote this, and I put it on here to share with you. It’s another step.
This time it feels different. I have a spot in my heart for Backstreet Boys and One Direction. I’ll always cherish them and I’m forever grateful for the years they helped soothe my pain. This is not a piece to say BTS is better than either band. It’s my experience and my growth. The energy and time I put into BSB and 1D and the joy I got from them kept me going for a time.
There is a quote by Suga that I found that always resonates with me. “You were born to be real, not to be perfect.”
Maybe it’s not necessarily BTS. Maybe I just found them at the right time. But I’m ready to look into myself now and be truthful with myself. Let myself be real, raw, and honest. There’s no physical medicine, but there is something about this understanding within myself that I think is helping me start to heal.
Anyways, are you a fan of boybands or girl groups? If so, what are your groups and how did they influence you?