New Kids Are Still Hangin’ Tough

state_nkotb_sm.jpgLife was good, and being part of the massive New Kid phenomenon that swept the world was merely icing on the cake. And you know what? I really, really liked that icing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been said that each generation has a musical moment that defines them. It’s also been said that each generation of teenage girls worships one particular singer or group that it deems to be the cutest, coolest, most awesome, most talented, most electrifying guy(s) on the face of the planet.

In the 1950s, it was Elvis. The ’60s saw the Beatles take the world by storm. In the ’70s, David Cassidy set girls’ hearts aflutter and made them weak. The early ’80s ushered in the British super band Duran Duran. But it was an awesome group of boys from Boston who emerged in the late 1980s/early 1990s that had the biggest affect on me. You see, that was the highlight of pop music idol worship for my generation, my age of teen bliss. That is when I, along with millions of other enraptured teenaged girls around the world, was first introduced to the five most famous kids from Beantown: New Kids on the Block. For the record, my name is Retannical, and, yes, I’m proud to say that I was (and will always be) a "Blockhead."

Now, I’ll admit there wasn’t anything exactly original about the Kids, but still, they easily met the basic requirements for pop music stardom. First, they were incredibly cute. Second, they could carry a decent tune. Third, they made every girl between the ages of 8 and 18 squeal with delight at the very sight of them, whether in person or on TV. And finally, for a bonus, the guys could dance up a storm like nobody’s business, movin’ and groovin’ their way across the stage and into our tender hearts.

At first glance, the New Kids might have appeared to be a carbon copy of all the other boy bands and teenybopper heartthrobs that had gone before them. But what the Kids managed to accomplish that no one before them had ever done was to turn their bubblegum brand of pop music into a billion-dollar industry. By the time they disbanded in 1994, the group had sold over 70 million albums, racked up 10 top ten singles, and scored five number-one singles. Their astounding success would ultimately serve as the blueprint for the next generation of boy band stars, most notably N’Sync and Backstreet Boys.

The spring of 1989—I remember it like it was yesterday. At the time I was 13 years old and, just like other kids of that era, I was totally addicted to MTV. (Of course, those are still the days when Music Television actually played music videos instead of crappy reality TV shows, but I digress.) After coming home from a long day at school, I’d promptly plop down on the sofa and turn on the TV to catch up on my videos. My favorite song at the time was "(You Got It) The Right Stuff," which was also in heavy rotation on my favorite radio station, Hot 97 FM. But as crazy as I was about the tune, for the longest time I had no idea who sang it, because the radio DJ never announced the artist’s name. And to make matters worse, I could never catch the video on MTV. (Again, remember, this was back in the day before home computers were invented or YouTube was ever even thought of!)

Then one day as I snacked on Crunch n’ Munch while enjoying MTV, suddenly I heard the first few chords of my beloved mystery song. Instantly, I knew the time had finally come, and I was going to get to see the entire music video that I had eluded me for so long! The minute I saw Jonathan Knight, Jordan Knight, Joe McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood bust a move, I knew I was in love. Hooked! A goner! A diehard fan for life! The New Kids on the Block, my generation’s version of the Beatles, had definitely arrived!

From about 1989 to 1992, the New Kids were absolutely everywhere. They ruled radio and MTV with hit singles like "Hangin’ Tough," "I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)," "Please Don’t Go Girl," and "Step by Step." Sensational! Phenomenal! Unstoppable! And nothing could stop my devotion to them, either, much to my parents’ chagrin. My bedroom, my locker, and my life were dedicated to the Kids. Their posters adorned my walls. My body was frequently clad in New Kids T-shirts, especially one that featured Jordan, my absolute favorite member of the group. And when the Kids urged their fans to stay positive, stay in school, and say no to drugs, I totally did so, simply because they asked me to.

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Sure, each and every girl in my junior high school shared my love for the Kids, but in my heart of hearts, I truly believed that I alone was their number one fan. I was certain that no one in St. Louis—or the world, for that matter—could possibly love them more than I did. Even today my family still teases me about how my insane devotion to the group reached demented heights one particularly hot summer day in August 1989. Somehow I had miraculously managed to talk my mother into taking (although, they insist it was more like "dragging") my brother and sisters and me to Six Flags for the sole purpose of seeing the New Kids in concert. As we sat in the scorching heat waiting for the concert to begin, suddenly, the skies opened up and a thunderstorm poured down and drenched us all. Everyone in the audience, including my family, immediately got up and ran for cover, but not me. No, I stayed right there, firmly planted on the bench. How could I leave? If I moved I’d risk losing my plum seat!

Fast-forward to January 28, 2008, almost 20 years after I first fell in love with the New Kids: news broke that the Kids might actually be reuniting again. When I first read the report online, I literally squealed with sheer joy! Then after yanking myself down from Cloud Nine, I settled back down and read the story again. Surely, I thought, my eyes were deceiving me; surely someone was playing a joke, right? Wrong! According to People magazine, the group once touted as "the five hardest working kids in show business" is definitely talking of getting back together again! An official announcement is expected to be released sometime this month.

Now, despite what you might think, I’m not the only thirtysomething harboring a starstruck 13-year-old inside her body. Even celebrities like Kelly Ripa (Live With Regis and Kelly) and Elisabeth Hasselback (The View) were absolutely giddy with excitement when news broke about the New Kids’ possible reunion; they talked nonstop about it on their morning talk shows. My girlfriends from junior high also rejoiced over the surprising news. None of us can wait for the Kids to cut a new album or to simply go on tour again. Hopefully, they’ll be sure to stop here in St. Louis, the site of their final concert in 1994.

Sometimes you think things from the past will always remain in the past, forever frozen in a particular moment in time. But with the anticipated return of the New Kids on the Block, some of my favorite memories from the past are suddenly taking their place front and center in my life today. Many of my cherished memories from my youth are centered on my early teenage years. Not too much was expected or required of a kid back then. I went to school. I hung out with my friends and, basically, I enjoyed the freedom from responsibility that childhood allows. Yes, life was good, and being part of the massive New Kid phenomenon that swept the world was merely icing on the cake. And you know what? I really, really liked that icing. And with a little luck, I’ll have some of it again very soon. | Retannical D. Russell

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