The extinction of boybands as we know them

Boybands aren’t what they used to be: What’s going wrong?

If you approached people Billy-on-the-street-style and asked them to name a boyband on the spot, chances are they would name one still living off their former glory. Even Spotify acknowledges this, predominantly featuring bands that have either disbanded or are no longer at their peak in their”'chart-topping playlist.”

The content of this article will primarily be discussing boybands from countries in the Anglosphere – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It is worth acknowledging that there are several Asian boybands that have made waves in the music industry, particularly those who fall into the Korean-pop (K-pop) genre. 

The absence of the classic American or British boybands helped K-pop boybands such as BTS tap into the Western market, selling out major venues in the process. Unfortunately for their management group and fans, BTS are on hiatus partly due to compulsory military service in Korea. 

Although they had millions of fans across the globe, it was only in recent years that they became a household name in the United States, even recording songs entirely in English to cater to the Western market. Just as they reached global dominance, their nine-year partnership was over.

Labels had certainly tried to make the next big thing, with Simon Cowell supporting several projects to create a group to fill the void left by One Direction.

In 2016, Syco Music a since defunct label that signed One Direction, Little Mix and Fifth Harmony, held auditions to create the next big thing in the music industry. 

The product of this was PRETTYMUCH, a five piece that debuted in March 2017 with “Would You Mind”. This wasn’t the only boyband project Cowell had his name to in the 2010s, with the La Banda competition creating Latin American CNCO, judged by Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz and Laura Pausini. 

Just before the pandemic hit, Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger (the real creator of One Direction) judged in The X Factor: The Band to find Britain’s answer to the highly successful K-pop groups that were dominating the market.

The competition saw solo artists put together to form Real Like You, the six-piece female winners and Unwritten Rule, the six-piece male runners-up. Following the competition, Unwritten Rule almost immediately parted ways, whilst Real Like You kept their line-up until August 2020 when they became a five-piece. 

Despite winning the series and performing an original song for the final, Real Like You did not officially release music until mid-2023, leaving fans waiting several years for their official debut.

After the departure of another member, Real Like You rebranded, and gained another member, returning back to a five-piece. 

RLY is a prime example of how management teams have failed bands and their fans – not releasing any music.

After building hype for the group and televising their performance, Syco Music then proceeded to sit on the band, leaving fans waiting patiently for something, anything. This same mistake was made with PRETTYMUCH, who have only released a string of EPs in their time, waiting almost a full year before even dropping a single. 

Around the same time, another boyband project was in the works, this time signed by Atlantic Records. Why Don’t We, a five-piece who first made waves after appearing on Logan Paul’s channel during his glory years, began releasing singles and EPs before dropping their debut album in 2018. 

Over the next few years, boybands would pop up in the Americas and United Kingdom. Most of these bands were helmed by management groups who had worked with other successful groups or artists. Instrument-based boybands were signed to The Vamps’ label Steady Records (EMI/Universal), with Los Angeles-based band The Tide (2015-2017) and New Hope Club (2015-current) opening for The Vamps following their respective signings. 

One of the more interesting boyband projects was RoadTrip, a British group that amassed over 300,000,000 views on their channel since its inception in 2015. Formed around two core members, the band documented their early days on YouTube, trialling potential members to eventually form a five-piece. After a line-up of five members was finalised (the group was a four-piece for several months), RoadTrip released their original EP Miss Taken

It was their covers that really garnered recognition though, regularly gaining over a million views. All living under the same roof (at one stage in a one-bedroom council apartment), RoadTrip seemed like an early prototype of a content house, spending almost every waking moment with each other, filming covers and vlogs. In mid-2019, the group was temporarily a four-piece after before replacing original member Mikey Cobban with Sonny Robertson. Six months later, Jack Duff left the group, quickly replaced by Harper Dark. 

Despite reaching the pinnacle of their career after a performance at Shepherd’s Bush, the members of RoadTrip turned against each other, forcing a disbandment. Soon, members began revealing what went on behind the scenes, taking YouTube to explain their side of the situation, detailing the financial troubles of the band, with a large portion of revenue controlled by their management.

In another video, RoadTrip's struggles were further highlighted, with members discussing how controlling management was, limiting their movement, hobbies and relationships. This video included an audio recording taken of their manager in May 2017, where he addressed the other emerging boybands they were competing against:

“Right now, the Americans are making two boybands, one of them’s signed to Syco (PRETTYMUCH), there’s another boyband that are signed to a guy called Randy Phillips (Why Don’t We) that’s got millions of dollars behind them. You can’t do simple shit [...] Do you know how many people I’m talking to on your behalf right now?”

RoadTrip was not the only band that ended on bad terms with their management. At the time of writing, American five-piece Why Don’t We are no longer active as a band, following a legal battle against their former manager. In a statement, the group addressed the “mental, emotional and financial abuse” they had endured from their production company. Aged 15-18, the boys isolated by their families in a compound where they were monitored 24/7 by their manager, who restricted food intake and movement, alarming doors and windows to stop them from leaving. 

Just months before their sixth-year anniversary, the band announced that they had been served a cease and desist which meant they were no longer able to tour due to a lack over control of the intellectual property.

Although they had been actively trying to emancipate themselves from their production company, Why Don’t We seemed to have nowhere to go, forcing their indefinite hiatus. 

In the years leading up to their hiatus, the group had moved away from your stereotypical singing and dancing boyband to one that focused on playing instruments live, similar to the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer, The Vamps and more recently, New Hope Club.

Could a new band emerge to revolutionise the industry, or are boybands merely a relic of the past, with their significance driven by nostalgia and prior achievements? 

Possible next-generation star Western boybands to keep an eye on:

Full Circle - American four-piece co-managed by Jon Lucero (Why Don’t We’s former tour manager).

Here At Last - UK five-piece created by Ben Karter (of Sony and Universal Music).

New Rules - a similar blueprint to New Hope Club, a instrument playing London based trio (Elektra Records).

Elevator Boys - a collective of German TikTokers who have branched into the music scene.