The 1990s was the era of the boy band. Previously most teen idols went solo. For every duo (Andy and David Williams) or group (The Monkees), there were a dozen soft, androgynous boys who took to the stage alone, so you could think that they were looking at you alone.
But in 1984 Maurice Starr took the multiple harmonies of R&B groups, applied them to the world of pop, and the first modern boy band, The New Kids on the Block, was born.
They were followed by Boyz II Men (1988), The Backstreet Boys (1993), 'n Sync (1995, left), 98 Degrees (1996) and a dozen others, until the old-style soloist seemed an endangered species.
Generally boy band members were teens or slightly older, with identifiable personalities: the leader, the practical joker, the intellectual, the prettyboy, the muscleman (Jeff Timmons of 98 Degrees). Their stage personas were aggressively girl-crazy, with few buddy-bonding moments, not much subtext.
Songs tended toward the heterosexist:
Let it go
If you want me girl, let me knowI am down, on my kneesI can't take it anymore
And they sang exclusively to girls. Most boy bands seemed unaware that they had gay fans, and gay members, such as Lance Bass (N Sync),
Howie Dorough (Backstreet Boys), and Jonathan Knight (New Kids on the Block, left) tended to come out after the band split up. Lance Bass told Ricki Lake that while he was in the band, he told no one, not even his parents, and never dated anyone.
Are current boy bands more gay-friendly?
The current Big Thing is the English-Irish One Direction, consisting of Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson. They are more openly affectionate with each other than boy bands of earlier generations, and even discuss having "crushes" on each other.
Their lyrics aren't generally heterosexist. There's some "girls" here and there, and What makes you beautiful" mentions makeup and "flipping your hair," but then there's:
So get out, get out, get out of my head
And fall into my arms insteadI don't, I don't, don't know what it isBut I need that one thing
But you still aren't allowed to Say the Word. Louis Tomlinson (left) angrily states that those who spread "hateful" gay rumors about him and Harry Styles "are not our real fans."