The Backstreet Boys released a new album last June, but if you really want to see a boy band, go see BoyGroove. They’re not a real band. They’re not even a real boy band, whatever that means. They’re a bunch of actors playing a boy band, in the funniest satire about the ubiquitous late-nineties trend that I’ve
ever seen. The play, written by Chris Craddock and Aaron Macri, and directed by Kenneth Brown, describes the rise and fall of a fictional boy band called, surprise surprise, BoyGroove. Teen pop in general, and boy bands in particular, have always been ripe for mockery, and the idea’s been done more than a few times. But pop satires like MTV’s 2gether and Josie and the Pussycats tended to be a little dumbed-down, not quite as funny as they should have been. BoyGroove on the other hand, is dead-on, rigorously mimicking the sights, sounds and synchronized dancing. Apparently I wasn’t the only charmed by this light and lovely production — the play made this year’s Pick of the Fringe and is running nightly at the Waterfront Theatre from November 8-18th. Thank god, I say, since I want everyone who had to suffer through “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” to see it.
Though BoyGroove skewers this ridiculous moment in pop culture with hilarious precision, it would be a mistake to assume that everything the play mocks has disappeared with N’SYNC. Boy bands may have gone the way of the dinosaur, but the mechanisms of fame haven’t changed much. Cookie-cutter tracks by people who can’t really be defined as “musicians” or “artists” still top the charts, and fame appears to be handed out arbitrarily, with little regard for talent or merit. Additionally, boy bands have left a deeper impression on pop culture than anyone admits—the legacy (or blight) of reality music television.
Sure, you can blame Survivor, or The Learning Channel or European TV trends for the takeoff of reality TV as a whole. But in Canada, at least, the first music reality show concerned itself with the creation of a boy band. When ABC’s Making the Band debuted, everyone knew that top-selling pop acts were manufactured, and no one seemed to care any more. The show came near the end of boy bands’ popularity, but its creation, OTown, was as real as any other boy band. The only difference was that the process of manufacturing had been televised. The very similar Warner Bros. series Popstars followed, along with the croonerheavy American Idol and genre specialties like Missy Eliot’s hip hop vehicle The Road to Fame. Styles of music changed, but the process remained
very much the same.
The themes explored in BoyGroove—ambition, image, heterosexual conformity—are reiterated on every episode of these TV shows. The process of
manufacturing a commercial pop act has been not only exposed but institutionalized, married to wistful dreams of being “discovered”. Television (the boy
band’s true media form) is now populated not only by pop stars who have “made it” with record deals and top-40 videos, but by hopefuls and wannabes.
BoyGroove simply picks up on these stories where Idol leaves off.
If you can’t make it to BoyGroove, you’re missing out. The only solution would be to rent This Is Spinal Tap or download a bunch of t.A.T.u. videos,
because the only thing as funny as fake pop stars are fake metal heads and Russian schoolgirl lesbians with husbands and kids.
BoyGroove runs nightly at the Waterfront Theatre from November 8-18th with matinees at 2pm on Saturdays and no shows on Sundays or Mondays, since even pseudo boy bands need their rest.