This post is part of Fusion’s Teen Month series, a month-long dive into the lives, loves, and language of teenagers.
There's nothing more teen than a boy band. Not only do boy bands almost exclusively cater to and profit off of the deep affection of teens everywhere, most boy bands were started by teens. Teens teening to teens! It's a magical world we live in.
Which boy bands a listener loves the most is based off a very careful algebra equation made up of birth year, mindset as a teenager, feelings about harmonies, and parental affection for pop. The debate over which boy band is best is one that happens in every generation. Is it 5 Seconds of Summer or One Direction? Is it *NSYNC or Backstreet? Is it New Kids on the Block or Boys II Men?
We've decided for you! To arrive at this conclusion we used a careful analysis of album sales, number one hits, quality of singles released, impact on future boy bands, and heavy dose of personal preference. Here are the 15 best boy bands to ever live.
Released 41 studio albums; 35 members in the last 30 years
The song you know: "Claridad"
Menudo didn't have a huge presence in white, mainstream American popular culture, but it is still the ultimate boy band. (This is also the boy band that blessed us with Ricky Martin.) The "boys only" Latino group formed in the 1970s avoided the problem that has plagued boy stars since the beginning of time—puberty—by making the issue a matter of policy: The moment a boy was too tall, or his voice was too deep, or he turned 16, he was out, and his spot was promptly filled by a younger boy. Brilliant!
22 million albums sold worldwide; their most famous song is actually a cover
The song you know: “I Swear”
All-4-One, bless them, were a sad little one-hit wonder of a band that managed to enjoy monumental success. Their self-titled debut album launched them into the Billboard Top 10, and gave them "I Swear," a cover of John Michael Montgomery's country ballad that sat cozily in the number one spot for 11 weeks. It's a slow-jam that could have been performed by any band on this list (in fact, I thought for sure this song had been sung by *NSYNC). If you're wondering why the lead singer Jamie Jones sounds so familiar even though you never owned a single All-4-One album, it's probably because the band also sang the song "Someday" from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Fun fact! All-4-One put out a full album this year.
Four platinum albums; more than six million albums sold; the godfather of all your favorite boy bands
The song you know: “Cool It Now”
Formed in 1978, the R&B-inspired boy band New Edition didn't exactly rise to Billboard fame the way the boy bands of the '90s and early '00s would, but they certainly set the stage for every vocal performance group that came after them. The peak of New Edition's career came in the mid-80s, with their escape from their first label and the release of their second studio album featuring "Cool It Now." The song starts with a kind of calling card for the band, "Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, and Mike," and though Bobby (Brown) would leave the band in 1985, New Edition had already stamped their mark on the future of popular music.
It was tempting to leave New Edition off this list. ("WHAT ABOUT O-TOWN?!?" Some former teen is yelling into the darkness somewhere). But you can't look at the bands that came after New Edition (many of whom rank higher on this list) without hearing the same vocal harmonies New Edition built.
Three platinum albums; every album charted in the top 40; opened for Whitney Houston
The song you know: “Peaches and Cream”
The members of 112 met before they were actual teens. They started singing together in middle school and signed a record deal shortly after graduating from high school. Their song, "I'll Be Missing You," spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (only five weeks less than Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk") and earned them all Grammys in 1997. But the reason they made it on this list is for their very sexual song "Peaches and Cream," which even in its non-explicit version is really a piece of work. (This is a real lyric in a real boy band song: "In the front, in the back of you/ Ooh I love the smell of you /Girl you know what I'm talking about")One of the defining characteristic of an excellent boy band is their ability to attract young women, but most bands do it under a veil of appropriate behavior. Not 112. 112 is all about sex.
Sold more than 100 million albums worldwide; produced 36 top 40 singles.
The song you know: "Good Vibrations”
Before hopping on a high horse to yell down at me that the Beach Boys are not a boy band because they are a rock band, look at this picture. That is a boy band. Boy bands are made up of groups of rather young men (boys) who sing harmonized songs and sellout massive stadiums based off of a sex appeal mainly marketed at young girls. Sure, the Beach Boys wrote their own songs (so do 5 Seconds of Summer). Sure, they played instruments (so did one of the Jonas Brothers).
But they are still a boy band and they deserve to be on this list because they so obviously set the stage for even more clean-seeming young men to sing sweet songs. Plus, those harmonies have boy band written all over them.
Three number one albums; sold more than 17 million albums
The song you know: “Burnin' Up”
Just when it seemed like maybe boy bands wouldn't exist in the 2010s, the Jonas Brothers revived the genre. After opening for Miley Cyrus in 2007, they became a huge teen sensation. They were tucked under the Disney umbrella (and its incumbent sexual policing) with Demi Lovato, and given their own show. Regardless, the Jonas Brothers were everything a boy band-er could want: they had a guitarist who played live and two vocalists who were both pretty cute. The Jonas brothers fell apart when Kevin got married and Nick became a solo artist good enough to make anyone "Jealous." But they are also technically on a hiatus and could return at any moment.
Four number one albums; at their 1967 peak, the Monkees had sold more albums than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined.
The song you know: “I'm a Believer"
The Monkees are a controversial choice for this list because not only are they arguably a rock band, but on top of that, they were literally a knock off of the Beatles. The Monkees weren't formed like most boy bands. They weren't childhood friends who realized one day over a baseball game that they could harmonize really well. They were handpicked by a record label to be successful superstars, and it totally worked. They stole Beatles haircuts and dressed like them and magically managed to release a bunch of really catchy, popular songs, like "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Daydream Believer," and "I'm A Believer."
All albums went 2x platinum and hit number one; 3.4 million fans saw the Where We Are Tour, raking in $290 million
The song you know: “What Makes You Beautiful”
How did this modern band get ahead of America's band the Beach Boys? Well, sorry. Not only is One Direction the biggest boy band of the last 10 years, they are probably one of the biggest boy bands of all time. It's difficult to compare One Direction to their predecessors based on album sales because, well, One Direction is a band made of millennials, loved by millennials. And everyone knows millennials never, ever ever buy albums. But even though no one buys albums, One Direction has sold more than 17 million albums worldwide.
Where One Direction has such a leg up is touring. They have been touring, at this point, for almost five straight years (no wonder Zayn Malik left). And each of those tours has raked in at least $200 million, a ridiculous sum.
Sold more than 16 million albums; eight of their albums have hit the Top 40.
The song you know: “Mmmbop”
Three boys with middle parts from Tulsa, Okla. took the world by storm in 1997 with their number one single "Mmmbop." The song earned them three Grammy nominations and sat at the top of the Billboard charts for three weeks. Hanson is somehow still touring, which seems like a miracle, and they put out an album in 2010 that made it into the Top 40. Like most boy bands, Hanson is known for their biggest hit and maybe a couple other lesser hits, but unlike other bands, "Mmmbop" is an undeniably great song and so captivatingly catchy that it's impossible to rank Hanson any lower.
55 million albums sold; sold one million copies of No Strings Attached in one day
The song you know: “Bye Bye Bye”
*NSYNC was a kind of Backstreet Boys reject. Chris Kirkpatrick tried out to be in Backstreet, failed, and then helped create this secondary mastermind of pop music. But that doesn't matter. *NSYNC, fronted by Justin Timberlake, was one of the biggest bands of the early 2000s. After a terrible legal battle with the manager that created them, *NSYNC produced one of the biggest albums of the 21st century (so far) with No Strings Attached. The album sold more than a million copies in the first 24 hours and gave the band their only number one song, "It's Gonna Be Me."
Sold more than 80 million albums; Donnie Wahlberg
The song you know: “You Got It (The Right Stuff)"
New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) has led two separate but equally successful lives. In their first life, they were a wildly popular '80s boy band that sold a buncha albums. Their 1990 tour (when adjusted for inflation) brought in more than $130 million. But in 1994, the group fell apart. Then, magnificently, like a phoenix, New Kids on the Block returned in 2007 with a secretly recorded album and a whole new tour. NKOTB had, on top of the harmonies everyone else had in the 80 and R&B vibes, choreography. Without New Kids on the Block, there's no way we'd have *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys.
Sold 25 million albums; "One Sweet Day" spent 16 weeks at number one
The song you know: “One Sweet Day” (with Mariah Carey)
Boy bands love to break records: most albums sold, biggest tours, hottest hits. They especially love to break records if they are breaking records that they themselves set, and no one did that better than Boys II Men. In 1992, Boys II Men's number one single, "End of the Road," took the prize for longest standing number one hit from Elvis Presley with a 13-week stretch. In 1994, they'd break that record again when "I'll Make Love to You" spent 14 weeks at number one, only to be passed again by their collaboration with Mariah Carey, "One Sweet Day," which spent 16 weeks at number one.
Sold more than 130 million albums, making them the second best selling boy band in history
The song you know: “I Want It That Way”
My heart literally snapped in two when I had to, for journalistic integrity, place the Backstreet Boys ahead of my one true love *NSYNC. But Backstreet is one of the most profitable and successful boy bands ever. Their 1999 release Millennium sold 30 million albums worldwide, a number that even Taylor Swift can't fathom. On top of that, Backstreet was one of the first bands to work with the Swedish producer Max Martin, who is now responsible for forging today's (very) successful pop music landscape.
Sold more than 178 million albums; holds record for number one hits.
The song you know: “Help," "Hey Jude," all of them?
Ha! The Beatles! What are you doing here?! Oh well, the Beatles are a boy band and a pretty great one at that! People think they are rock but that's just because they play instruments and write their music, which plenty of boy bands do. Not a single boy band has done as good of a job at entrancing young American women the way the Beatles did. They were the first of many British pop invasions America would see, and they set the bar pretty damn high. The four fluffy haired boys all sang sweetly, harmonized well, and their talents paid them back in 20 number one hits.
Had 23 singles reach the Top 40; gave us Michael Jackson
The song you know: “ABC," "I Want You Back"
A boy band is only as strong as its strongest number one singles. And no one on this list—not the Beatles, not *NSYNC, and certainly not One Direction—even comes close to the caliber of singles that Jackson 5 put out during their 25 year reign. "I Want You Back" is maybe the best boy band song of all time, but so is "I'll Be There" and "ABC." With only 17 top 40 singles, they had significantly fewer hits than other bands on this list, but unlike many of those hits, the Jackson 5 discography still stands up. They don't sound dated, they sound fun, young, and sometimes flirty. Just what every great boy band should be.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.