Revealed: the formula for a successful boy band

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The Independent Culture

The departure this week of Bryan McFadden from Westlife signalled, for many fans, an all too familiar noise: the sound of breaking dreams.

But boy bands are like buses - there's usually another one along in a minute or two. So you may be surprised to learn that the average lifespan of a boy band is quite respectable.

From our sample we deduce that you can expect a good six years of entertainment. That's a truckload of singles and merchandise, not to mention the constant touring, filming and modelling commitments.

We also learn that you can expect a band to contain, on average, 4.14 members (of whom approximately one will be married, one rumoured to be gay, one pin-up material and 1.14 boy-next-door). Of those members, the mean age is 19 at the outset and only one (and a bit) member can expect to become famous in his own right. As Bryan and his bandmates should note, life after boy band is an altogether more hit-and-miss affair.

But during the heady years of chart success, members - and their Svengali-like managers - can expect to wake up daily to the sound of tills ringing. Hit singles are the raison d'etre for these groups, and in their lifetime they should chalk up at least four No 1 singles (although Bros only managed one, and Take That totalled seven), not to mention a decent number of album sales. This is a trend set by the Monkees who, astonishingly, had five gold albums and worldwide record sales of 65 million.

It may be hard work, but there's rarely a dull moment in the land of the boy band. Controversy always catches up with the squeaky clean members in the end.

At one end of the acrimony spectrum there's the carefully leaked suggestions of homosexuality. Then there's the infighting that is more characteristic of girl bands, the legalistic struggles with management, and at the hard end, drug charges such as those which led to East 17 sacking their singer.

A final note of equality - it happens to girl bands too. Last week the Atomic Kittens mewed their last, much to the chagrin of schoolgirls and grown men alike.

The Monkees

The prototype boy band: an oddball assortment of cute(ish) guys harmonising angelically over sunshine melodies and flaunting kooky personalities. The band was formed in 1965, after nationwide auditions. They split in 1970, reformed without Mike Nesmith in the 1980s, split in 1989 and reformed in 1996.

The Manager: The director Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, a producer, decided to create an American television show about a pop group after watching the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night

Sales: One of the few manufactured groups which has scored number one singles and albums on both sides of the Atlantic. Generally speaking, UK/Irish and US boy bands focus on their side of the ocean. Call it risk management.

Sex appeal: As with the Beatles, fans each had their favourite, but in the show, Davy Jones was the one who got the girl. Goofy Peter Tork was a boy band one-off: the nerdy one. Mike Nesmith was married with a son when he joined.

Musical differences: There was constant creative tension between the band and the manager. Eventually the group won the right to actually play on their albums and immediately headed off to the left field and down a commercial cul-de-sac. Good records, though.

Solo spin-offs: Mickey Dolenz produced Metal Mickey and other television "gems", Jones returned to acting and Tork dropped out. Nesmith was the only Monkee to forge a musical career as a cult singer/songwriter. This provided limited commercial returns but that hardly mattered as he was heir to the Tippex fortune, and went on to create a little channel called MTV. He has even written a novel, which was published in 1998.

Postscript: It could have been so different. Charles Manson, Stephen Stills and Bryan McLean, later of Love, failed to make the cut at the original audition. The Monkees feature film Head remains a cult classic - if you are a stoned student.

Bay City Rollers

The Tartan-clad gang, formed in 1967 in Edinburgh, produced pop anthems which still sound good after a few shandies at New Year. After joining forces with the entrepreneur Tam Paton, they worked the Scottish circuit and hit the big time in 1971.They split in 1978 but rival incarnations reformed in the 1990s.

The Manager: Tam Paton was arrested last year in connection with claims of sexually abusing young boys, but was released without charge.

Sales: Like the Monkees, the Rollers conquered the UK and the US. When punk rained on their parade, they received a hysterical welcome in Japan.

Sex appeal: Take five spotty Scots lads with bogbrush hair and trousers at half mast, place in front ofteenage hormones and you have the recipe for Rollermania. Courtney Love has proclaimed her childhood ardour for the band, Sinead O'Connor has their autographs.

Musical differences: You could say. The band fell out with Paton, Arista Records and each other over everything from artistic direction, touring commitments, royalty payments and how to achieve the perfect turn-up on their trousers. Post-Rollers, since arguing was a way of life anyway, they locked horns over who had the best Rollers reunion band. Most recently, there has been a bout of mud-slinging over Paton's alleged treatment of them.

Solo spin-offs: Splinter Roller groups led by Les McKeown and Eric Faulkner surfaced in the 1990s and became available for weddings, parties and bar mitzvahs. On a bleaker note, Derek Longmuir was sentenced to community service after pleading guilty to possession of child porn.

Postscript: The band hosted their own television series Shang-A-Lang and were granted the honour of a Newsround Special dedicated to the phenomenon of Rollermania.

Bros

Squeaky clean 1980s pop dressed up in leather jackets, ripped jeans and doc martens with Grolsch bottle fastenings. With twin gimmick. The band formed in 1988 and split in 1991, although the drummer Craig Logan left after the debut album.

The Manager: Tom Watkins, their manager, was the Svengali who was given his marching orders by the Pet Shop Boys in 1989. But he went on to mastermind the career of East 17 and a handful of third-division pop acts.

Sales: Despite sales of around 16 million, with hits such as the prescient "When Will I Be Famous?" it's all too easy to forget how huge Bros were. In fact, it's advisable.

Sex appeal: The Goss brothers had model looks - wax models, that is. But the girls seemed to go for their unthreatening image. Must be the twin thing.

Musical differences: Craig Logan sued the Goss twins for £1m in unpaid royalties. He was only the non-twin drummer with the brown hair but, godammit, he was still a part of the whole crazy scene.

Solo spin-offs: Luke Goss ended up happily hoofing it in stage musicals and has landed a number of television and film roles. After a period of "self-reflection, introspection and evolution", Matt tried out a solo career to little avail. Logan had the last laugh. He earns a crust as a producer and went out with Kim (of Mel & Kim) and Dannii Minogue (of the Minogue dynasty), so there.

Postscript: They may have been totally duff, but Bros paved the way for the boy band as we know and tolerate it today. The post-modern lyrics to "When Will I Be Famous" revealed hidden depths of self-awareness. Apparently.

Take That

The quintessential modern boy band turned out a varied catalogue of memorable tunes, energetic live shows and a member to suit every palate. The band was formed in 1990 and Robbie Williams left halfway through 1995; the rest of the band called it a day in February 1996.

The Manager: Take That were spotted by Nigel Martin Smith. The Mancunian manager's business acumen later became a sore point for Williams when Martin Smith successfully sued his former singer for compensation after he quit the band.

Sales: Back in the days when nurturing and development was a luxury record companies could still afford, Take That took four attempts to have a hit single. But they made up for it, amassing singles sales of 20 million.

Sex appeal: Take That launched in gay clubs and didn't hide the homoerotic appeal of Jason Orange and Howard Donald. If baby-oiled beefcake wasn't your thing, there was cheeky chappie Robbie, cutie Mark Owen or Gary Barlow, the boring one.

Musical differences: Robbie Williams' upstart behaviour caused a rift, especially when the rest of the band discovered that he would rather hang out with those boorish Gallagher brothers from Oasis. He remained on good terms with Owen throughout, verifying the latter's status as the nicest man in pop.

Solo spin-offs: Barlow and Owen had underwhelming solo careers although that hasn't stopped Owen attempting a lukewarm comeback after winning Celebrity Big Brother. Sensibly, Barlow is sticking to songwriting these days. Robbie did fairly well though, didn't he?

Postscript: They pioneered the boy band arena show, and had the groaning merchandise stalls to service their captive audience's every desire for branded mugs, keyrings, thongs, etc ...

Boyzone

Nice Irish boys specialising in bland ballads. If it's a cover, so much the better. Why bother with a funky, youthful image, when you can sell cartloads of CDs to your fans' mums and grans? They formed in November 1993, but split in 1999, by which point the lead singer Ronan Keating had a successful solo career.

The Manager: Uber-manager Louis Walsh, who straddles the Irish pop business like a rosy-cheeked leprechaun (see Westlife, below).

Sales: The band were phenomenally successful with hits such as "Words", "No Matter What" and "When the Going Gets Tough" - just three of their six number one singles. All four of their albums hit the top of the chart.

Sex appeal: Boyzone tried to follow the Take That model of projecting individual personalities. It didn't work because they had no personality. An attempt to inject a bit of edge, courtesy of greasy Keith and bit-of-rough Shane, was equally unsuccessful. No one fancied Mikey.

Musical differences: Officially, there was little controversy. But it is easy to imagine the delight with which the rest of the band watched Ronan Keating prioritise his solo career at the expense of the band.

Solo spin-offs: Keith Duffy went on Celebrity Big Brother before landing a role in Coronation Street. Stephen Gately made a stab at a solo career. The revelation that he was gay was carefully stage-managed but, in the end, people only cared about the music. And that was rubbish. Little has been heard of Mikey.

Postscript: Inevitably, inexorably, Keating has moved into television, presenting the talent show Get Your Act Together among other ventures. Eventually, he plans to smother the world with his crushing banality.

Westlife

See Boyzone. Westlife formed in 1999 and Bryan McFadden announced this week that he was leaving. Hopefully, the four remaining charisma vacuums will take the hint and follow suit. Two words, boys: Take That.

The Manager: Simon Cowell does A&R. Initially managed by Louis Walsh and Ronan Keating - Walsh liked Boyzone so much, he cloned them and offered the prototype a cut.

Sales: As an illustration of how culturally meaningless singles sales are these days, Westlife easily equalled The Beatles' record of seven consecutive Number One singles.

Sex appeal: See Boyzone. But without the variety.

Musical differences: None within the band, although a refreshed McFadden did offer members of the hardass UK garage posse So Solid Crew to take it outside at the 2002 Brit Awards. Unfortunately, the potentially most interesting episode of Westlife's career was swiftly averted. McFadden is married to Kerry McFadden, who emerged queen of the jungle in I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, so he knows all about attitude.

Solo spin-offs: They won't go quietly, that's for sure. The lead singer Shane Filan can reasonably expect a solo career as Irish grannies' favourite Daniel O'Donnell's natural heir.

Postscript: Cowell sent them packing after he first met them, demanding a line-up change. Walsh switched a couple of members but got McFadden to dye his hair blonde. Cowell failed to spot the subterfuge and they clinched the deal.

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