Take that! How a boy band is born

The Wanted shot straight from obscurity to mall mobbings and No 1. How did they do it? School concerts and Twitter. Gillian Orr investigates the art of generating teen hysteria
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The Independent Culture

Unless you are still at school, the chances are that the names Max, Siva, Tom, Nathan and Jay mean absolutely nothing to you. But for thousands of young girls – not to mention a rapidly growing collective of older women – these five names inspire scenes of obsession and hysteria every day, for they belong to Britain's latest, hottest boy band, The Wanted. Accompanied by screaming fans wherever they go, last month they scored a No 1 single with their first release, "All Time Low". This is a bunch of guys who only played their first gig in April, at that renowned music venue, er, Addington High School, to an audience of less than a hundred people. So how do you explain their meteoric rise?

A quick survey of my twenty-something friends revealed that only a couple of them had actually heard of the band, and only one could name their song. So where have The Wanted come from? How do you go from complete unknowns to chart-toppers in the space of five months?

Boy bands have been around since the birth of popular music. The 1990s, though, was the golden era of the boy band and laid down the blueprint for how we know them today, with Take That, Westlife, 5ive and Boyzone, among others. For the last few years, although some of the aforementioned bands have enjoyed continued success, there have been scant new arrivals on the scene who have connected with the public – at least, that is, until JLS came along. Their appearance on The X Factor in 2008, where they finished as runners-up to Alexandra Burke, captured the imagination of a generation of boy-band-starved young girls. They have gone on to win two Brit Awards and sell more than a million albums. Record-label execs were bound to unleash another boy band sooner or later.

It took nine months of auditions to find five suitably pouty, handsome-but-not-threatening faces with pretty voices to make up The Wanted. They were promptly signed to Geffen Records and moved into a house together in South London to bond.

The Wanted follow much the same formula as JLS, who in turn are pretty similar to every boy band that ever existed: non-offensive love songs, some choreographed moves and different personalities assigned to each member. (The one who loves his mother! The bad boy! The joker!)

In the past, once you had your boy band it was a case of parading them around kids' television. Now, though, shows like SM:TV, CD:UK and Top of the Pops no longer exist. Instead there's one huge competition new bands have to overcome: The X Factor.

So how did The Wanted do it? Like so many other areas of the music industry, it's all about online. Jayne Collins, the band's straight-talking manager from Maximum Artists Management, who was also responsible for putting together girl group The Saturdays, says: "We're up against reality television shows like The X Factor, where people have weeks of getting to know the contestants. Basically we've made our own show online and gathered fans out of nowhere. It's been very effective."

Familiarity, it seems, is key. There are now dozens of clips of the boys on their YouTube channel. They show the fans their new single, do a cover of Cheryl Cole's "Fight For This Love", and joke about who is the untidiest member of the band (oh, Tom!).

Collins continues, "The internet footage on YouTube is the most important thing we've done. It made fans believe that they know the band inside out, that they are part of the process."

Twitter has been another crucial tool. As well as the general band Twitter feed, each of the boys has their own account and they incessantly return their fans' messages of adulation ("Aww, that's so nice of ya x"). Collins explains: "The boys didn't know about Twitter before they joined the band, now they Tweet all the time. The key is that the boys are approachable and real. The fans think, 'wow, this person I've been talking to and communicating with for the last 16 weeks is releasing a single and is working in the studio with Taio Cruz', and that excites them. The fans feel like they've been taken on a journey with them."

In taking their fans seriously, the band have inspired an immense loyalty among them. "That's why they sold so many physical singles," Collins points out, "To sell 10,000 physical singles, on top of digital, is unheard of these days. The fans want to feel like they own a bit of the band, that they are a part of it."

Of course, the boys are all over Facebook and MySpace, too. They have already pulled in 150,000 fans on Facebook by asking for their opinions on various matters, such as suggestions for songs to cover. (To put it in perspective, Girls Aloud have 160,000). The other main offensive comes in the form of endless, endless personal appearances. Those working with The Wanted cannot stress enough how much work they put in and, it's true, nine appearances a day at schools does sound like hard graft. They've also played nightclubs, balls, done the mandatory performance at G-A-Y and even made six appearances a day at the Clothes Show Live. It's a relentless schedule.

So why have The Wanted succeeded where other recent attempts at creating a new boy band have failed? Despite the backing that comes with a major label Avenue (of which The Wanted's Max was previously a member) were dropped by Island Records last year, having failed to secure a hit. Those behind the scenes are frank: the music wasn't good enough.

Collins says: "The internet and all that other stuff is great, but if you don't have the music to back it up then you've got nothing. People aren't stupid." Ah yes, the music. It's easy to get preoccupied with the Brian Friedman-created dance routines and carefully co-ordinated outfits and forget about the songs. The Wanted have some of the most successful pop writers and producers around working with them, including Steve Mac and Guy Chambers, as well as contributing their own writing. "All Time Low" is a catchy, urban pop track that combines a familiar broken-hearted narrative with appropriate beats to dance along to.

When the single reached No 1, thousands of fans turned up at the Westfield shopping centre in London after it was advertised that the band would be performing there to celebrate their chart success. The band were duly mobbed and signed autographs for six hours, hanging around well after the shops had shut to meet their fans.

So, really, it's simple. Get a bunch of indefatigable lads, a song that doesn't totally suck, target teens with endless PAs and communicate with them directly over the internet and you can secure a No 1. Once the kids have made No 1, the more mainstream media come calling: their love life is splashed across the pages of The Sun; they make small talk on GMTV's sofa. All of a sudden they've made the crossover and they're the hottest thing in the industry.

Whatever your thoughts on the music produced by boy bands and the labels that financially benefit from it, it's a miserly soul who would deny young girls a clean-cut crush to worship. Boy bands are back – lock up your daughters.

The Wanted's new single, "Heart Vacancy", is out next month

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