So I was driving home from work last night thinking, "Where have all the Huey Lewises gone?"
By which I meant, where are the silly pop bands that everyone listens to and secretly enjoys? Where are the grown men willing to wear bright clothing and mug in front of a band doing choreographed dance moves? Why does every single group on the radio (or satellite, whatever), especially those that are male-dominated, take themselves so damn seriously? The closest we seem to get are angsty young men singing about obnoxiously quirky girls with twee, antiquated names, and I've had about enough of all that.
And then I turned on The Today Show this morning and there they were, five adult men in fedoras, open vests and loose ties, footwork flawlessly synched up despite the New York springtime rain pouring down around them. And just as I was heralding this decade's ability to produce the new News, I realized that this blast of bubblegum was actually blowing in from the 90s. Upon closer inspection, I discerned that those five thirty-something guys were very familiar. As familiar, in fact, as my adolescent bedroom wall.
Yes, it was New Kids On The Block. And yes, my (probably former) friends, even though there was no one around to witness it, I'm going to confess that I actually felt a little flush when I recognized each slightly more filled-in face. Because I was, once upon a time, one of Those Girls. Well, maybe not one of Those Girls - I didn't own a pin-covered porkpie or cover my Keds with I <3 NKOTB or anything - but I did enthusiastically attend more than two concerts and I'm pretty sure I remember using my Donnie Wahlberg t-shirt as a pillowcase. I forced my parents to sit through repeated playings of every cassette whenever we were in the car (including the Christmas album I won by calling into KDWB and listing the Top Nine at Nine in under nine seconds), and I even vaguely recall making arguments as to their artistic merit (although that may have been the songwriting genius of Jack Wagner's third album I was defending, come to think of it).
I can recognize it now, the obvious marketing ploy laser-sighted at my demographic. I can plainly see how their sexy-but-safe personas were directed straight at the girls of my age, the pre-daters who believed that teenage love might be romantic, still oblivious to the realities of curfews, groundings and minimum wage. I think these are now called "tweens," but back then, we were just hyper little girls.
Older and debateably wiser, I can see the strings behind this latest incarnation's pop puppetry. I know when I'm being pandered. The record execs know that those little girls have grown up and had little girls of their own, and now they're trying to suck us all in at once. In the crowd outside Rockefeller Plaza, there were two generations - Those Girls and Those Women - mouthing every lyric and holding up neon-posterboard signs. But I'm pretty confident that I'm still not one of Them, because instead of the flush of excitement I felt as a pre-teen, the flush I felt today was one of maternal concern. I wanted them to hit their notes, I wanted them not to fall on the slick stage, I wanted Jon to pinken up and not look so much like he was going to hurl due to his crippling stage-fright (which he described on Oprah a couple years back).
And I sort of, just a little, wanted to hop on iTunes and buy the new single. Because although it wasn't the most poignant or well crafted song I've ever heard, it was upbeat and fun and didn't once mention a girl named after a Biblical character or British monarch.