If you were a tween girl at the end of the 1980s, there's a good chance that you were obsessed with New Kids On The Block. And I mean obsessed. We;re talking bedspread-owning, VHS repeat watching, huge button wearing, cassette tape wearing-out obsessed. It's unbelievable how huge NKOTB was at the time, even by today's standards. When individuals make it so big so young, we assume that they are going to crash hard, end up in the tabloids, or even worse, Celebrity Rehab. In some ways, we even wish for it; the schadenfreude makes us feel better about ourselves.
All five members of the New Kids On The Block, however, have remained upstanding guys from their days as kids from Worcester through today (in their mid-forties!) as chronicled in New Kids On The Block: Five Brothers And A Million Sisters, an authorized biography by Nikki Van Noy. The author correctly realizes that the story of the New Kids On The Block is not just Jordan, Jon, Danny, Donnie, and Joey’s story; it's also the story of the dedicated fans. Stories of encounters and concert experiences pepper the book throughout, and many of them are quite relatable. (Although I never got to see the New Kids live back in the day. Sniff sniff.)
Van Noy's book gives insight into the formation of the group. Contrary to assumption, the members of the NKOTB, notably Donnie and Danny, made their own music before they joined the group. True, Maurice Starr had a large hand in propelling the guys forward, but each member had musical aspirations, and luckily, all their parents were supportive. (Did you know that the parents even had their own meet and greet and signings with fans?!)
The jump to pandemic stardom was so quick, I am actually surprised how well the boys handled it, considering they were only teenagers. Sure, there was the usual squabbling, the egos clashing, and the temper tantrum behavior. But, at some point, NKOTB was not about the individuals. If there was merchandise that their picture could go on, it was made. The boys had no involvement and had no clue that kitchen spatulas had their faces on it. I'm kidding, I don't think there were NKOTB spatulas. Wait, was there?
Big arena tours mean big stages, and that meant magic tricks, flying in harnesses, and big pyrotechnics, which somewhat annoyed them, but hey, the fame machine is running along at a hundred miles an hour, they had to keep up. Their minor breakdowns were expected; imagine you spent twenty-four seven with the same five people, traveling the globe and playing shows with them every night. You'd want your alone time too.
Everyone's nerves were calmed after the big Magic Summer tour and the Arsenio performances and MA performances, etc., and NKOTB broke off ties with Maurice Starr, ready to make the music they wanted to make. Unfortunately, when you make it that big, the fans decide when you are no longer relevant, not you. Thus, No More Games was a commercial failure, although critically not panned. The eight-to-ten-year-old girls had moved on to Nirvana, and didn't want to see their biggest crushes edgier and dirtier.
For about fifteen years, NKOTB disappeared from the public eye, and Van Noy gladly sheds light on what the guys were up to in that time. And you know what? The struggles they went through were pretty human. Now in their mid-twenties with a missing childhood, many of them didn't know where to go next. Joey had aspirations to go to college, but actually felt like he wouldn't measure up because his high school education consisted of tutoring on the road. Jon went into the real estate business, Danny popped out some kids, and Donnie produced a record for his lil' bro named Marky Mark, you may have heard of him.
People pushed them into reuniting through the years, but they didn't get an urge to do it until the second wave of boy bands hit (Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC) where they felt that the world would be accepting of their songs. Remember, the internet age was booming, so more longtime fans could connect with each other and the demand for a reunion was measurable and palpable.
NKOTB announced their reunion tour on The Today Show and all of them were genuinely nervous and self-conscious. Could they still dance? Would they look like has-beens? Could they still make music together? These were all questions that they actually considered. I mean, they are only human!
Let's be honest: these days, they aren't acquiring new fans at the rate they used to. However, there are many women (and men!) whose loyalty and positive associations buy tickets, so that keeps them in business. Many of them are parents, give to charities, and Jon, the "shy" one admitted to suffering from crippling anxiety attacks and speaking out about it has helped a lot of people. Those of you looking for a meltdown or a drunken video on TMZ are not going to find anything.
New Kids on the Block: Five Brothers And Six Million Sisters is a broad brushstroke of the career of NKOTB, yet does give some insight to how their careers shaped their lives. The book is not so much an expose on any member, but a loving tribute, aimed at the fans who made it all possible. The fuzzy, feel-good nostalgia trip makes it worth a look.
Obligatory inclusion of my favorite song/video (I was a Donnie girl):