If there's one thing we've learned about pop music over the last half-century, it's that while the boy band might not always be at pop's center, it's somewhere orbiting around it -- and will be back soon enough.
From the early '70s to the mid '80s to the late '90s to the early '10s to now, boy bands have seemingly always arrived in American pop culture in waves, crashing onto our shores suddenly and dramatically. Sometimes they come from elsewhere -- the U.K., Korea, even nearby Latin America -- and sometimes they spring up locally, from unexpected hotspots like Gary, Indiana; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Orlando, Florida. But each time they come, pop music is never the same afterwards -- nor are the lives of tens of millions of screaming young'ns whose early adolescences will come to be defined by their songs.
This week, Billboard is celebrating this venerated pop institution with a week of boy band-related coverage, starting with our list of the 100 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time -- spanning nearly the entire Hot 100 era, and recognizing the absolute tops in innocent male harmonies and synchronized dance moves.
But what is a boy band, you may ask? Ask any two music fans that question and you might get answers as varied as if you asked a 47-year-old FM DJ and a 19-year-old SoundCloud rapper to define "hip-hop." There are common elements most everyone can agree on as being obviously boy band-core, natch: the aforementioned harmonies and dancing, as well as matching outfits, major pop choruses, a puppet-string-pulling svengali behind the scenes, a general sense of ridiculousness (and a relative lack of self-consciousness), and of course, youth.
But aside from basic membership -- by pretty much all definitions, boy bands need to have at least three members and be all male -- there's no one unifying factor that links every boy band in history; name any classic trope of the format and we can name at least two obvious boy bands who it doesn't apply to. If anything, what really unites boy bands throughout history comes not in their conception, but in their reception: How young, rabid and ear-splittingly friggin' loud was their fanbase? If the answer is at least "very" to all three of these, you're already 80 percent of the way there.
Ultimately, we took every boy band argument on a case-by-case basis, and came to some difficult conclusions. Some groups, like 5 Seconds of Summer, were deemed eligible even though their structural makeup wasn't classically boy band, because the way they were marketed and fan-devoured was. Others, like The Beatles -- yes, The Beatles -- were given the boy-band OK for early stretches of their career, but a hard cutoff was instituted for after they matured and self-actualized as just a "band." And some, like modern self-identifying "boy band" BROCKHAMPTON, were just a little too far outside the conventional sound of a boy band for us to make the mental leap -- for now, anyway. (To see us hash out the "Are They a Boy Band?" arguments for all three of these cases and several others, click here.)
But enough trying to be Webster's, let's get to the songs -- with a Spotify playlist of all 100 of 'em at the bottom. They're original, they're the only ones, they're (occasionally, unthreateningly) sexual, and they're definitely everything you need.
100. The Chipmunks, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" (1958)
The animated rodent OGs of the boy band game, Alvin, Simon and Theodore set pre-adolescent hearts of all species aflutter in the late '50s with this sweetly harmonized Christmas classic. Amazingly, 50 years after Alvin and the boys originally caused David Seville holiday high blood pressure with their blasé vocal timing and incessant demands for gift hula hoops, they were still starring in hit movies, reflecting a luxury afforded to precious few boy bands throughout history: Pop culture got older, but they stayed the same age. -- ANDREW UNTERBERGER
99. B2K, "Uh Huh" (2001)
B2K reshaped the concept of the black boy band in the ‘00s with a sound that leaned more toward TRL-era pop than the standard R&B of the time, beginning with their catchy '01 debut single “Uh Huh.” The buzzy synths, lead singer Omarion’s sensual vocals, their feathery harmonies and that booty-popping bassline made the track one of the biggest highlights of the band’s short-lived career. -- BIANCA GRACIE
?98. 5 Seconds of Summer, "Girls Talk Boys" (2016)
5 Seconds of Summer already won our hearts with their modern take on pop-punk, but 2016’s “Girls Talk Boys” (from the soundtrack to the Ghostbusters remake, of all things) was a refreshing dive into funk. With the help of hitmakers Ricky Reed and Teddy Geiger, the guys switched their rowdy electric guitar for a summery Nile Rodgers-style riff and gang-vocal harmonies that had everyone floating to the disco dancefloor. -- B.G.
97. Big Time Rush feat. Snoop Dogg, "Boyfriend" (2011)
With a Nickelodeon series bringing these four together, Big Time Rush was essentially the modern-day Monkees with their goofy antics and good looks. But as their most successful single proved, they also had the musical ability to be equally successful outside their TV framework: “Boyfriend” has an irresistible hook, suave verses, and a chorus that not only shows their range, but also makes it near impossible to not sing along. The guys even compare their affection to the Twilight love affair — what more could a googly eyed teen want? -- TAYLOR WEATHERBY
96. 98 Degrees, "Because of You" (1998)
Delightfully G-rated pop fare: 98 Degrees’ first of four top 10 hits on the Hot 100 chart, “Because of You” proudly revels in Hallmark-ready sentiment — “You’re my sunshine after the rain,” the foursome coos at the start of the chorus. The pillowy guitar snap and four-part harmonies are doused in an earnestness that impressively resists anything resembling an edge. -- JASON LIPSHUTZ
95. Mindless Behavior, "My Girl" (2010)
Teen quartet Mindless Behavior were about six months early (and maybe a couple years too young) for the great boy-band boom of the 2010s, and never saw the major crossover success of some of their successors. Still, debut single "My Girl" was a popcorn-love head-nodder irresistible enough to get them gigs opening for Janet Jackson and Justin Bieber, and even to earn a cameo from adult R&B star Ciara on the song's remix. -- A.U.
94. 2Gether, "The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)" (2000)
Breakups are never fun, but thanks to this fivesome, singing about heartbreak was momentarily hilarious. The song’s pounding beat, along with silly lyrics about losing their belongings (not to mention a handful of cat meows), makes you forget that the source of the song is a relationship ending. But the best part about “The Hardest Part of Breaking Up” is that 2Gether created one of the most memorable breakup tunes of the boy band era, despite existing solely to mock such groups. -- T.W.
93. Nu Flavor, "Sweet Sexy Thing" (1997)
The final reverberation of the Color Me Badd era of boy bands before the Max Martin era officially took effect, Long Beach quartet Nu Flavor showed up in '97 with a pair of pillowy soft post-New Jack Swing R&B ballads to scrape the Billboard Hot 100: "Heaven" and "Sweet Sexy Thing." Of the two, the latter was the less resistible, a mid-tempo groove and seductive vocal so gentle that the quartet literally showed up outside their girl's window with a bedspread for her to jump into in the video. -- A.U.
92. JLS, "Beat Again" (2009)
Boy bands never seem to go out of style for too long overseas, so British quartet JLS was able to leap from The X Factor to U.K. stardom pretty easily at an otherwise down period for the format. It helps that they had "Beat Again," a Steve Mac-helmed pulser with a memorably bleating synth hook and a fantastically melodramatic chorus built around the title phrase (as in, "They're telling me that my heart won't...") -- which very easily could've been a solo smash for Chris Brown or Jesse McCartney stateside. -- A.U.
91. The Monkees, "(Theme From) The Monkees" (1966)
No, it's not a clever title – the Monkees' 1966 single "(Theme From) The Monkees" is quite literally the theme song to their '66-'68 TV series. Discerning rock fans clocked it for the blatant Beatlemania cash-in that it was, but for young listeners who were growing alienated by the increasingly experimental Beatles, the TV quartet scratched a profitable preteen itch that the industry was only just beginning to realize had existed for some time. The Beatles might have inadvertently created boy bands, but here's where it became intentional. -- JOE LYNCH
90. Another Bad Creation, "Iesha" (1990)
After becoming a star with New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe, but before owning the '90s with his progeny in Boyz II Men, the most impressive magic trick pulled by Michael Bivins might've been making New Jack Swing-era stars out of playground-age hip-hop collective Another Bad Creation. The group's breakout hit "Iesha" is most stunning for its sheer forcefulness, built on a squall of synth stabs and Public Enemy samples that the group's pre-pubescent voices sound fairly out of place over -- but potent enough to have kicked down the doors on the youth movement from the Atlanta area that decade, which would see Kris Kross, Monica and Usher all become teenage megastars before the turn of the millennium. -- A.U.
89. A1, "Caught in the Middle" (2001)
An unusually downbeat boy band ballad, striking in its minor-chord melancholy and sighing, resigned chorus -- with a stinging cold-weather video that's pretty much the exact inverse of Backstreet Boys' hot cocoa-tinged original "I'll Never Break Your Heart" visual. Appropriately for a song of such sublime frustration, "Caught in the Middle" got stuck at No. 2 on the U.K. charts, caught behind Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" -- on 2/2/02, no less. -- A.U.
88. Busted, "What I Go to School For" (2002)
A year before “Stacy’s Mom” shook up your after-school routine, another older woman was providing indelible pop-rock pleasures across the Atlantic. The British boys of Busted were hot for teacher on their 2002 debut single, and while their hormonal ogling was hardly subtle -- “I fight my way to the front of class, to get the best view of her ass/ I drop a pencil on the floor, she bends down and shows me more” -- the song’s gentle blurring of reality and schoolboy fantasy was sweet enough to inspire this sanitized Jonas Brothers cover. -- NOLAN FEENEY
87. VIXX, "Dynamite" (2016)
“Dynamite” proves that when VIXX isn’t beckoning Starlights into the darkness with horror themes, they can pull off brighter concepts while maintaining their mystique. The playfulness of the funky tune belies the dense layers of sonic textures: As the sextet pines over lost love, this uptempto interplay of sax riffs and electronic flourishes eventually breaks down into a slow jam R&B bridge. This track represents K-pop at its peak, balancing commercial viability with experimental songwriting. -- CAITLIN KELLEY
86. The Wanted, "I Found You" (2013)
The height of The Wanted's U.S. stardom only lasted for the year of 2012, but it's still perplexing that 2013's "I Found You" didn't get them at least another couple months' juice -- the song's blaring, brain-pummelling accordion hook (again courtesy of producer Steve Mac), gloriously falsetto'd chorus and frenetic breakdown section all made it feel like the logical next step from breakthrough "Glad You Came." (A video that verged on the, uh, too-adult might've had something to do with the song's stalling at No. 89 on the Hot 100.) -- A.U.
85. Bay City Rollers, "You Made Me Believe in Magic" (1977)
Like everything else, Rollermania went disco in '77, as the group of Scottish once-teen sensations cranked up their BPMs and reached higher on their fretboards for the blazing "You Made Me Believe in Magic." Sadly, the "Magic" was running out for the group, who would only have one further chart hit before fading into obscurity, but the song was thrilling enough to make it seem like the good times could keep Rolling for the group well into post-adolescence. -- A.U.
84. LFO, "West Side Story" (2000)
While “Summer Girls” is inarguably LFO’s staple tune, “West Side Story” is the hit that should’ve been from the trio’s self-titled debut album. You just don’t hear an acoustic guitar riff that jazzy in songs anymore! And in the way that “Summer Girls” made every girl want something from Abercrombie & Fitch, this one likely resulted in those A&F-wearing girls rushing to change their names to Veronica. -- T.W.
83. Hi-Five, "She's Playing Hard to Get" (1992)
It wasn't Hi-Five's biggest Hot 100 hit -- that'd be 1991's chart-topping "I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)" -- but it's the one that stands as the Waco, Texas quintet's most winning groove a quarter-century later. The sentiment might not be received quite as naively in 2018 -- "She's playing hard to get/ She just won't admit that she likes me" -- but the group's vocals are sugary and innocent enough to impose no real threat, and the "she likes me, she liiiiiiiiiikes me" chorus exhortations are too sweet and ridiculous to find any real objection to. -- A.U.
82. O-Zone, "Dragostea Din Tei" (2004)
A successful song lyric doesn’t need to make sense, it just needs to feel good -- so say Zedd and Max Martin in defense of the infamous “Now that I’ve become who I really are” line from Ariana Grande’s “Break Free.” And nothing proves their point quite like this viral Romanian-language hit, which served as an ecstatic, fist-pumping reminder of music’s power to connect across borders and managed to convey uninhibited joy better than any phrase in the English language probably could. -- N.F.
81. LMNT, "Juliet" (2002)
There aren’t very many songs that can seamlessly bring together an electric and acoustic guitar, but LMNT’s debut hit did so in rocking (and insanely catchy) fashion. Accompanying the slick instrumentals are equally crafty lyrics, including the track’s standout line, “I just want you to know, I want to be your Romeo/ Hey Juliet” -- and on top of that, there’s a key change. This song didn’t become the chart killer it should’ve been, but in the eyes of boy band fans, LMNT crafted a megahit. -- T.W.
80. The Osmonds, "Crazy Horses" (1972)
In the oddball competition for Boy Band Song Most Often Covered By Metal Groups, "Crazy Horses" almost certainly emerges victorious, thanks to its squealing guitar hook, wailed vocals, propulsive groove and chanted chorus. It was a strange look for the notoriously clean-cut Osmonds, but not a totally unintentional one, as the group provided one of the earliest examples of a boy band bucking against the establishment that produced them: "Before that, my brothers and I had been what’s now called a boyband: all our songs were chosen for us by the record company," singer Merrill Osmond later recalled. "But now, having been successful, we wanted to freak out and make our own music." -- A.U.
79. Immature, "Never Lie" (1994)
West Coast teen trio Immature -- now known as IMx -- were as memorable for their eyewear as their vocals: Two of 'em wore John Lennon-style sunglasses with round lenses, while third member Young Rome wore an eye patch, apparently due to an incident suffered at the hands of fellow teen sensation Brandy. But Hot 100 top 5 hit "Never Lie" endures as a disarmingly tender acoustic ballad, recently remixed by Stones Throw producer Knxwledge to memorably stripped- and pitched-down effect. -- A.U.
78. Seventeen, "Adore U" (2015)
Few K-pop groups nail a perfect debut, but “Adore U” is practically Seventeen’s mission statement: From the get-go, the 13-member ensemble established that their performances pair a theatrical playfulness with hooks to spare. A slapping bass groove underpins the frothy funk of this confessional confection. Produced by the group's vocal leader, Woozi, the track's catchy chorus is flanked by an array of unexpected instrumentals. (Not many boy bands can lay claim to an accordion breakdown.) But amid the endless moving parts, Seventeen mastered how to make them feel simultaneously distinctive and cohesive. -- C.K.
77. Jodeci, "Forever My Lady" (1991)
Impending fatherhood isn’t typical boy band fare, and despite the opening of “Forever My Lady”, none of the young men of Jodeci was on the verge of having a baby in the spring of ‘91. That was the lyrical contribution of New Jack Swing exemplar Al B. Sure!, who co-wrote “Forever My Lady” with producer DeVante Swing. Lead vocalists K-Ci and Jojo brought the sweet and rough, youthful but adult style that defined the group, fulfilling the dream of Sean Combs to imbue an R&B group with the edge of hip-hop. -- ROSS SCARANO
76. Brother Beyond, "The Harder I Try" (1988)
U.K. quartet Brother Beyond briefly cameo'd on the U.S. pop charts with the jazzy R&B of 1990's Hot 100 top 40 hit "The Girl I Used to Know," but their more delectable entry to the boy band canon came with their breakout hit across the pond, the No. 2-peaking British smash "The Harder I Try." The swinging Stock/Aitken/Waterman-engineered single threw back to '60s Motown better than any U.K. outfit since Wham!, though it was kept off the top of the charts by a couple of actual soul covers: Yazz's "The Only Way Is Up" and Phil Collins' "Groovy Kind of Love." -- A.U.
75. Troop, "Spread My Wings" (1989)
Written and produced by the underrated Chuckii Booker -- a Zelig-type chameleonic figure in '90s R&B -- "Spread My Wings" was the appropriately soaring, weightless first chart-topping R&B single for the Pasadena quartet of childhood friends. The video, debuting at the turn of the '90s, may have been even more iconic, helping establish all sorts of boy band visual precedents for the decade to come: Rooftop dancing, unnecessary mixes of color with black and white, and of course, hefty amounts of beachside contemplation -- A.U.
74. Hanson, "Weird" (1997)
One of the less-celebrated singles from the trio’s breakthrough 1997 album Middle of Nowhere, “Weird” is a gentle, delicately written ballad that showed the brothers’ strengths outside of upbeat pop. That it had a true-to-song-title music video directed by Gus Van Sant where they float in a water-filled subway car and maneuver around pairs of twins only adds to its enduring mystique. -- STEVEN J. HOROWITZ
73. New Edition, "Mr. Telephone Man" (1984)
Written and produced by Ray Parker Jr. (of "Ghostbusters" fame), "Mr. Telephone Man" is a twinkling mix of smooth R&B and sugary synths that tells the story of… well, to be perfectly honest, it's about a guy harassing a woman with nonstop telephone calls. But in 1984, that persistence was taken as "cute," particularly coming from baby-faced New Edition. But even modern listeners skeeved out by the lyrics can appreciate how convincingly Ralph Tresvant sells the innocent ache of puppy love when he comes in at the 42-second mark, pleading with the operator: "Something must be wrong with my phone / 'Cause my baby wouldn't hang up on me." -- J. Lynch
72. Magneto, "Vuela, Vuela" (1991)
In the '90s, Magneto conquered charts internationally with “Vuela, Vuela." The title track from the Mexican boy band's seventh studio album was the Spanish version of “Voyage, Voyage,” a French song recorded by Desireless in 1986, but it was even bouncier and more transportive than its predecessor. Magneto was also known for their romantic ballads, such as “Para Siempre” and “La Puerta del Colegio." -- SUZETTE FERNÁNDEZ?
71. Take That, "Never Forget" (1995)
A boy band ballad of unusual self-awareness and perspective, in which the five members of the most successful U.K. pop group of their generation take a moment to pause from being a phenomenon to reflect on how it probably won't last forever: "Finding a paradise wasn't easy but still/ There's a road going down the other side of this hill." The most stunning line comes in the chorus, when singer Howard Donald acknowledges, "Someday soon, this will all be someone else's dream" -- a lyric the group has gone as far as to change to "Justin Bieber's dream" in post-reunion live renditions. -- A.U.
70. Why Don't We, "Something Different" (2017)
The genius of Why Don’t We’s first hit is in its infectiously hooky chorus -- which only says two words. It’s hardly even obvious that the guys sing nothing more than the song’s title in its chorus, as the bouncy melody makes it impossible to not dance and sing along. While Why Don’t We are still pretty new to the boy band scene, they proved they indeed do have something different with their breakout hit, incorporating bass-heavier beats, as well as five totally unique voices that shine in their own way. -- T.W.
69. Westlife, "Swear It Again" (2000)
Perhaps one of the most “all the feels” kind of songs in boy band history, Westlife’s biggest U.S. hit tugs at the heartstrings in the best way with vow-like verses and passionate vocals. As a quintessential song of its type should, “Swear It Again” gives each member time to shine on their own, bringing all five voices together on the chorus. Aside from the voices, the mix of the evocative piano in the beginning and the dynamic violins throughout the song help the guys’ heartfelt lyrics truly land, making this as timeless as it is classic boy band material. -- T.W.
68. The Boys, "Dial My Heart" (1988)
Accurately named Motown brother quartet The Boys -- whose youngest member was a whopping nine years old when the group released their '88 debut album Messages From the Boys -- burst into late-'80s pop with this infectious mini-banger, written and produced by the then-bulletproof duo of Babyface and Antonio "L.A." Reid. The then-irresistible chorus may have inevitably dated some, but listen to "Email My Heart" from the first Britney album a decade later and realize how timeless references to payphones answering machine messages seem by comparison. -- A.U.
67. SHINee, "Lucifer" (2010)
Few boy bands do propulsive electro-pop as well as SHINee, and the quintet took things to a new level early on in their career with the futuristic “Lucifer.” Strong vocals soar over this urban dance track, which overflows with ‘80s-style digital quirks and was propelled by the militaristic, chanting refrain of “loverholic, robotronic.” The group has since gone on to explore a variety of genres to immense success, but the forceful charisma of “Lucifer” still stands as one of the most dynamic pieces from SHINee. Not too shabby for a song Bebe Rexha wrote in her bedroom. -- TAMAR HERMAN
66. Dream Street, "It Happens Everytime" (2000)
Wherefore art thou, Jesse McCartney? The '00s solo pop star only lasted with his original outfit for just one album as a young teen, but we’ll always have “It Happens Every Time,” a single so saccharine that it supposes the group name to be a real destination in which romantic magic can be conjured. J-Mac may have flipped his property on Dream Street, but it’s still worth a three-minute visit. -- J. Lipshutz
65. One Direction, "Story of My Life" (2013)
If you mix the boy band formula with the Americana-style of early Mumford & Sons, you’ll get One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” the group's radio-conquering second single from their third album, Midnight Memories. The swell of the foot-stomping chorus combined with the bubblegum pop of 1D makes for one of the most effective and singular songs in the band’s catalog. -- DENISE WARNER
64. McFly, "5 Colours in Her Hair" (2004)
McFly always had a bit of a bad-boy vibe to their guitar-heavy tunes, especially thanks to the gritty vocals of co-frontmen Danny Jones and Tom Fletcher, and “5 Colours In Her Hair” was the perfect introduction to that. Adding a hint of surfer rock to their slightly risqué lyrics, reverb-drenched electric guitar and striking, Beatlesque harmonies, McFly’s high-energy breakout hit is the perfect example of a not-so-conventional boy band jam. -- T.W.
63. Jonas Brothers, "S.O.S." (2007)
Before officially releasing "S.O.S." as a single in 2007, Joe, Nick and Kevin had already established that they were more rock than a typical boy band with hits like “Year 3000” and “Hold On.” Yet this track from their self-titled debut LP set that in stone. The opening guitar riff in itself is enough to get the room moving, and the JoBros carry the jamming through the entire song -- which makes you forget that it's actually a breakup tune. And if you don’t consider them as much of a boy band as their predecessors because they don’t dance, just remember that the Jonas Brothers wrote lyrics like, “Next time I see you/ Givin’ you a high five/ ‘Cause hugs are overrated just FYI.” Who needs choreography when you’ve got lines like that? -- T.W.
62. Wanna One, "Energetic" (2017)
“Energetic” is pop formula tweaked to such perfection that it transcends being generic: Small wonder why it was the fan-voted debut song for the reality television-created K-pop group, Wanna One. The slow piano opening gradually builds into a propulsive dance track, marked by monotonous deep house beats simmering below whirring synths. Jaehwan reaches stratospheric notes while Daniel impresses as the center dancer. The temporary supergroup’s first foray outside of Produce 101 became a showcase for the newly formed synergy between the 11 handpicked members. -- C.K.
61. East 17, "Stay Another Day" (1994)
A ballad with no rhythm track and just sparse instrumentation, with the vocals of the English quartet's put firmly front and center. Good idea, since the group has the chops to shine through, and the song -- written by East 17 member Tony Mortimer, at least in part about his brother's suicide -- is a stunner, the rare boy band ballad that could accurately be described as elegiac. -- A.U.
60. Musical Youth, "Pass the Dutchie" (1982)
The Billboard listings of the early '80s were hardly littered with reggae bops from underage U.K. outfits, but the diverse playlists of MTV's infancy helped alllow for many such unexpected crossovers. "Pass the Dutchie" was a retooling of a marijuana-themed Mighty Diamonds song, made into a more despairing poverty lament (a "dutchie" is a cooking pot) -- but that wasn't what listeners latched onto as much as the song's infectious bass groove, singalong chorus and unforgettable ad libs ("Ribbit!"). -- A.U.
59. Backstreet Boys, "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" (1997)
It's hard to believe that the Backstreet Boys have been around for almost a quarter of a century, but perfect mid-tempo jams like this remind us of why they’re the GOAT. This classic was released in May 1997, ahead of their debut album, and it eventually went platinum and climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also, who can forget how everyone wore matching white pants in the music video? Iconic. -- GAB GINSBERG
58. PRETTYMUCH, "Would You Mind?" (2017)
Simon Cowell’s new pet project can sing and dance as well as the rest of them, but their a cappella skills set them apart from the rest. The group's breakthrough single kicks off with some perfectly harmonized vocalization, and a slamming beat that throws back to the Fresh Prince era. It’s the band’s debut track, and it remains one of their best. -- G.G.
58. EXO, "Growl" (2013)
A brilliant example of finely produced pop, “Growl” remains one of the most emblematic K-pop songs of all time. EXO’s 2013 hit brought the then-12-member act to new heights with its blend of R&B, pop, and Southern hip-hop. The songwriting played up the group’s size and vocal diversity with its tempo changes and tonal shifts, as sweeping harmonies, commanding raps, and heavy-handed Auto-Tune surround the funky “I growl, growl, growl” hook. -- T.H.
56. New Kids on the Block, "Tonight" (1990)
Between its opening guitar plucks and its repeating “la la la las,” “Tonight” slides back and forth between a slow love ballad and a fast-paced jam. But besides being an underrated, uncharacteristic New Kids on the Block gem, the song also serves as a tribute to the fans who screamed and cried for NKOTB as they bounded their way to the top, paving the way for other boy bands to do the same — most notably with Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life.” -- D.W.
55. The Click Five, "Just the Girl" (2005)
You might know this power-pop gem -- written by Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger -- from the John Tucker Must Die soundtrack; otherwise, anyone watching Disney Channel during the year 2005 was undoubtedly obsessed with it. It peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it The Click Five's most commercially successful single to date. Best listened to in a sandwich containing their other bops "Good Day" and "Pop Princess." -- G.G.
54. Soul for Real, "Candy Rain" (1995)
“Have you ever loved someone/ So much you thought you'd die?” typically aren’t the dramatic opening lyrics you expect to hear from guys in their teens and early twenties, but this hopeless devotion is what made Soul 4 Real’s “Candy Rain” a song to adore from the first listen. On the surface, the track is immediately compelling as an R&B jam due to its subtle New Jack Swing influence. But their harmonized croons of puppy love is what gives the track its boy band appeal. -- B.G.
53. Menudo, "Hold Me" (1985)
Menudo’s “Hold Me” was the Latin teen sensations' only song to chart in Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking No. 62 in 1985. The English-language song featured a new generation of members -- with Charlie Massó, Roy Rosselló, Robi Rosa, Raymond Acevedo and, of course, Ricky Martin -- and a sparkling synth-pop sound, to go with an impossibly infectious chorus, which made it a seamless fit in mid-'80s American pop. -- S.F.
52. *NSYNC, "It's Gonna Be Me" (2000)
As *NSYNC's sole Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit -- incredibly enough -- "It's Gonna Be Me" benefits from pop mastermind Max Martin's magic touch and an insanely catchy cascading hook. Just as importantly, the turn-of-the-century classic sparked one of the best memes of all time: Thank you, Justin Timberlake, for making the word "me" sound like "may," thereby launching a thousand iterations of “It’s Gonna Be May” jokes. Even a photo of Ramen noodles does the trick these days. -- G.G.
51. O-Town, "Liquid Dreams" (2000)
The debut single of the Making the Band-assembled Orlando quintet O-Town, "Liquid Dreams" made a first impression quite unlike any other in boy band history -- essentially compiling the group's own canon of turn-of-the-century hotties (Tyra, Madonna, HALLE B!, etc.) and casting them as the "star of [their] liquid dreams." The implications are squirmy, no doubt -- though the approach is so quintessentially adolescent it's hard to see it as anything grosser than run-of-the-mill teenage perviness. But the group's horny energy is well-harnassed by the squelching beat and clever songwriting, and the overstuffed chorus is as sticky as, well... we've already said too much. -- A.U.
50. CNCO, "Reggaeton Lento" (2016)
CNCO's "Reggaeton Lento," released in 2016 and part of their debut album Primera Cita, is the song that really broke the La Banda-formed quintet internationally, especially with its Spanglish version with Little Mix. "Reggaeton" topped Billboard's Latin Pop Airplay for one week in Feb. 25, 2017, and racked up over half a billion combined Spotify spins between its two versions, thanks to the song's exhilarating chorus and undeniable title-described bounce. -- S.F.
49. BTS, "DNA" (2017)
For much of the general American public, “DNA” was a welcome first time with BTS. The earworm of a hook is built around a scale-sliding whistle sample, while the acoustic guitar adds an earthy dimension to the EDM-heavy collage of sounds. The septet trades their more hard-hitting hip hop for poppier fare, while their flow lightens in step with the galloping beat of the song. A historic No. 67 hit on the Hot 100 in October 2017, it's fair to say the global superstars behind "DNA" have found their destiny as record-breakers who continue to destabilize Western assumptions about K-pop. -- C.K.
48. 5ive, "When the Lights Go Out" (1998)
For me, boy bands who weren’t afraid to be a little raunchy were always more appealing. And the London-bred 5ive preferred to get down and dirty with songs like “When The Lights Go Out.” Don’t let the dance-pop production fool you -- this was not the typical Max Martin bubblegum jam. The menacing synths and booming bass match the intensity of the lyrics. The single soon became an international smash, peaking at No. 10 on the Hot 100, proving there were plenty of boy band fans who wanted to get their freak on in poor visibility. -- B.G.
47. 98 Degrees, "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)" (2000)
The suave boy band had already found mainstream success with 1998’s 98 and Rising and subsequent holiday album This Christmas, which raised the stakes for its follow up, 2000’s Revelation. Lead single “Give Me Just One Night (Una Nocha)” marked a turning point for the quartet, who graduated from boys to men with a turn-of-the-century, Latin-inflected bilingual bid to score with a love interest -- scoring their biggest hit as a lead artist on the Hot 100 to date in the process. -- S.J.H.
46. Troop, "All I Do Is Think of You" (1990)
A second-generation boy band hit -- the ballad was originally a B-side to the Jackson 5's "Forever Came Today" single back in the mid-'70s. Nonetheless, Troop's early-'90s version became near-definitive; with its lush, layered harmonies, gauzy production, and molasses-slow sway, imbuing every lyric with the rose-colored daydreaminess you'd expect from a song with this title and chorus. -- A.U.
45. Backstreet Boys, "Larger Than Life" (1999)
The vocoder. The harmonies. The gigantic chorus. “Larger Than Life” has everything you need in a late-'90s boy band anthem. But the Backstreet Boys took the “grateful for our fans” playbook that NKOTB used with “Tonight” and turned it up a notch for the turn of the millennium. The Boys weren’t just thanking us; they made us larger than life right along with them. -- D.W.
44. Super Junior, "It's You" (2009)
Coming off of the success of their mega-hit “Sorry Sorry,” Super Junior served up near-perfection with their rhythmic electro-pop track “It’s You.” Driven by clapping beats and wispy synths, the group dramatically declares their feelings for a lover as the song blends dance and ballad elements. There’s a sense of heartfelt fervor in the tune, as breathy verses lead into the surge of the tick-tocking chorus, before dropping back into a soft, repeated refrain of “oh, only for you.” It may not have seen the virality of its predecessor, but “It’s You” served up melodic glory from the boy band, and remains one of their finest moments. --T.H.
43. 2Gether, "U + Me = Us (Calculus)" (2000)
MTV cobbled together a fake boy band as a response to the pop music explosion in the late ‘90s and the sudden proliferation of all-male groups. But the network pulled quite the trick: Even though their songs were satirical, they were done in such step with the musical style of the time that they actually worked about as well as the songs parodied. “U + Me = Us (Calculus)” may be hung on a purposefully ridiculous theme and start with a nonsense intro ("I'm losing my hair and my vision is shady/ Last night I dreamt of an overweight lady") , but the harmonies are strong and the tune is catchy -- as was the rest of their eponymous 2000 debut, which peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200. -- S.J.H.
42. One Direction, "Steal My Girl" (2014)
The first single off Four marks the beginning of the end of One Direction's original lineup, as "Steal My Girl" plays on the depth of their singular voices and their strength as a five-man outfit. Harry, Niall, Liam, Louis and Zayn show they've got the range on "Steal My Girl," which has them bouncing from soft, sensitive verses to the track's belt-it-out chorus in the drop of a single measure. They all praise the object of their affection for her one-in-a-million originality, making "Steal My Girl" less of a jealous anthem and more an all-caps love letter that just so happens to sound great when an entire arena is singing along with it. (Added bonus: The video that accompanies "Steal My Girl" is one of the best the lads released, with a surreal cast of characters -- including a marching band, a friendly chimpanzee, some sumo wrestlers, a cluster of ballerinas and ... Danny DeVito.) -- HILARY HUGHES
41. TVXQ!, "Mirotic" (2009)
The last single released by TVXQ! to feature their original five-member lineup, this simmering electro-pop song is a dark, sultry tune that thrives on its offbeat production. Serving up powerful vocals, notably MAX’s belting and XIA’s crooning, over a reverse bass beat, fizzy synths, and layered harmonies, “Mirotic” is the magnificent epitome of what K-pop sounded and felt like in the late 2000s. Like many such classics, it was mired in controversy after Korean censors determined that its hook of “I got you/ under my skin” was too erotic for general airplay, ensuring that “Mirotic” was remembered as one of the sexiest songs the iconic K-pop act ever released. -- T.H.
40. SoulDecision, "Faded" (1999)
The seductive bass line of “Faded" makes it no secret that SoulDecision’s biggest hit is one scandalous track, and listening closely to the lyrics make that very clear. Yet the groovy melody makes “Faded” so catchy that the super-forwardness of the song’s message (i.e. “At the end of the night when I make your mind/ You’ll be coming on home with me”) is disguised in a way that makes anyone want to dance, and the seductively breathy vocals are convincing enough that the pick-up plea might actually end up working. -- T.W.
39. Son by Four, "A Puro Dolor" (1999)
Son By Four's heart-rending "A Puro Dolor" is a timeless fan favorite that boasts more than 114 million views on YouTube. In 2001, the band -- founded in 1996 by brothers Carlos and Jorge Montes, their cousin Pedro Quiles and Ángel López, who has since left the group -- took home seven awards at the Billboard Latin Music Awards, including Hot Latin Tracks Artist of the Year and Billboard Latin 50 Artist of the Year, as the sweeping romantic ballad spent a then-record 20 weeks atop the Hot Latin Songs chart. -- J.A.
38. B2K feat. P. Diddy, "Bump Bump Bump" (2002)
Ghoulies, ghosties, long-leggedy beasties, and, apparently, one eye-catching lady who should be in magazines -- these are the things that go bump (bump, bump) in the night. The 2002 track was the quartet’s only chart-topping hit, but, really, it owes its success to a certain trio: Omarion, the song’s lead vocalist and the group’s breakout star; R. Kelly, who wrote and produced the slinky club jam; and P. Diddy, who peppers the song with ad-libs and endearing come-ons like the kind of wingman you’d want by your side for a night out. -- N.F.
37. The Osmonds, "One Bad Apple" (1970)
Originally written for The Jackson 5 -- who were busy working on a No. 1 hit of their own still to come on this list, so no harm, no foul -- "One Bad Apple" become the lone Hot 100-topper for the Osmonds, thanks to its chipper electric piano groove, stop-start hook and 12-year-old Donny's unexpectedly snap-to-attention chorus entrance: "OHHHHHH give it one more time/ Before you GIVE UP ON LOOOOOVE!" As any boy band worth their natural sugar knows, you're never too young to risk total romantic disillusionment. -- A.U.
36. O-Town, "All or Nothing" (2001)
Boy band whisperer Steve Mac (who would go on to work with Westlife, One Direction and The Wanted, among others) co-wrote and produced this pillar of turn-of-the-century teenage angst, which Making the Band's O-Town sold with the overwrought urgency of a regional theater actor auditioning for a production of Rent. But as extra as "All or Nothing" is, don't pretend you're belting along with that chorus at karaoke just to be ironic -- you know damn well it's a catharsis you badly need. -- J. Lynch
35. The Wanted, "Glad You Came" (2011)
Sure, any boy band song could light up a club for the sake of nostalgia, but there aren’t many that can do so without being completely obvious that it’s even coming from a boy band in the first place. While timing certainly played into The Wanted’s ability to slide their way into Top 40, they also had a bit of a sonic advantage because of the maturity in their voices, which ultimately makes breakout single "Glad You Came" as alluring and sexy as it is. The song's roaring beat is enough to get people out of their seats, but then you add the chorus chants and The Wanted's seductive delivery and you’ve got a smash -- proven by the song's No. 3 peak on the Hot 100. -- T.W.
34. Color Me Badd, "I Wanna Sex You Up" (1991)
Most ‘90s boy bands used PG innuendos when it came to singing about sex. But the at-least-PG-13 Color Me Badd didn’t have time for all of that subtlety, so they cut to the chase on debut single “I Wanna Sex You Up.” If the bold title didn’t make things clear enough, the horny lyrics about "makin' love until we drown" surely did. The bouncy New Jack Swing beat, those tight “Ooo, ooo, ooo, ooh!” harmonies and lead singer Bryan Abrams’ breathy vocals added to the formula that shot this song No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. -- B.G.
33. Soul for Real, "Every Little Thing I Do" (1995)
“Candy Rain” was the bigger hit for Heavy D’s band of brothers, but the four Dalyrimple siblings shone brightest on the second single, “Every Little Thing I Do.” Deploying a sample from the Gap Band’s god-level ode to joy “Outstanding,” “Every Little Thing I Do” is the moodier number, conjuring the all-consuming power of a crush. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t do your homework without thinking of the person. They’re everywhere, as inescapable as a pop song. -- R.S.
32. Jonas Brothers, "Burnin' Up" (2008)
Rumored to be inspired by Prince, this was an incredible summer jam that received enough radio play and critics’ attention in the late '00s to propel Nick, Kevin and Joe well out of the Disney Channel box and into Top 40's funky center. The JoBro’s bodyguard Robert "Big Rob" Feggans also has an unforgettable feature, and he used to come out on stage with the boys to rap his part live during the 2008 Burnin' Up Tour. The video is equally iconic, with Nick Jonas saving his then-girlfriend Selena Gomez in a James Bond-style sequence. -- G.G.
31. All 4 One, "I Swear" (1994)
Originally recorded as a country song by John Michael Montgomery, All-4-One’s version of “I Swear” has the distinction of being one of the few Grammy-winning boy band songs on this list, as the winner for best pop performance by a duo or group in 1995. More than two decades later, the hook makes it easy to understand how this was a No. 1 hit in several countries: those two titular words slice away any doubt of commitment, and the swelling emotion comes gift-wrapped within that four-part harmony. Cheesy, yet timeless. -- J. Lipshutz
30. New Edition, "Cool It Now" (1984)
One of the most hyperactive songs ever written about the need to keep things chill, "Cool It Now" is effervescent from its opening drum count-off, and stays a Pixy Stix-like energy rush for its entire three-and-a-half minute runtime. The call-and-response vocals between lead singer Ralph Tresvant and the rest of the group throughout the pre-chorus and hook are classic, but of course the song is a standout in NE's early catalog primarily for Tresvant's mid-song rap, providing perhaps the first (and almost certainly the greatest) roll call in boy band history: "Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike/ If I like the girl who cares who you like?" -- A.U.
29. New Kids on the Block, "You Got It (The Right Stuff)" (1988)
There are many reasons New Kids on the Block are one of the all-time boy band greats, and this early hit is near the top of the list. The jazzy and oh-so-‘80s beat, the cheesy-flirty lyrics and of course the “oh oh, oh-oh-oh” chants made “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” a great track to begin with. Then they unveiled the unforgettable leg-swinging choreography in the black-and-white video and took it to the next level. It may not quite be the quintessential NKOTB jam, but it is the one that proved they indeed had all the right stuff for the boy band pantheon. -- T.W.
28. 112 feat. The Notorious B.I.G., "Only You" (1996)
Bad Boy quartet 112 emerged in the back-end of the '90s with better harmonies, fresher beats and more unshakeable songs than the great majority of their contemporaries -- and a not-so-secret weapon in the longing vocals of Marvin "Slim" Scandrick, one of the decade's most inimitable vocalists. "Only You" was their breakout hit, a mid-tempo shuffle as sleek and stunning as its flash-popping music video, with a chorus undeniable in its simplicity: "Girl I want to be with you/ No one else, only you." Still, if you remember the song for one thing -- aside from Puff Daddy intoning "I thought I told you that we won't stop" on its classic remix -- it's that yearning Slim entrance: "I need you in my life!" -- A.U.
27. BigBang, "Fantastic Baby" (2012)
It would be incredibly difficult to imagine what K-pop would look like without BIGBANG’s game changing 2012 hit “Fantastic Baby.” The anarchic hip-house track raised the bar for the genre, overflowing with vibrancy as it bounces between sonic styles. Dominated by bright digital thumps and soaring synth wails, “Fantastic Baby” thrives on brain-sticking phrases like “I wanna da-da-da-da-dance” and “boom shakalaka,” making it one of the most infectious boy band songs ever released. -- T.H.
26. Menudo, "Subéte a Mi Moto" (1981)
“Súbete a Mi Moto” became an instant classic in the pre-Ricky Martin era of Latin America’s original lycra pant-wearing boy band, Menudo. The song was first included on the 1981 album Quiero Ser, but a new version of the rocking pre-teen pick-up anthem was featured in the 1983 movie Una Aventura Llamada Menudo, which had the Puerto Rican group’s crush-stricken fans screaming all over the Spanish-speaking world. -- Judy Cantor-Navas?
25. The Jackson 5, "I'll Be There" (1970)
It's the source of some of the dreamiest harmonies ever recorded, and the song that proved the Jackson 5 were capable of more than just perennial party-starters. Michael Jackson was only 11 years old when recorded the group's biggest hit, but he displays a tenderness and control that performers twice his age would be jealous of, absolutely selling lyrics he couldn't possibly have been old enough to fully understand. As his brothers' vocals come in, the song builds and builds without ever totally blowing the roof off -- a timeless testament to the power of restraint. -- N.F.
24. *NSYNC, "Gone" (2001)
The third-album JT vocal showcase that proved that there would be life after *NSYNC for at least one of its members, "Gone" was also a heartbreak ballad of musical and emotional sophistication that would've been unimaginable in the days when the quintet was covering Bread slow jams and dressing up in straitjackets for super-literal music videos. The bridge is downright surreal, as the sparse beat drops out entirely, the meter all but dissolves, and the five members sound like they're swarming Timberlake's subconscious, until he breaks out for a final chorus of matserful ad libs. But it all comes back to that one word: harrowing, relentless and unmistakably final. -- A.U.
23. Jodeci, "Come and Talk to Me" (1992)
Before Jodeci was giving us an onslaught of naughty-as-hell baby-making music, the foursome played it a little safer on their debut album, Forever My Lady. The single “Come and Talk to Me” became an instant favorite as the guys play shy while trying to approach a lady in a respectful manner. (Remember those days?) Lead singer JoJo seduced women everywhere with his vocal charm, while DeVanté Swing, Mr. Dalvin and K-Ci swooped in with their pristine harmonies on the chorus. And if the slow jam wasn’t enough, Puff Daddy blessed us with a hip-hop remix that was arguably even better than the original. -- B.G.
22. The Beatles, "She Loves You" (1963)
An almost-unthinkable 55 years (!!) after its initial release, The Beatles' second No. 1 single on the Hot 100 still feels a live wire from its very first measure: the briefest of Ringo drum fills, and then straight to the hook ("She loves you, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!"), essentially the genesis of the entire power-pop genre before the song really even starts. "She Loves You" pulls back a bit for the disarming John/Paul harmonies of its verse, but goes back in for the chorus, which reduces the love song form to its bluntest simplicity: "She said she loves you/ And you know that can't be bad/ She loves you, and you know you should be glad." And then they hit 'em with an "Oooooo!," just in case there are any girls in the back still standing. -- A.U.
21. The Monkees, "I'm a Believer" (1966)
The only downside to the Monkees’ career-defining hit is that it spawned a Smash Mouth cover that’s gotten almost as much 21st-century play as the original. The Neil Diamond-penned original track had Mickey Dolenz gushing about how the right love could make a man believe in the stuff of storybook romance, and the Day-Glo organ notes of the chorus would go on to serve as one of the most recognizable sounds of ‘60s pop. “I’m A Believer” was one of the group's most successful efforts on the charts, too: It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1966, where it’d remain for a seven-week stretch. The song is almost old enough to collect AARP benefits, but its popularity continues to grow -- “I’m A Believer” is far and away the group’s most popular track on Spotify, with a whopping 76 million plays. -- H.H.
20. 5 Seconds of Summer, "She Looks So Perfect" (2014)
Not quite as traditional as the One Direction boys that helped introduce them to the world, 5 Seconds of Summer declared they were aiming more for arena rock than pop anthems. But “She Looks So Perfect” doubled as both, catering to those who appreciate guitar-heavy jams and the girls who were squealing over 1D’s adorableness. With lyrics that make you swoon (“If I showed up with a plane ticket/ And a shiny diamond ring with your name on it/ Would you wanna run away too?/ 'Cause all I really want is you”) and a sneakily scandalous reference to American Apparel underwear, 5SOS' anthemic breakout hit is the perfect mix of grungy and innocent — practically putting them in their own lane of boy band. -- T.W.
19. LFO, "Summer Girls" (1999)
One of the most woefully underrated boy bands of the late ‘90s era was LFO, led by singer-songwriter Rich Cronin and rounded out by Brad Fischetti and Devin Lima. Along with the starry-eyed “Girl on TV,” “Summer Girls” was one of the trio’s tickets to turn-of-the-millennium fame: a rap-splashed, quasi-ridiculous cataloguing of cultural touchstones from the time (Abercrombie & Fitch, Fun Dip, Cherry Coke) and oddball throwbacks (Eric B. & Rakim, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, "Billy" Shakespeare) that cemented their boy band legacy with a No. 3 peak on the Hot 100, and continues to enchant and perplex fans in equal measure a generation later. -- S.J.H.
18. Backstreet Boys, "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" (1998)
We have Denniz PoP and Max Martin to thank for this earworm that was the embodiment of pure late-'90s dance-pop. Backstreet Boys were already leading the pre-millennium era with their lovey-dovey ballads, but “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) had a tangible energy that proved the guys were on a path to take over pop music -- and pretty much the entire world. The bombastic production was filled with clinking sound effects, “Ooh, ooh!” call outs and vocal commands that convinced you the guys were truly back from... wherever they were coming from. The song was also a necessary shift in their music, as they previously shaped their career with heartstring-tugging ballads and love songs. But Nick Carter, the band’s youngest member, helped usher them into PG-13 territory with one simple question: “Am I SEX-U-AL?" -- B.G.
17. Bay City Rollers, "Saturday Night" (1975)
Taking the stomp and swagger of glam rock but de-fanging it with a homecoming-styled chant and lyrics about teens pursuing the '50s version of fun, this 1976 Hot 100 No. 1 exemplifies the Bay City Rollers' brilliant knack for taking the sounds of the era out of the clubs and into the suburbs. But even the cynics couldn't fully resist the Rollers -- there's an exuberance and guileless joy to their delivery that, well, rolls through your defenses. Case in point: Prickly pub-rocker Nick Lowe's rapturous tribute not to the band per se, but to the indescribable joy they gave their fans. -- J. Lynch
16. BTS, "Blood, Sweat & Tears" (2016)
“Blood, Sweat & Tears” was the tipping point of BTS’ career, with its ethereal melodies delivering up the K-pop group’s most captivating sound to date. The 2016 hit embraces the sense of desperation that the septet had featured on previous singles, like “I Need U” and “Save Me,” and mixes those emotions with sparkling tropical house synths and moombahton beats. Built around a circuitous choral refrain and layered instrumentals, the verses vacillate between sentimental crooning and undulating raps in a show of the members’ vocal prowess. -- T.H.
15. The Jackson 5, "ABC" (1970)
The Jackson 5 stood as one of the foundational boy bands of not just their time, but essentially every group that came after them. Led by a falsetto-scraping Michael Jackson just getting a taste for fame, the quintet became the first collective of its kind to score four consecutive No. 1s on the Hot 100 -- the second of which was “ABC,” a carefree, spirited crowd-pleaser hooked onto one of the must fundamental aspects of humanity: letters and numbers. The song's gleeful bounce was so timeless and universal that two decades later, it helped propel a very different sort of three-letter title to the charts' top tier. -- S.J.H.
14. New Edition, "Candy Girl" (1983)
New Edition helped carry the torch from the Jackson 5 into the ‘80s. Put together by boy band mastermind Maurice Starr -- who also also assembled New Kids on the Block later in the decade -- the quintet managed to hold their own with their up-to-date style and sound, thanks to production from Starr and Arthur Baker, sending their 1983 debut album Candy Girl and its title track single to chart success. The song, a light, hip-hop-inflected take on the boy band sound set before them, was fresh and innocent, with a chorus every bit as tooth-rottingly sweet as you'd expect from the title -- a prelude to the maturation that would unfold across their records through the next century. -- S.J.H.
13. Aventura, "Obsesion" (2002)
“Obsesión” was the breakthrough song for Aventura, the bilingual band of Dominican-American cousins from the Bronx who would bring an urban flavor to the traditional island genre bachata and take it to the world. The haunting 2002 track hit No. 1 in countries including France, Germany, Italy and Austria, and topped Billboard's Eurochart, compiling sales from 18 countries. But, although it seems unimaginable today given that ex-member Romeo Santos is one of the biggest Latin superstars, the original Spanish-language “Obsesión” did not make the Hot Latin Songs chart. A bilingual version was subsequently released, and the song would finally crash the Hot 100 in 2005 -- though only in the form of Frankie J and Baby Bash's cover version, "Obsession (No Es Amor)." -- J. C-N
12. *NSYNC, "Bye Bye Bye" (2000)
It’s already one of the most decisive breakup anthems in pop history, with an iconic dance move to match. (Call it the Pac-Man puppet show wave.) But the lead single from *NSYNC’s blockbuster No Strings Attached LP also signaled a clean slate for the group as well: “Bye Bye Bye” was their first release after a messy split from late ex-manager Lou Pearlman, and its commercial success -- the stomping, quintessential Max Martin beat and echoing hook helped No Strings Attached go platinum in one day -- proved the group would never again spend a second in Backstreet Boys' shadow. -- N.F.
11. Take That, "Back for Good" (1995)
In the U.K., the group was a phenomenon of near-Beatlemania proportions -- when the quintet initially split in 1996, the British government need to set up emergency hotlines to counsel the grief-stricken young fans threatening self-harm -- but in the U.S., we only got a single song. What a one-off, though: "Back for Good" was the perfect mid-'90s ballad, delicately delivering one of the most bulletproof boy band sentiments via lush harmonies and gentle acoustics, with a music video that earns the dramatics of its black-and-white downpour. It's guaranteed to instantly transport you back to a time and place from its opening strum. And those distraught fans eventually got their own "Back for Good" wish: Take That reunited in 2005 and are still around today. -- A.U.
10. Hanson, "MMMBop" (1997)
The words are inscrutable. But the melody is infectious. And if you’ve heard it once, you’re unlikely to forget the chorus. The made up "mmmbop" stands tall in the hearts of millennials -- recalling the tune brings about only joyous MTV-filtered memories of baggy pants and rollerblades. Musically, it does exactly what we want boy band songs to do -- grab onto our ears and never let go. (And it doesn't hurt that the long hair of the brother trio evokes the later years of the most-famous of boy bands: The Beatles.) -- D.W.
9. BBMak, "Back Here" (1999)
Mark Barry, Christian Burns and Stephen McNally -- BBMak, derived from their combined surnames -- engineered one astonishingly effortless pop-rock single during their time in the spotlight as guitar-toting counter-programming to *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. No, they didn’t have dance moves or Timberlake looks, but BBMak had loaded their fairly straightforward mash note with a pristine balance of catchiness, charisma and cathartic sing-along moments; to that last point, the landing of the “Until you’re BACK here baby” chorus opening is only rivaled by the bridge’s echoing falsetto (“And I wonderrrr (wonder, wonder)...”). “Pleasant” is a word that could describe “Back Here,” but that sells short how successful it is at being aw-shucks likable and worthy of return. Few pop songs in general hit their mark as cleanly as “Back Here,” and for that, this British trio and earned a place in boy band history. -- J. Lipshtuz
8. New Kids on the Block, "Step by Step" (1990)
The iconic title track from the Boston boy band’s third album had all the hallmarks of an early-‘90s smash, from the canned strings and drum machines working overtime to the synths and smooth harmonies of Jordan, Danny, Donnie, Joey and Jonathan. Complete with a goofy solo section that had Jordan Knight busting out his best falsetto and a music video that delivered their fanciest footwork yet (along with a Mark Wahlberg cameo), “Step By Step” laid the groundwork for the next generation of boy bands with a single song. Musically, it showed the New Kids’ strength as a five-man vocal unit, while also highlighting them individually. Visually… let’s just say the wardrobe choices and dance moves have remained unrevived in the decades since for a reason. (Donnie’s Public Enemy t-shirt of course being the lone exception.) -- H.H.
7. The Monkees, "Daydream Believer" (1967)
Musically sophisticated enough to thrive in the year of Sgt. Pepper, but undeniably tuneful enough to become the group's third and final Hot 100-topping hit, the John Stewart-penned "Daydream Believer" brought The Monkees to the boy band precipice, showing they would not be the province of lunchboxes and daytime TV for much longer. But a half-century later, the song's pristine poppiness remains overpowering; like all truly great productions, it remains captivating from its opening piano plinks to its sweeping orchestral fade, and like all truly great chourses, its lyrics ("Cheer up, Sleepy Jean/ Oh what can it mean, to a/ Daydream believer and a homecoming queen") can mean as much or as little as you choose to believe. -- A.U.
6. New Edition, "Can You Stand the Rain" (1988)
It only takes three lines for the clouds to arrive. Johnny Gill’s satin voice unfurls sunshine (“On a perfect day, I know that I can count on you”) just as quickly as he hides it away (“Tell me can you weather the storm?”). New Edition’s most beloved ballad, “Can You Stand the Rain” gets deep for a boy band, asking the question that every partnership must eventually face: When times get rough, will you stick it out? The strength and flexibility of that central metaphor means the song grows up as you do -- the storm could be high-school miscommunication one year and then something more mature further down the road.
The only thing in life that’s certain is that production from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis will always knock. And because “Can You Stand the Rain?” is an R&B song, even more than a boy band cut, the guys find a way to work hard-fought, post-trauma make-up sex into the track, as the the sound of gentle rain appears three minutes in and Mike Bivins whispers, “C’mon baby -- let’s go get wet.” Cue thunder. -- R.S.
5. *NSYNC, "Tearin' Up My Heart" (1998)
After kicking off their career with a timeless boy band plea, *NSYNC continued the heartbroken sentiment with “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” But there was something about the hard-hitting beat of their second single that made it even more awe-inspiring than the first: It had a similar sound to its predecessor, but brought a higher energy and a sharper hook that makes the song just as potent now as it was in the late ‘90s. Although J.C. Chasez takes most of the lead vocals on the track, the harmonies provided by the rest of the group on the chorus make it about as quintessential as boy band songs come, with the rolling pop melody and funky pre-verse breakdown helping it really soar. As Chasez told Billboard earlier this year, “Tearin’ Up My Heart” was "'I Want You Back 2.0'” -- solidifying *NSYNC as being on their way to becoming one of the most iconic American vocal groups of all time. -- T.W.
4. One Direction, "What Makes You Beautiful" (2011)
You don’t get to amass a small nation of young, heart-emoji-eyed fans without songs they can insert themselves into -- songs that let you (yes, you!) pretend you’re the one these coiffed dreamboats have been searching for all this time. One Direction didn’t just understand that, they practically staked a career on it, when they debuted in 2011 with a song about something many teens and pre-teens know all too well: low-self esteem.
Built around a guitar riff borrowed from the McCoys’ 1965 track “Hang on Sloopy,” “What Makes You Beautiful” had the effect of breaking pop’s fourth wall, practically doing away with a fictional love interest to provide a confidence boost directly to their listeners. At times, this approach could cross the line into condescension -- see their sophomore album's “Little Things,” which finds the boys of 1D running through an alarmingly detailed list of a lover’s insecurities as proof of devotion -- but at least the giddy enthusiasm of “Beautiful” came from a genuine place: Hitmaker Savan Kotecha says he wrote the song for his wife after she was down on herself during a rough morning. -- N.F.
3. The Beatles, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (1963)
Critics and even fans cite material from 1966 and beyond as examples of the band's genius and influence, but historically speaking, The Beatles' most seismic impact on Planet Earth was when these four lads from Liverpool smiled into Ed Sullivan's cameras sang about the most innocuous of romantic gestures. Hey you, cute teenager sitting at your parents feet on the carpet -- "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Innocent enough that the parents couldn't get angry, but vague enough that it left plenty of room for a girl to dream.
That Leave It to Beaver version of courtship mixed with the urgency of their Chuck Berry-meets-girl group sonic palette -- with no shortage of harmonies or handclaps -- changed pop music and teen culture forever. After this, no one would underestimate the economic value of attaching a pretty face and wholesome smile to a song aimed at teenagers. From Jackson 5 to One Direction, the boy band canon starts here. -- J. Lynch
2. The Jackson 5, "I Want You Back" (1969)
The Jackson 5 defined what it meant to be a boy band a decade before the members of *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were even born. The brothers perfected the formula for a catchy pop song and turned it into Motown gold with debut single “I Want You Back.” Young Michael’s opening “Uh-huh-huhhh-huhhh” notes set the tone for the all-ages tune, and his tearful croons about wanting his lover back were so mature it made you forget he was only a preteen himself when the song was released. His brothers anchored his remorseful emotions with sticky-sweet harmonies, soulful licks on the guitar, and an overall bubblegum essence that still continues to capture hearts for generations to come -- from drunken nights at karaoke to a singalong session at family barbecues. “I Want You Back” remains a timeless, joyous treasure, one that remains to be replicated in pop. -- B.G.
1. Backstreet Boys, "I Want It That Way"
When "I Want It That Way" took off in 1999, it felt like the entire century's worth of pop music had been clearing the runway for it. From Tin Pan Alley to the Brill Building, The Beatles to Boyz II Men, this is what it seemed like it had all been leading up to: A boy band mid-tempo ballad so big and so brilliant that you'd lived a lifetime with it by the time it was done its first spin. It learned nonsense lyrics from ABBA, it learned bridges from Diane Warren, it learned key changes from Bon Jovi, and it mixed its history with an eye to the future, where pop music would expand to such sizes that rock would begin to look puny by comparison. Its parent album was called Millennium for a reason.
Somehow, "I Want It That Way" only peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100; *NSYNC's Gloria Estefan collab "Music of the Heart," which 3/5 of the group probably doesn't even remember recording at this point, peaked four spots higher. But along with Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time," "I Want It That Way" has endured as the pop song of an entire generation; all you have to do is start any '80s baby off with a "You are..." and they'll be sure to fill in the rest. It was the definitive boy band song from the definitive boy band era, and needless to say, we wouldn't want it any other way. -- A.U.