What happens to the boy band when its members grow up? It’s a question few, if any, such groups have been able to adequately answer throughout pop history — which is why most of the greatest boy bands rarely make it past their third album without losing a member, dipping in popularity, or breaking up altogether.
However, there is life after adolescence for these groups. Decades after their breakthrough — and usually with one split and one reunion under their belt — many of these outfits end up releasing some of their best material as adults, albeit for somewhat smaller (if no less fervent) audiences. It’s often challenging, mature, and occasionally downright risqué compared to their early hits, but it reminds you that there was a reason these groups became such phenomenons in the first place, even apart from their youthful energy and good looks.
Here are Billboard‘s picks for the ten best songs by boy bands-turned-man bands.
98 Degrees, “Microphone” (2013)
No major shock that freed from teenage expectations, 98 Degrees would veer toward the filthy with their pop&B jams. “Microphone” would make even the writers of “Liquid Dreams” blush — yes, the titular object is used in the way you might imagine, along with lyrics like “Put this in your hand/ And hold it up to your lips” and ‘”Yeah baby, you’re warmed up and ready to blow.” It’s unapologetic enough to be endearing, however, and the group’s Passion Pit-like falsetto-shrieking over the “Viva La Vida”-goes-house rhythms of the beat is surprisingly irresistible.
Backstreet Boys, “Permanent Stain” (2013)
Despite being released in 2013, “Permanent Stain” sounds nearly as ’90s-stamped as most of Backstreet’s actual hits from that decade — the zooming synths, chiming bells and relentless vocals of the chorus give it a Eurodance throwback feel that hasn’t been in vogue in the States in decades. However, despite their music being masterminded by Scandanavian writer-producers in their early days, the Boys never actually sounded like this in their own time, making “Permanent Stain” a fascinating flashback to a sort of alternate-timeline BSB where they took their cues more from 2 Unlimited than Boyz II Men.
Hanson, “Running Man” (2007)
In case you ever wondered if Hanson could do Maroon 5 better than Maroon 5, “Running Man” shows the trio embracing the electric piano, falsetto’d chorus harmonies and generally irresistible blue-eyed soul of that group’s Songs About Jane around the time when Adam Levine & Co. were already starting to leave the sound behind. Really, all of 2007’s The Walk is similarly solid, and much more varied than you’d expect from such a group ten years past their commercial peak — but then again, outside of their fade from MTV, nothing about Hanson’s career arc was boy band-typical.
The Jacksons, “Torture” (1984)
After Michael Jackson became the biggest pop star in the world with his 1982 Thriller blockbuster, he rejoined his brothers for an album and tour with the group he originally made his name with. Both were behind-the-scenes disasters — check the Pop-Up Video for some of the more memorable details — but relative commercial successes, as the foreboding synth-funk of “Torture” followed lead single “State of Shock” to the Billboard Hot 100’s top 20 in late 1984. Of the two, “Torture” remains the more indelible hit, with its menacing hooks, whip-crack sound effects and chorus cries of “It’s torrrr-turrre!” — which according to all involved, was an accurate summary of events.
Jodeci, “Every Moment” (2015)
Reports of a Jodeci reunion spurred on by superproducer Timbaland — who was actually christened as such by the quartet’s DeVante Swing, his mentor back when he was just Timothy Mosley — didn’t come to fruition as fans might’ve hoped, with Timbo only co-producing one of the 12 tracks on the group’s The Past, The Present, The Future comeback effort. Still, that one song, the mid-tempo jam “Those Things,” ended up being a fascinating mix of styles, a typically smooth Jodeci vibe with just a hint of Timbaland’s skittering hip-hop mania, giving the song an exciting tension too often missing from crowd-pleasing R&B comebacks.
The Monkees, “That Was Then, This Is Now” (1986)
Thanks in large part to MTV-heralded Monkees nostalgia — reruns of the group’s titular TV show were a hit on the channel in the mid-’80s — the trio (minus original member Michael Nesmith, who ironically played a large role in MTV’s original development) reunited for a greatest hits set and 20th anniversary reunion tour. From that set came “That Was Then, This Is Now,” a cover of the power-pop gem by The Mosquitos, which proved winning enough to become a Hot 100 top 20 hit in late 1986 — as well as extended their second life on MTV, which put the song’s video (a mix of classic Monkees clips and modern-day tomfoolery) into heavy rotation.
New Edition feat. Missy Elliott, “You Don’t Have to Worry” (Remix) (1996)
New Edition took a long-overdue (if hardly drama-free) victory lap in the mid-’90s with their Home Again album, their return LP after their first breakup and comeback, and also their first to top the Billboard 200 albums chart. The set spawned Hot 100 top 10 hits in the first two singles, “Hit Me Off” and “I’m Still in Love With You” — the former actually rating as their best-ever showing on the chart, if you can believe it. But the best single might’ve been the set’s third, the understated, addictive groover “You Don’t Have to Worry.” A Bad Boy remix featuring a pre-Supa Dupa Fly Missy Elliott kicked the song into ’90s overdrive, with Missy claiming “I’ma stick closer to your side than a beeper.”
New Kids on the Block, “Remix (I Like The)” (2013)
NKOTB’s impressive ode to an upgraded girl who “went from wallpaper to heartbreaker” of course doubled as an ode to their own 2.0 incarnation, in which the group threw over instructional teen-pop anthems for a rawer form of adult pop-soul, with a bit of an EDM twinkle thrown in for it to fit on 2013 radio. It didn’t quite get the quintet back onto Top 40, sadly, but if someone got the song in Bruno Mars’ hands, he could probably still have a smash with it whenever he wanted.
O-Town, “Playing With Fire” (2014)
As much of a scorcher as you’d hope from the title, captivating from its opening guitar strums and snap-to-attention first lyric: “I feel like you like a sawed-off aiming in my back.” The song builds appropriately throughout — even sneaking in a quick Supremes melodic lift in the pre-chorus — before exploding into the “Playing with fi-yah!” climax of its chorus. Even the most devout TRL (or Making the Band) faithful might’ve missed this one upon its 2014 release, but it’s worth tracking down for all pop listeners.
Take That, “Shine” (2006)
Though their “Back for Good”-era cameo on the U.S. charts was never again to be replicated, Take That essentially picked right back up where they left off a decade earlier in the U.K. following a ten-year layover, topping the charts with their first two singles off 2006’s Beautiful World comeback. The ELO-reminiscent “Shine” remains the more interesting of the two, getting downright Beatlesque with the “Hey Jude”-like bridge, and even providing the much more contemporary pop star Lily Allen with a little chorus inspiration for her “Who’d Have Known?” single a couple years later.