“I’m really glad we’re not a bubblegum pop, squeaky-clean group,” says Boys World’s Makhyli Simpson on a Zoom call with Billboard, “because I think that would be harder for us.” Her group mates — Queenie Mae Villaluz, Elana Caceres, Olivia Ruby and Lillian Kay — all nod in agreement.
Thus far, the ascent of Boys World has been anything but difficult. From the moment the quintet dropped their debut single, “Girlfriends,” last October — with its delicious truth bomb, ”Girls stan girlfriends over boyfriends” — they’ve been dubbed the “Gen Z Spice Girls.” Songwriters behind hits for BTS, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez and Dua Lipa have gotten on board; so have over 1.1 million followers on TikTok and 100,000 Instagram followers.
Perhaps most importantly, the group boasts a potent mix of personalities befitting a best-selling pop group, as well as a variety of sonic influences. The members listened to pop stars like Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child growing up, but also The Cure, Amy Winehouse and Weezer. Villaluz is a bonafide jazzhead; Simpson performed in musical theatre. Boys World choose the demos they want to cut and, as such, the three singles they’ve released to date — which will lead to a debut EP, While You Were Out, due Apr. 9 — echo their diverse tastes.
“‘Girlfriends’ is more pop,” Lillian points out. “‘Wingman’ is kind of funky, and ‘Tiptoe’ has a trap vibe.” The upcoming EP’s five tracks hinge upon a narrative thread – the cyclical nature of relationships – but it’s the group’s chemistry that holds the project together, from their honeyed vocals and harmonies to the warm, chaotic sisterhood they’ve developed.
Boys World were individually scouted throughout 2018 on Instagram by KYN Entertainment, managers of new-school boy band PRETTYMUCH, with Villaluz and Simpson the first to join and the lineup finalized in April 2019. They spent the next 12 months training — “Me and Olivia weren’t dancers, so that was really fun, the whole process of being in development,” says Villaluz — and getting to know each other while living in a shared Los Angeles house.
During their Zoom chat with Billboard from that house, the members are so excited and nervous that Caceres and Simpson clutch each other’s arms for reassurance. Their fans are familiar with their home: Boys World document their everyday life on their TikTok account (which they launched in January 2020 with an introductory post set to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”) and on YouTube, sharing everything from positive affirmations over homemade face masks to song covers, reaction videos and dance rehearsals. They’ve even set up a very ‘90s, teen mag-esque phone hotline to chat with fans. They’ll film each other unscripted, bare-faced and dressed in sweats, when they’re at their best and, sometimes, at their most vulnerable.
“Especially during COVID,” says Ruby, “we want to give our fans as much content as we can, ’cause we know everyone’s just at their house.” Adds Simpson, “We think about the way we’d want to see someone that we look up to.”
If what we called “girl power” in the ‘90s was a red PVC platform boot kicking the pop industry in the balls, in 2021 it’s a boldly written political placard held high for all to see, no less feisty but far more considered. Last year, Boys World (‘Boys’ is an acronym for Best Of Yourself) attended Black Lives Matter marches and helped raise bail funds. They’re interested, says Villaluz, in the fight against “social norms, gender norms and the social standards of what a woman should be. When it comes to positivity and awareness, whatever we put out, we want to attract those kinds of people too. And if they’re not, maybe they can learn through us.”
As such, their songs explore the intimacy of relationships, but being a part of wider social conversations and using their platform is “so important to us,” says Simpson. “We’re proud of what we stand for. It’s important to show everyone that though this might be hard, we have to do it.”
Independence remains a thematic cornerstone of female empowerment in pop, but for Boys World, who have entered the industry at a moment in which U.S. girl groups have become scarce, togetherness and collaboration are also integral to emphasize. “It’s about girls supporting girls, lifting each other up, and loving each other,” says Caceres, making eye contact with each of her group mates. Shortly after releasing their first single “Girlfriends,” four members of Boys World had a tiny “GF” tattooed on their wrists (“I didn’t get one. I was scared!” Simpson says with a grin).
And although the pandemic has kept them huddled in the same house for months, in some ways, says Simpson, this circumstance has provided relief. “We’re able to do stuff remotely, at home, so it’s not as scary as being in the studio or at interviews,” she says. “We’re taking it as a kind of practice [run].”
They’ve shared moments of disbelief that pop star life — the dance and vocal training, the recording sessions, the music videos, the fans — is happening for them. The members of Boys World hail from all over the country, from the Bay Area via the Philippines (Villaluz) to Queens (Caceres) to Boise (Kay), ranging in age from 17 to 20. “Most of us had never done anything like this before,” says Kay. “We were going to school, living regular lives, planning for college.” Simpson was the one member who’d already set a path towards the industry by enrolling in a creative arts school, and even she still experiences the shock of the new. “Like, we’re put in the studio and I’m like, ‘Ohhh, what’s this!,’ and we still look outside at our pool and go, ‘Wow, we’re here!'” she says with a laugh.
While a live show isn’t on the cards just yet, they’re already considering “a virtual live performance,” says Caceres, “maybe even an album…” Simpson calls their journey so far “a long road,” but in looking forward, she exudes an enviable confidence. “If we didn’t have that sparkle, or that something people can see is different, then they wouldn’t come to us,” she explains. “I don’t feel like we’re just another girl group. I feel like people are seeing us and going, ‘Gosh, they’re really cool.’”
“We’re letting time take us to wherever we’re meant to be,” adds Villaluz, “but we’re wanting to be the biggest girl group in the world!”