Buried within the news that the Jonas Brothers had managed a triumphant bow at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week with their reunion single “Sucker” — a historic occasion for a number of reasons — was a revelation that took many pop fans by surprise: The song was the first No. 1 hit from a boy band on the chart since B2K’s P. Diddy-assisted “Bump, Bump, Bump” in 2003.
That’s a long time. Now, 2003 came after most of the successful TRL-era boy bands were already past their prime, so perhaps it’s not terribly surprising that none of the Backstreet Boys/*NSYNC class of groups have topped the chart since. But that timespan still covers a significant number of major boy bands of the 21st century — including One Direction, The Wanted, 5 Seconds of Summer, BTS and, of course, the Jonas Brothers during their original run. Considering the number of iconic pop tracks those groups have been responsible for over the lest decade and a half or so, it’s pretty jarring to hear that not a single one of them went to No. 1.
The simplest explanation for this is one that might feel similarly counter-intuitive for pop obsessives: Radio hasn’t really been all that into boy bands this century. There are exceptions, sure, and a handful of singles from those aforementioned groups have managed to break through — One Direction scored a pair of No. 5 hits on Billboard‘s Radio Songs chart with 2012’s “What Makes You Beautiful” and 2014’s “Story of My Life,” while The Wanted and 5 Seconds of Summer have scored a No. 2 hit each on that listing with 2012’s “Glad You Came” and 2018’s “Youngblood,” respectively. But those are the only songs from the five groups combined to make the Radio Songs top 10, and none of the groups besides One Direction have even charted another top 40 hit there. With its No. 46 debut this week, “Sucker” is already the Jonas Brothers’ biggest Radio Songs hit. BTS has never made the chart.
Without consistent radio support, it’s been hard for these groups to mount a real charge at the top spot of the Hot 100. At the peak of the iTunes era in the mid-to-late ’00s, the Jonas Brothers sold about as consistently well as any major pop artist, scoring five top 5 hits on Digital Song Sales — but streaming wasn’t yet part of Hot 100 calculations on a major scale, and radio play wasn’t enough to get the group past No. 5 on the Hot 100 (“Burnin’ Up,” 2008). 5 Seconds of Summer’s early chart success broke down similarly; across the group’s first two albums, six tracks charted on the top 10 of Digital Song Sales, but radio presence was minimal, resulting in none of those best-sellers making it past No. 16 on the Hot 100 (“Amnesia,” 2014).
Why has radio been so reluctant to embrace these groups’ singles? It could have something to do with them being out of step with overarching trends in pop music in general. Savan Kotceha, co-writer of One Direction’s breakthrough hit “What Makes You Beautiful,” once talked to Billboard about devising boy band hits to serve as “counter-programming” to what else is happening on radio at that time. “You do the exact opposite of what’s going on,” he explained of his unified boy band theory. “Because to me, I feel like teenage girls need to feel it’s their own thing. If you’re just trying to be Usher, they’ll just buy Usher.”
That theory could explain why One Direction thrived with throwback power-pop as the early-’10s charts pulsated with big-tent EDM and tonight’s-the-night party rap, or why the Jonas Brothers found success with a sprightly, PG-rated form of pop-punk in the mid-to-late ’00s, when the Hot 100 was dominated by midtempo balladry and Auto-Tuned hip-hop. But it also could explain why many of the biggest hits by both groups never really found their footing on radio: It was hard to slot an infectious arena-rock singalong like “Best Song Ever” in top 40 playlists alongside Calvin Harris and Pitbull, just like it was tough for a guitar-driven new wave nugget like the Jonas’ “S.O.S.” to find room in between hits by Chris Brown and Nelly Furtado. Tellingly, the two biggest radio hits for boy bands of this period were much more in step with contemporary radio trends: the dance-floor-geared hedonism of The Wanted’s “Glad You Came” in 2012, and the melancholy, ’80s-flavored chug of 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood” last year.
The example of 5 Seconds of Summer — which unlike the JoBros in their first incarnation, does overlap with the era of streaming joining the Hot 100’s data mix — is also illustrative of boy bands not necessarily having streaming success commiserate with their cultural impact, either. While radio finally did embrace 5SOS on “Youngblood,” the streaming world never quite caught up: the track stalled at No. 25 on Billboard‘s Streaming Songs tally, and thus managed a No. 7 peak on the Hot 100. One Direction managed more success on streaming during their run, with three Streaming Songs top five hits, including a No. 2 peak for ‘Best Song Ever” (which also ended up the highest-charting boy band Hot 100 hit of this pre-“Sucker” period, reaching No. 2 on that chart) — but the group’s biggest radio hits and biggest streaming hits often failed to match. (Notably, “What Makes You Beautiful” did reach No. 4 on the On-Demand Streaming Songs chart before the overall Streaming Songs chart’s debut the next year.)
Ultimately, it took until “Sucker” for all the factors to properly line up for a Hot 100-topper: The song debuted at No. 1 on both Digital Song Sales and Streaming Songs, and is already making an impact on the airwaves. The explanation there might just be a combination of a good song and good timing — after a six-year absence, the Jonas Brothers appear to have chosen the exact right moment to return, as “Sucker” has not only blasted to the top of the charts, but reignited massive interest in their back catalog: The day of their comeback single dropped, it was one of five JoBros singles to appear in the daily Spotify U.S. Top 200 chart. It seems that for arguably the first time, there’s room for boy bands in both the radio and streaming worlds — and while it may be an unrepeatable fluke, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see some more boy band reunions pop out of the woodwork in short order to see if the public will be suckers for them, too.