By this point, those weaned on the glorious pop heyday of the ’90s are conditioned to awkward attempts at comebacks by those frosted-tipped, joutfit-wearing boybands that plastered their bedroom walls.
The members of New Kids on the Block didn’t let a little thing like being in their forties stop them from dusting off their “Step by Step” dance moves, hipping-up the group's image by shortening its name to the LOL-generation friendly NKOTB for its boyband revival. They recently headlined a NKOTB cruise. The Backstreet Boys reunited and teamed up with NKOTB to form the exhaustingly-named Frankenband NKOTBSB. BSB released a new Christmas song in which 33 percent—really—of the lyrics were “La ta, la ta ta ta ta.” They just posed a video of the group doing the Harlem Shake in their underwear.
Now, to continue the grand, embarrassing tradition, the oft-forgotten Jan Brady of ‘90s boybands, 98 Degrees, is back with a new single. It is about their penises.
Yes, hunky lead singer Nick Lachey (39); his younger brother, Drew Lachey (36); the other one (Jeff Timmons, 39); and the other one who doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page (Justin Jeffre, ageless) are officially back together. They will join NKOTB and Boyz II Men on tour this summer. They will have a new album out in May, called 2.0. And they are a mature MANband now and that means they are singing about their dongs.
To be fair, the dance track, “Microphone,” is in line with the current pop trend of rebranding vaguely phallic inanimate objects into horrifying, not-so-thinly veiled innuendos. There Flo.rida’s “Whistle” (“blow my whistle baby, whistle baby”), Katy Perry’s “Peacock” (“I wanna see your peacock”), and the standard bearer, Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” (“lick my lollipop.”) On “Birthday Cake,” Rihanna seems to be signing about her vagina. And sometimes, the foreplay—and any pretense of innuendo—is skipped altogether. See: Kelly Rowland’s “Kisses Down Low.”
“Microphone” isn’t quite so explicit. But it does represent a blush-inducing sexual awakening from the men we last remember as boys earnestlly crooning, “I do, cherish you.” Here’s a section from the chorus, for example:
“Hey lady, grab the microphone And say ‘do-re-mi-fa-so-oh-oh-oh’ Yeah baby, you’re wound up and ready to blow Like do-re-mi-fa-so-oh-oh-oh”
It’s the verses, though, where that turns our former clean-cut, always game for matching outfits teen idols into, as Vice aptly puts it, “flasher-pervy at best, misogynist in the middle, and marginally-rapey at worst” men:
“Put this in your hands (Put this in your hands!) And hold it up to your lips We can be a two-piece band And make some hits while you sing in this microphone…
… How would it taste? Can you put your money where your mouth is? You can make no mistakes You got a promise to try and do the best you can”
Shocking sexual content aside, is “Microphone” the single that’s going to make them the rare reunited boyband to surge back to the top of the charts? Probably not. But it’s understandable why the band probably thought this was the way to go to find renewed success.
Since the boyband reign ended in the early 2000s, it’s typically been the rare sexually-nonthreatening group of clean-cut younguns that make any mark on the music scene—the Jonas Brothers or One Direction, for example. But the Lachey brothers and the other two are long past their days of believably skipping through the rolling surf at the beach and singing songs like “Kiss You” and “What Makes You Beautiful.” Considering that the one boyband comprised of actual adults (and not barely legal teens) to hit it big in recent years, The Wanted, did so with a hyper-sexual dance track titled “Glad You Came” (the innuendo there should be obvious), it could possibly even be considered shrewd to attempt to replicate that formula for renewed relevance.
The difference, however, is that the men of The Wanted were introduced to us already as sexualized adults. When we met 98 Degrees, they were barely men and their fans barely in puberty. Their squeaky clean image has been excessively buffered through the years, even after the band broke up.
We watched Nick Lachey’s adorably chaste Newlyweds reality show with Jessica Simpson, actually enjoyed his pleasant solo single “What’s Left of Me,” and have been charmed by his goofily energetic hosting of NBC’s The Sing-Off. Drew Lachey appeared on two seasons of Dancing With the Stars, a reality show that zaps any exposed-chest sex appeal with egregious Oompa Loompa spray tans of a shellacking of sparkles. Hearing these guys suddenly singing about blow jobs is like that that time the cousin you grew up playing tag with showed up for Thanksgiving in combat boots and a midriff tank top. No one can stomach that.
There’s something undeniably endearing about a 98 Degrees’ comeback attempt. It’s admirable, too, that, unlike NKOTBSB, they are trying to update their music to fit into the modern pop landscape. Sexualizing their image, though, may not be the right move. These men, after all, are not 25-year-old beefcakes. They are dads who are pushing 40. Maybe a Ryan Tedder/One Republic-type track would suit them better, or something Maroon 5-esque.
These are likable guys with a fair amount of charisma. Anyone who grew up on ‘90s pop is probably, at least for nostalgia’s sake, rooting for their comeback. Just not a comeback focused on their penises. Jon Hamm’s got that realm properly (un)covered.