By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It never ends. Teeny-bop boy bands have reigned king over everything pop since the Jackson 5's sweet prince stole the hearts of screaming girls with his cute dimples and slight hip-slide dance moves. But the face of pop has matured: Critics say the quintessential boy-band member has morphed into an oversexed practitioner of soft-core bumping and grinding. Are boy bands selling a sexual image, or is pop music--by way of titillating, image-conscious dancers--a force to be respected?
Boy Division, Denton's first and only boy band, makes its case in the name of pop.
The group includes the usual suspects: the shy guy, the guy all the girls want, the truly talented leader and, of course, the bad boy. Their songs are enough to make girls swoon, and their moves are straight from a high school pep rally--literally.
Is Boy Division just another splash in the bottomless bucket of sugar-water music? Is the band's pop premise too thin to penetrate the credible music scene that swells in Denton, Texas--the home of jazz elitists and indie-rock refugees?
Known for the supportive nature it lends to any type of music, Denton provides a sympathetic environment to, let's say, experimentation. It is not uncommon for musicians in the name of creativity, or in this case a witty sense of humor, to initiate a good showing of any kind.
Here are four way-of-the-walk rockers turned sugarcoated, oversexed poppers to tell you pop music isn't a fad--it's a way of life for people who embrace the phenomenon that is pop culture.
Jackson Flash (Colin Carter of Little Grizzly), Mikey Sweetz (Mike Munywoki, who performed at Rock Lottery 5), Joshie Lubb (Ian Johnson of Hogpig) and Jazm (James Washington of Rise and Shine) found each other through Denton's all-encompassing, anything-goes music scene. Little did they know, while trying to live up to their rock essence, that a little bit of pop lived inside each of them.
It was the anticipation of a Halloween party three years ago that brought the gnawing truth to the surface. Discussing costume ideas at a favorite rock haven, J&J's Pizza, two future members were thinking of going as Tenacious D, a role-model band for all things rock. But there was a problem--Tenacious D has two members. It just wouldn't work.
No one will directly take credit for the initial suggestion of forming a boy band. Most references to the decision are directed toward the band's now-manager, Fritz "All the Way" Holloway (Brian Cholowinski of Hogpig). Instead the members simply skip the specifics and reminisce about the excitement they shared after listening to the blueprint of their first single.
"We talked about it and decided to form the band under the name N2U," Flash says. "We were all understandably excited. A couple of days later, Mikey returns to the pizzeria with N2U's first hit, 'Freeze Frame.' We recorded it in just under three hours."
After the inspirational recording session, the band quickly followed suit by writing an additional two songs to prepare for its debut. Preparation was key. If they were going to be a boy band, they were committed to be the best boy band in...well, at least Denton.
The band had the music, now the members needed moves. They called on friend Christina Sargasm. "She got us started," Sweetz says. "She was our first choice for choreographer--she had some cheerleading experience. We learned how to do what we do from her."
The stage was set. October 26, 2000. Good/Bad Art Collective Halloween Bash. N2U was ready. Was Denton?
"We were not at all nervous," Flash remembers. "As far as mental and physical preparation--some calf stretches...We went out and lit the place up. A lot of that had to do with our choreographer. She's the reason for the sex you see onstage."
"It was big," Sweetz adds. "We figured with the gamut of pluses we have going for us, like good looks and charisma, we would get away with it--which we did."
According to Flash and the next three highly talked-about impromptu performances, the reception of a boy band by Denton music fans was tremendous.
N2U's first paying gig was a road trip across town--across the tracks at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. The band was scheduled to open for Har Mar Superstar. Everything had been leading up to this point. The band members started preparing immediately, worked out new songs and lined up a couple of surprises for the set. The buzz among the cool basement rock shows and spacey jam sessions began to hum. Denton rock was beginning to make room for the four boys of pop.
After Atom and His Package finished its set, the boy-band members huddled and took their places. Onstage--a wall of butcher paper in bold spray paint announcing the next band--"N2U." The crowd's anticipation was evident. Many girls on their toes trying to get the first glance.
Everyone was in position. The sound engineer pushes play. And...magic.
Flash says it was by far one of the most energetic shows they've done. Friend and notable rapper Low Tech gave the group a bit of street credibility with his impromptu appearance. Although violent in nature, his rap proclaiming the greatness of N2U only added to the animation of the performance. N2U had transgressed the idea of Denton music, and the audience had accepted it with open arms.
Many who attended the show claim the headliner got upstaged. The humbled omni-pop personas of Boy Division members play down the cold reception some say the band received from Superstar. "I don't know where the upstaged rumor started," Flash says. "We played first and turned out a phenomenal show. Our reception was giant, as usual. Then Har Mar played. He also put on a fantastic show. I don't see where there is any room for conflict. In this business, someone somewhere is always out to ruin you [and start rumors]. I don't think it was Atom, so I bet it was that guy who married Jessica Simpson. He's always hated us."
But what about the critics who say boy bands have no substance? The naysayers who point out that boy-band songs are oversexed cookie-cutter songs with no real substance? "With the exception of the violent rap cameo by Low Tech, there is no profanity in any of the Boy Division/N2U songs," Sweetz says. "With no profanity and drug references, you can slip everything else underneath the radar. So, hey--whatever they want to say."
Flash refers to the critics as "playa haters," people who want to tear the king of the mountain from his throne.
"This business will try to kill you as it gives you life," Flash says. "Our success infuriates some. To them, I say, 'Get off your duff and start your own awesome band.' It is the act of a coward to detract from another."
But he doesn't deny the subtle innuendoes that are evident in their performances. Lyrics such as "Cats like us can chase the fur all day" simply can't be overlooked or ignored.
"I am the womanizer, so they say," Flash says. "I got ladies all up in my mix 24/7. I'm not a player, more like a scrimmage partner. You might notice that most of my lyrics objectify women. I was not brought up to believe this way. It's just part of my life as a pop star."
Each member lives the life of a pop star--the overindulgence, the excess, the ladies. Flash even has a motto he brings along to pump him up for shows: "Singing like champions, dancing like warriors and scoring chicks like the '86 Mets."
So N2U was a success. They had a fan base, were playing more shows. On a roll. Why, then, the sudden name change?
Almost in a defensive tone, Sweetz rattles on about pop power and the phenomenon of pop culture making up the rules as it goes. "Why did Keith Richards or Richard remove or add the 'S'?" he attempts to justify. "Because we can. So we became Boy Division." Translated from boy-band speak, that means some other pop phenomenon had already been going by N2U for years in Los Angeles. And Denton's boy band stands in the shadow of no other.
It's been almost a year since the four members last took the stage. Countless message board postings that rumor a sour split rival only those anticipating Friday night's show.
Boy Division promises it to be well worth the wait.
At camp Boy Division there are no platinum records lining the halls. No bags of fan mail. No pubescent stalkers waiting outside. Only true dedication to pop music. These guys don't need the pretentious validation of Teen Beat pictorial spreads or their own action-figure doll. Boy Division is running on the drive the members get from making the "best pop music in the world." "We believe we have shown people how to 'pop,'" Flash says. "Are we here to send the other boy bands back to school? We damn sure are."