The stylistic intricacies of what constitutes a boy band can be debated, but one thing is certain: If a group can walk from point A to point B safely and without hindrance from fans, it's not a boy band.
The Beatles, Monkees, New Kids on the Block, NSYNC and One Direction have all led us to Why Don’t We.
The quintet has seemingly made attempts at distancing themselves from the boy band label, but the high-pitched, tinnitus-inducing screams from 6,500 adoring fans suggested they haven't escaped it yet. Five minutes before they took the stage at The Theatre in Grand Prairie, a preteen fan holding a sign that read “We Love You” briefly saw member Jack Avery behind the curtain and yelled, “Oh my God, I just saw Jack in person!” (Didn’t you expect this whenever you bought a ticket?)
At 8:20 p.m., the lights shuttered and a cacophony of adolescent screams whose volume rivals almost anything this author has ever heard (even the time he saw My Bloody Valentine play in a wooden room) erupted from the audience. Projected onto a curtain was a video of a letter that read:
To whom it may concern,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the wonderful world of Why
Don’t We where you must smile and have a great time.
Why Don’t We
Five animated envelopes reading the names of each member showed up on the screen, then the curtain dropped to reveal all five members standing on platforms next to one another, with white lights shining from below them, putting their faces in shadow. Once the remaining stage lights turned on, the group sustained the crowd’s excitement as they kicked off their set with the Ed Sheeran-penned “Trust Fund Baby.”
The band deserves credit. Their vocal prowess is up to snuff, their dancing is impressive and they understand better than most acts that showmanship is as much an art as music. These dances require months of strenuous, physically demanding choreography instruction. The perfectly executed harmonies/polyphonies and the rich vibrato they employ are all made possible by the tireless work they do with vocal coaches.
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Gawk at the saccharine nature of the band’s pop sensibilities if you must, but nobody can pull off such a stage presence without being professional and self-disciplined. They have also reconfigured the styles of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys to fit the trends of pop music. On the song “Choose" for example, Jonah Marais takes on a style and vocal delivery that brings to mind Drake.
Jack Avery sings in this Bruno Mars-esque vocal register on the track “Runner” and accompanying it is an atmospheric electro-pop beat with crisp 808s and a rather timid bass. The vocals are abnormally high in the mix, but the instrumentals are well-produced and manage to lend a commercial-friendly pop aesthetic without being too polished.
The song “In Too Deep” starts off with this ethereal MIDI instrumental with a piano-glistening subtlety in the mix. The production is decent, but the accompanying video on the LED screen was made with the most tacky CGI imaginable of what looked like that underwater city in Naboo. This video was clearly intended to capture the dreamy mood of the song, but it just recalled the scene in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace where Jar Jar Binks takes Obi-wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn to Naboo.
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Despite that, the band conveyed a charming personality that seemed authentic. Members Zach Herron and Corbyn Besson are both originally from Dallas, so this show was essentially a homecoming of sorts. Herron singled out his mother in the audience and thanked her for the support, and other members told the crowd that she brought food from Taco Bueno in the green room hours leading up to the performance.
The same LED screen that showed the monstrosity of an Atlantis-like animation also displayed a YouTube video the band posted Sept. 27, 2016, (this is a special date to them and their fans) in which they announced their formation. Despite reaching this level of success so rapidly, they made it a point to stay humble and emphasize where they came from.
Besson segued into the close of the set in telling the crowd, “We are proof that dreams do come true,” and encouraging them to follow their passions. The band parted on that note and closed the hourlong set with their 2019 single “Cold in LA” and exited the stage to an enthusiastic ovation from frenzied fans.
Given the notoriously ephemeral nature of boy bands, whether they will achieve ubiquity and stand the test of time is not certain, but they are unquestionably living in their moment, and they are letting us in on it. That is, of course, on the condition that we smile and have a good time.