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Members are Donnie Wahlberg (lead vocals), born ca. 1969 in Boston, Mass., Danny Wood (backup vocals and keyboard), born ca. 1970 in Boston, Mass., Jon Knight (backup vocals), born ca. 1970 in Boston, Mass., Jordan Knight (lead vocals), born ca. 1971 in Boston, Mass., and Joe McIntyre (backup vocals), born ca. 1973 in Boston, Mass. Addresses: P. O. Box 39, Boston, Mass. 02122.

The 1989 pop music charts were absolutely dominated by a young group from Boston, Massachusetts, the New Kids on the Block. The New Kids--who are reported to be earning in excess of a million and a half dollars per week-- topped the 1989 Billboard list for sales of both albums and singles and became the first group since 1984 to have two songs in the top ten simultaneously. Teenage fans thrill to the New Kids' sound, a well-produced pastiche of funky, obliquely sexual street music, and young girls in particular adore the clean-looking, attractive singers. Rolling Stone reporter Dave Wild summed up the New Kids' appeal in a Baltimore Sun profile, calling the group "the center of teen culture. If you're 12, they're godheads. Their faces are on the Mount Rushmore of Cuteness."

Most critics dismiss the New Kids on the Block as a "weenie band" with little genuine talent and even less originality. Baltimore Sun critic J. D. Considine, for one, finds the New Kids' work "more a marketing ploy than a musical statement, professionally sung but essentially silly." The group's army of female fans respectfully disagree with this opinion, however. Considine quotes a letter he received after panning a New Kids album, written by two young ladies in Baltimore. "We feel that the New Kids are excellent singers and very talented performers (and so does the rest of America)," the letter stated. "Maybe they are gorgeous hunks, but we also love the street sound they produce in their music. We feel that the New Kids are trying to set a positive example to all teenagers."

The name notwithstanding, the New Kids on the Block are no strangers to the music industry. The group formed in 1985 under the management and leadership of Maurice Starr, a black musician who had engineered the success of another teenaged band, New Edition. According to Joe Logan in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Starr "decided that the world needed a squeaky-clean group to appeal to the millions of adolescents who live to buy records and to worship teen idols. But Starr decided that this wouldn't be just any group. It would be white, but it had to have funk. To draw from another era, this group had to be as hip as the Jackson Five but as down-home as the [Osmond Brothers]."

Starr held a city-wide talent search in Boston, auditioning numerous acts before stumbling across Donnie Wahlberg, a fifteen-year-old shoe salesman. "You could tell right away he was a genius," Starr said in the Inquirer. "I asked him if he could rap and he went on nonstop. He had a cool walk, a cool talk. It was beautiful." Wahlberg then introduced Starr to a few of his friends in his Dorchester neighborhood--Danny Wood and Jordan Knight. Knight brought in his older brother, Jon. The youngest member of the group, Joe McIntyre, was added to replace a singer whose parents didn't want him to become involved in show business. Starr took this group--all teenagers at the time--and began rehearsing them relentlessly. He wrote the music, designed the dance steps, and negotiated the 1986 contract with Columbia Records.

Starr gave his young proteges a genuine baptism by fire. He signed them to live performances before black audiences--traditionally tough critics--and saw to it that they would appeal across racial lines. In fact, the New Kids were signed to Columbia's black music division, as were their predecessors George Michael and Michael Jackson. A debut album, New Kids on the Block, did not sell well, although the single "Be My Girl" was well-received. Undaunted, Starr and his group returned to the studio to cut Hangin' Tough, and they toured extensively, playing both small gigs and opening for teen star Tiffany. Hangin' Tough was released early in 1989, and Logan writes that when it hit, it "began to generate hysteria among teenagers.... When it happened, it happened fast and it happened big."

Within months, the New Kids had earned three number-one singles, "Please Don't Go Girl," "You've Got It (The Right Stuff)," and "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)." Two more songs, "Cover Girl" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind)" also eventually made the top ten. Concert venues in every major city sold out in record time, and extra money was generated by video sales, souvenirs, and a 900 line telephone number. Logan concludes that the New Kids, "with the help of astute management, have created a veritable money machine by combining their scrubbed good looks, acrobatic dance steps and soulful vocals with a wholesome anti-drug image. Already, they have earned untold millions as unrivaled superstars among the jump-rope set." Business analysts estimate that the New Kids on the Block will earn seventy-five million dollars in 1990.

Critics and fans agree on one proposition: the New Kids are positive role models who have somewhat singlehandedly made drinking and drug-taking seem out of vogue. All of the members are from working-class families (Wahlberg and McIntyre have eight siblings, the Knights have four, and Wood has five), they live with their parents, and they refuse any involvement with alcohol or drugs. Wood explained the image in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I don't think we're clean-cut," he said. "I mean, we're clean, but we still have an edge.... That's the way we were before we got successful and that's how we are now. I'm not saying we're the cleanest group out there working, but we don't do drugs, we don't drink and we don't smoke. We do have water fights, but we don't tear up hotel rooms."

If history repeats itself, the future may not be too rosy for the New Kids on the Block. Traditionally, teen bands lose popularity almost as fast as they earn it. Wild told the Baltimore Sun that the New Kids' biggest threat is "time," adding: "It's very hard to be a teen idol--ask Bobby Sherman. Ask Shaun Cassidy." Perhaps realizing this, the New Kids are reported to be frugal with their earnings, investing rather than spending the largesse that has come their way. Speaking for his mates, Wood told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I'm not a looking-to-the-future kind of guy. I just can't say what we'll be doing [in the future]. I don't know when the group will end. It is on my mind that we might not have success forever, so I'm trying to learn to write music, producing and playing the keyboard. Hopefully, we can last."

by Anne Janette Johnson

New Kids on the Block's Career

Group formed in Boston after a talent search, ca. 1985; originally called Nynuk, took name New Kids on the Block, 1985. Signed with Columbia Records, 1986, released first single, "Be My Girl," 1986. Released first album, New Kids on the Block, 1986. Awards: Platinum album sales for New Kids on the Block, Hangin' Tough, and Merry, Merry Christmas.

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