"If history is written by winners," author Maria Sherman says, "music history is written by rock critics, and they don't typically get along with boy bands."
For reasons that she explores in her new book, Larger Than Life: A History Of Boy Bands From NKOTB To BTS, Sherman says boy bands don't get the same respect as other music acts, especially their rock peers.
"I do think a lot of it is this internalized perception of what is "good," and that's the rock songwriter — and that's not what boy bands are," she says. "I tackle the idea of Beatlemania quite a bit in the book because one of the main characteristics of boy bands are that they have this frenzied — but I think really lovely — fanaticism about them. But if you call the Beatles a boy band, people get really dismissive about it. They really don't enjoy that, I've found."
Sherman was already a music critic when she fell in love with One Direction, and she says that the band's songs helped her appreciate new ways of thinking about music. NPR's Ari Shapiro talks to Maria Sherman about challenging preconceived notions of authenticity in music, how race affects the marketing of pop groups and giving into the joy and freedom of a boy band pop song. Listen in the audio player above and read on for highlights of their conversation.
On double standards about boy bands and authenticity
To think about boy bands critically, you can't really adhere to the same value systems where authenticity by songwriting is the best or the most interesting thing an artist can be. You have to place that value of authenticity elsewhere, and that would be the connection that listeners have with the music itself. You can make the same argument that Berry Gordy's Motown was based on "the factory system" that gets thrown around quite a bit when talking about boy bands. We value that music: I don't think you're going to hear anybody talk about how formulaic The Jackson 5 were. People really enjoy that music because it makes them happy. The same can and should be said about One Direction and New Kids on the Block and K-pop.