Boy bands have traditionally been an Anglophone affair. But there’s one massive European group which has got in on the act – and its cultish fans are as extreme as any others in their devotion. Sophia L Deboick on the remarkable rise and – relative – fall of Tokio Hotel
Forget the Internet, television and telephone, the British invention that really rocked the world in the twentieth century was the boy band. While The Beatles established the essential characteristics – fashionable haircuts, distinctive moves, irresistible pop melodies and boyish charm – today the standard-bearer of this most popular of art forms is One Direction. Representing the four corners of the British Isles and showing that the right hairdo is still central to the boy band mystique, they have swept all before them, but in the intervening half century it was America, both north and south, that unleashed the most successful boy bands of all time on the world.
The Monkees, a curiously postmodern experiment as a fictional group who ended up dominating the real-life charts, were an idea born in Hollywood (although fronted by the very British Davy Jones) and were the prototype manufactured boy band, earning them the sobriquet the ‘Prefab Four’. Selling 75 million records, and more than The Beatles and The Stones put together in their vintage year of 1967, they showed the potential of this new model for pop. The Jackson Five, The Osmonds, New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys took this to new commercial heights, while Puerto Rican five-piece (a number with a strange alchemy for boy bands) Menudo were huge across Latin America and launched Ricky Martin’s career. The boy band phenomenon has been a principally Anglophone affair then, and there has been little room for mainland Europe in this story, but when the Europeans have engaged with the genre, they have done so in spectacular style.
In the last decade one name has dominated the landscape for all-boy pop in Europe – Tokio Hotel. Probably the biggest European band you’ve never heard of, these German emo-poppers graced London’s KOKO with only their third performance on British soil in their career earlier this month. Since 2005 these wunderkinds have had five albums go top ten across Europe, their debut single Durch den Monsun (Through the Monsoon), released when they were just fifteen, was a monster hit and sparked a feverish teenage fan cult, yet they remain virtually unknown in the UK, despite a fiercely loyal British fan club faithfully keeping the torch burning. With a goth-influenced look and pedalling some particularly epic, overwrought pop, they were a world away from the clean cut fresh-facedness of the prototypical boy band…
The New European, 24 March 2017, pp. 36-37.