Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coming out of the Boy Band Closet: I heart N.K.O.T.B

In my tween and teen years, I was obsessed with the New Kids on the Block. If you don't remember Joe, Jordan, Jon, Donnie and Danny, they were (and are) an American “boy band” that peaked in the late 80s/ early 90s with a popularity at the time that was compared to the success of The Beatles a generation before. New Kids were the perfect formula of good-looking boys and easy to memorize song lyrics, and I fell fast. A friend introduced me to the phenomena. I went to her house for a sleepover and came back a different girl. We had watched the VHS popumentaries "Hangin' Tough" and "Hangin' Tough Live" about thirty times that weekend. When I got home, I think my mom thought I was on drugs, because when I'd left for the weekend, I had lots of interests; when I came back, there was only one. And there would only be one, for years to come.

A few weeks later, I visited my god-sister Kelly's house. She had apparently already known about New Kids "forever". I hadn't been over in months, so it was a shock to step into her bedroom and find the walls completely covered with New Kids. There was no blank space. She had created New Kids on the Block wallpaper with posters.

Not to be outdone as their biggest new fan, I came home and began a project that over several years, and with the help of my best friend, Julie, would become a bigger and better shrine than Kelly's. I papered my bedroom walls with thousands of pictures of the group, not settling for covering the space in large posters but cutting out every tiny picture of them from Bop, Big Bopper and Teen Beat, framing in the larger posters, and covering the light switch, electrical sockets and moldings. I bought every shameless promotional item, from the bedspread and sheets to the shoelaces and basically blew the weekly allowances I should have saved for my college education. It was like kismet between my hormone enraged body and their amazing marketing machine.

Not many people knew about my "New Kids thing", except Julie and a few other friends. I rarely had friends over because I didn't want them to see my room. For some reason, at my school, no one wanted to admit they liked New Kids. I remember being harassed one day in English class by a group of boys because of a small Joe button attached to my purse. Julie experienced similar backlash at school, so we began talking in code around others and saved the gushing for after school at my house.

As much as we loved them, Julie and I were normal girls from normal families. Our moms were not the types to drive us to other states to see them perform, or take us in the middle of the night to stake out their tour bus or hotel entrances. Thus, we only went to the few concerts that came to our town and only dreamed that we could be the groupies we read about in Teen Beat. I always wanted to be a writer, so I started a New Kids story, which grew to nearly 500 pages long. It was about winning a contest to go on a cruise with them, something they did for fans in real life but I could never have afforded had opportunity presented itself. Thankfully, my embarrassment isn't complete, as I never finished the story. I finally got a real boyfriend and started living instead of fantasizing.

Twenty years later, I realize there shouldn't have been shame in being a blockhead. Lots of girls were New Kids fans (even if they didn't admit it), as evidenced by their album sales. But now here comes the hard part of the confession, of my "coming out" if you will...I'm still a blockhead.

If you're not up on your New Kids trivia, you're probably picturing me wearing a twenty-year old tee-shirt and dancing to Step-by-Step in my bedroom. But if you're a little with it, you'll know that they're back. After going their separate ways in 1994, they reunited to release a new album in 2008 called "The Block" and started touring again. And despite myself, I've fallen again. What's worse, I'm a grownup with money, so it's much easier afford the concerts, tee-shirts and music downloads.

Last October, Julie and I went to their sold-out comeback concert, ready to relive our teenage years. When we got to the Palace, we bought tee-shirts and changed into them in the bathroom before finding our seats. At long last, brand new tee-shirts that would actually fit us! We purchased Property of Jon Knight (Julie) and Property of Donnie Wahlberg (me) shirts for $40 each. Yikes.

Whoever stocked the tee-shirts at the venue was apparently re-living the past too, because the tee-shirt sizes were almost comical. Size large felt almost obscene on our grownup chests, stretching the fonts of their names to extra large grande. But five minutes into the concert, I could have been naked for all I would have noticed. We had third row seats and had the time of our lives being thirteen again. Part of it was reliving memories and part of it was experiencing that long-forgotten rush of hormones that allows you to do things you wouldn't normally do. You know the hormone rush I mean. It's the one that compels women to scream at the top of their lungs, at men they don't know, things that they wouldn't whisper in bed to their husbands. (You may have seen this rare phenomenon in action at bachelorette parties and strip clubs after 1AM when the shots have kicked in.)

We had such a good time at the concert that when the summer tour came back around in June, we decided we had waited long enough to meet them and would go all out and pay the extra money for a Meet & Greet, something we wouldn't have been able to do back in the day. I lost 20 pounds and wore my Donnie tee-shirt again, mostly so I didn't have to shell out the money for a new one. I won't give a detailed account of the entire day waiting around to meet the group, but I will tell you two important things we learned:

1. Some girls will spend a lot of money to feel special. We met girls who are thousands of dollars in debt from following the tour across the country. They do this for different reasons - some to show their love, some in hopes the guys will recognize them as friends, some to forget about troubles in their own lives, and some because they have the free time and had money to indulge when they first started out.

2. There's a lot of negotiating and quick, school yard picks in line. Ten girls meet the five guys at a time. We learned you don't want to go in with a group where all the girls like the same guy because that means no one gets satisfactory face time with their man. Also, two girls to a guy means each girl can take a side of him during the picturing taking. Standing directly next to your man is highly prized for the purposes of cropping out the other people from the picture later, for your Facebook or Twitter profile pic. There was lots of scrambling to find two Joe girls, two Donnie girls, two Jordan girls, etc. There was also a lot of "I don't want to go in with another Jordan/Donnie/Joe/Jon/Danny girl who is prettier than me."

Once we had our groups figured out, there was a lot of waiting in the rain - and a bit of drama. Donnie almost didn't make the meet & greet due to weather and deplaning issues. And then we got the breaking news, spreading like wildfire from Perez Hilton via the concert-goers with smart phones, that Michael Jackson was dead.

It was finally our turn. We went in, and there they were in 3D. It was overwhelming. Twenty years of frenzied fandom - flashbacks of cutting all those pictures, all the rolls of tape we went through, all the lyrics I'd memorized, all the pages of my story fluttering through my mind... It went so fast. They were making up time because Donnie had arrived late, so each group had maybe 30 seconds. The other "Donnie girl" in my group, Ela from Canada, went over to him right away. In the 20 or more meet and greets she'd done, she hadn't gotten a chance to tell Donnie everything she needed to say, and she claimed this was her last one. I waited patiently while she showed him her homemade tee-shirt and handed him a letter smuggled in under her shirt. While I waited, I turned to Danny and Jon and said hi to them. Neither said anything back, but then, they had their Danny and Jon girls. I gathered that my Donnie tee-shirt announced that I wasn't waiting to talk to them. I turned back to see Ela still talking to Donnie -- and something else. Two barbie dolls, who had called themselves Jordan girls, were now claiming Donnie hugs! I was new to the rules, but I was pretty sure this was a meet & greet crime!

Suddenly, they were arranging us for the group photos. I was maneuvered two spots away from Donnie, the interlopers crushing around him, and then it was over and they were ushering us away. I turned to Ela and mouthed to her "But I didn't even get to say hello." I'd waited years, through all that time when we thought they'd never come back.

Ela and I had gotten to know each other in line and she recognized a fellow fan's plight. Ela pushed her way back over to Donnie and said loudly, "Donnie, this girl has waited 20 years to meet you."

A bodyguard was brushing against my arm, herding me toward the exit. But then I saw Donnie make a motion at him, and suddenly, I was nudged back and Donnie was hugging me. And hugging me. It seemed to go on forever. Everyone else was gone, and I was still there, hugging and being hugged. It made everything worth it. All the money I'd spent. All the times I'd been teased for being a fan.

I heard the bodyguard say "Okay, let's go", and I started to pull away. Amazingly, Donnie was still hugging. I let myself sink back into it, and this time, when the bodyguard touched my shoulder to pull me away, I pulled my face from the crook of Donnie's neck to declare, "If he's not letting go, I'm not letting go." The hug lasted another 10 seconds or so, when we finally released each other and I was escorted away. It's a blur, but I'm pretty sure I never said a word to him.

It was the best concert ever, and we hadn't even actually gone to the concert yet. Our seats were in the fifth row, but there was an empty space in the front against the stage. We made friends with a security guard who let us move up during the opening acts. We'd met them and now we had first row seats. Couldn't get much better than that! I've been to many concerts and I've never felt the kind of energy I feel at a New Kids concert. The screams simply don't compare. At any other concert, there are usually people there who just happened to get tickets, people who like one or two songs from the new album or who only like the band's old stuff. At a New Kids concert, it's thousands of me's.

Sitting in the parking lot later, waiting to get out of the traffic jam to get back to Julie's house, we rambled on about our favorite parts of the show while listening to "The Block". Julie felt we'd met all of our goals, and this was a great way to end things. We had closure. I agreed with her, except now, in some small way, I understood why those girls I'd previously dismissed as crazy followed them across the nation. Why they went to concert after concert; paid for meet & greet after meet & greet. It was a rush. I kept wondering if maybe it could get even better. Maybe next time, I could actually speak to one of them. I could choke out a hello or something. Maybe I could make Donnie smile or laugh! Get an autograph! My tendency to stay at the poker table too long, to buy back into a cash game over and over, was rearing its ugly head in my New Kids world. Damn my addictive personality.

Aside from the two concerts and the m&g, what's really gotten me hooked again is that the guys themselves seem much more accessible this time around. Once when I waited eagerly for a fan club newsletter in the mail or a few seconds of concert footage during the New Kids on the Block Saturday morning cartoon, now I only need look as far as their official website or sign on to Twitter. The marketing machine that exploited them back in the day is no more, but the boys did learn a few tricks. They've joined the social networking arena with ease -- five guys can cover a lot of virtual ground, between their blogs, tweets and contests.

And now comes the cruise to the Bahamas. They did one last year, and now this May, they're sailing again. And guess who's going? Beach parties, meet & greets, concerts - oh my! A chance to live the story I wrote when I was thirteen years old.

What does my husband think about all of this? Well, in practical terms (with regard to the cruise), he gets seasick and will never cruise with me, which is something I really enjoy doing. So this is an opportunity for me to be on a boat, in a safe environment, with entertainment I know I will like and fellow passengers with whom I have a lot in common. Does it matter that I don't know anyone else on the boat? I'll make friends. With regard to the other stuff, I think he looks at me as kind of a geek. He likes his computer games, his motorcycle stuff...his hobbies. I think he accepts this as my geeky hobby. Everyone has one, don't they? Am I any different than the people who save up their money to go to Graceland? (And come on, most people agree that Elvis isn't even alive.) I'm pretty sure my husband tries not to be embarrassed by it, but he might be a little. Luckily, he knows I love him more than all of the New Kids put together. For as many fantasies I had about meeting New Kids, I had more about getting married someday to a man who would accept me for who I am.

As for me, I'm trying to keep control of myself now that they're back, monetarily and mentally. (And it seems they might be back to stay - there are rumors of another album underway.) I might understand why girls follow the New Kids around the world, but I don't have to get carried away myself. I'm not going to the pre-cruise concert in Miami. I'm not going to the concert in June in Windsor, even if they will only be a stone's throw away. I'm not letting myself listen to Donnie's Friday evening DJ show on Cherrytree radio. I only check Twitter posts every few weeks, and I no longer respond to their posts (though I did for a bit right after the concert - Jordan plays a twenty questions game that's hard to resist). I don't enter the contests (even when I was really tempted by the "Weekend with Donnie" one).

It's like gambling. I draw out what money I need and leave my ATM card at home. I'm policing myself. Sad that I have to, but at least I understand my weaknesses.

And now you know my weakness, too. I'm a blockhead. A big old geeky blockhead.

Enjoy your laugh.

Or maybe, just maybe, you will join me out here in the light.


  1. Despite what I previously claimed in my blog about NKOTB, the crazy fandom continues - going to see them on June 12th in Windsor! Tix bought. Can't wait!

  2. Another update - I got a hug in the audience from Donnie. Confirmation in my twisted mind that I was supposed to be at that concert.

    I also have tickets for the 2011 cruise. And tomorrow, I'll buy my tickets for the June 2011 NKOTBSB concert.