For every Joey McIntyre and Jordan Knight, there is a D-Fuse.
If you’ve never heard of the now-defunct solo venture from their fellow New Kid on the Block Danny Wood, that’s proof enough that no matter how famous your boy band is, a solo career is never guaranteed.
So with ‘NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake, Backtreet Boys’ Nick Carter and 98 Degrees’ Nick Lachey all releasing albums this fall, the pop world is wondering who will be “Larger Than Life” and who will go “Bye, Bye, Bye.”
We asked a few former boy band stars who’ve enjoyed solo success to lend advice to the next crop, and while ex-Menudo crooner Ricky Martin was too busy with his own album to help, others stepped up to the task.
“Get in the gym, eat right, get your sleep and go full speed,” instructed Johnny Gill, whose 1990 self-titled solo album went platinum after he made a name for himself with New Edition. “When you’re on the stage with your group, there are five different people to look at, but when you have to carry the whole show, all the pressure’s on you.”
While all of Gill’s New Edition partners were successful outside of the group – Bobby Brown and Ralph Tresvant as solo artists and Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe as Bell Biv DeVoe – other recent groups haven’t been as lucky.
McIntyre and Knight hit the charts with comebacks in 1999, but their sales figures were nothing compared to New Kids’. And, of course, there was D-Fuse. While Robbie Williams’ solo career made many Americans forget about Take That, none of the other British boy bands have produced stars in the States.
While McIntyre believes that staying out of the spotlight between NKOTB and releasing Stay the Same helped him, he thinks it might hurt Nick Carter.
“Justin’s hitting the ground running, and Nick’s been away for a while,” McIntyre explained. “It’s only been a year, but it’s going to be harder for him. The segue wasn’t as quick. Justin’s done some stuff to make his segue a little bit easier. He has aligned a lot of people in his corner. He’s really not missing a beat. Business-wise, it’s a smart move.”
McIntyre said the key is to stick with what you know best. In other words, Timberlake shouldn’t do a hip-hop record. (Perhaps Korn bassist Fieldy should have followed that advice for his Fieldy’s Dreams hip-hop flop.)
“Nick might say ‘I’m doing rock’ and Justin might say ‘It’s more R&B,’ but it’s pop no matter how you slice it,” McIntyre said. “They’ll always be pop acts. They can’t be marketed any other way.”
On the other hand, don’t force the music out.
“You gotta do what you want to do,” McIntyre said. “If you’re doing something for the sake of someone else, you’re going to be miserable. You gotta do the music you like.”
Or, as boy band engineer Lou Pearlman put it, “Sing what you enjoy!”
Pearlman, who was instrumental in launching ‘NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, also noted the importance of staying loyal to your fans, but said the music is the most important thing. “Great songs will lead to great success,” he said.
Going solo is a grand tradition in popular music, with everyone from the Beatles to the Fugees seeing members break off one by one to be the center of attention. This year alone, members of pop groups (Destiny’s Child, Lucy Pearl), rock groups (Blink-182, Korn) and rap groups (St. Lunatics, the LOX) have temporarily left to head their own projects.
“It’s real cool to do it, because it allows you do your own thing and have that space to be creative and continue to grow,” Gill explained.
Solo projects inevitably spark rumors of breakups, and in some cases the groups never do rejoin. Gill believes going solo can actually benefit the group.
“When you get to breathe and have your space and time and be creative, you come back with a new attitude and appreciating working with the other guys,” he said. “And when you have that enthusiasm, the public feels it.”
Still, he doesn’t recommend it unless the artist is fully prepared.
“I tell you, it’s real lonely, no matter how many bodies you put up there to try to substitute for the guys you’re used having stand next to you,” he said. “It’s a really weird feeling.”