And of the making of boy bands, there is no end.
Indeed, if you’ve been a teen in the last, oh, 50 years or so, there’s always been a group of winsome young guys—the proverbial “boy band”—singing songs of love won and love lost. (And sometimes a bit of lust leered, too.)
Even though times and styles have change continually, the template for this kind of group has remained remarkably stable: good looks, snazzy dance moves and harmonized singing. And when the boy-band supply chain suddenly snaps (most recently with the dissolution of One Direction), another collection of guys—usually still in their teens—invariably emerges to fill that demand.
And so it is with Why Don’t We, a group of five Americans ranging in age from 17 to 20. The first album from Jack, Corbyn, Zach, Jonah and Daniel, 8 Letters, packs in eight songs practically engineered to make tween and teen girls squeal and swoon.
The question, as always, is whether those songs will delight parents of those young fans as well.
“In Too Deep” playfully describes falling in love as drowning (“I’m in too deep/Can’t touch the bottom with my feet”), and references being under the sway of underwater sirens. But while those mythological creatures generally harbored nefarious intent toward the sailors they seduced, this song is more benign in its metaphorical flourishes: “Treasure chest filled with your diamonds/I don’t mind staying down here/Thought by now I would be dyin’/But your love gives me all my air.”
Title track “8 Letters” (a reference to the words “I love you”) finds a guy wondering why he struggles to commit to a woman about whom he says, “You know me the best.” Still, he can’t figure out why he feels compelled to “ask you for space.”
Bieber-esque “Talk” finds a young man on the verge of breaking up with his girl “’cause you don’t listen when I talk.” “Hard” tells the story of a guy who secretly likes a girl who’s with another (rather jerky) guy (of course). She confides in the singer, not knowing that he’s quietly crushing on her, something that this secretly besotted teen realizes is more than he can bear: “I know I said I’ll be your friend, but it’s too hard.”
One of the album’s most problematic songs is “Friends.” It involves a teen soiree sans parental supervision: “So let me know, let me know, let me know if the party’s on/’Cause your friend’s daddy got a real big house/ … Heard they gone away, we can all hang out.” Their plans involve dancing (“All we want is a little place where we can dance”), drinking (“Tell me what you wanna drink, and I’ll bring a couple things along”) and perhaps some intimate one-on-one time: “Or I could come alone, just me, you, on our own.” Apparently, this guy thinks their adolescent bender might last all weekend long: “All hang out ’til Monday.”
Similarly troubling is “Hooked,” which is less about love and more about sex. “You’ve got a bad reputation in my neighborhood,” the song begins. “You drive me mad with temptation ’cause it tastes so good.” Then things heat up: “It took one night, one try, ay/D–n, I’m hooked.” Later we hear, “When you take control, we can go all night/ … But then you kiss my neck and take a bite.” The song’s bridge protests, “Everybody says I’m sleeping with the enemy/I don’t even care if you’re gonna be the death of me, me, me.”
Several mildly suggestive lines turn up on “Choose”: “I got a place that we can go and ease your stress away/ … Choose, ain’t no tellin’ what we get into.” Later, we hear, “All of these girls, we runnin’ around/And I still be cravin’ your lovin’.” Meanwhile, “Falling” seems to taunt a girl with strong boundaries regarding physical intimacy: “You don’t wanna be rushed/You don’t wanna be touched/It’s a shame girls like you don’t know how to love.” Later, we also hear, “Wish my feelings would turn ’round from love to lust.”
In “Hard,” a guy who’s secretly in love with a girl who’s having guy problems apparently spends time listening to her … in his bed: “You give him distance, and then you sleep in my bed/You say you miss him, and you go crawlin’ back.” And “8 Letters” may also contain a subtle allusion to sharing a bed with a woman in this line: “Now here we are, staring at the ceiling.”
Solomon observed, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). And while I’m reasonably certain he didn’t have boy bands in mind, that wise nugget of truth applies to the subject at hand nonetheless.
Why Don’t We’s tunes can’t help but recall the debut albums of virtually any boy band you might consider, from One Direction to The Wanted, from the Backstreet Boys to ‘N Sync, from New Kids on the Block to Boyz II Men. Like puppies, these groups always start out cute and lovable and, relatively speaking, innocent.
But puppies, of course, grow up to be dogs. And something similar happens with groups in this genre, too. In in the case of virtually every boy band you can think of, each successive album (often culminating in solo careers for one or two members) gets a bit steamier, a bit more sensual, a bit more explicit.
With the exception of some lines on “Hooked,” there’s little on 8 Letters that’s really steamy, sensual or explicit—especially compared to so many other popular artists today. Still, a few songs hint that Why Don’t We has more adult topics in mind already. When guys are afraid to say “I love you” but willing to commandeer a friends’ house for a weekend party, well, that’s a pretty good indicator of where things are headed.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.