Entertainment

The 21 Best Boy Band Albums of All Time, Ranked

boy bands
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Valentine's Day is a garbage holiday, and so boy bands, ever the font of garbage love songs, seem like a convenient topic to bring up, don't they? 

There are sooo many boy bands out there, like so many. I thought it would be a really good idea to "get back into them" for a while, but it wasn't and I regret every second of it! Now that I've ranked the 21 best modern boy band albums, I have too many songs stuck in my head and crushes on pictures of people from 1988! Who needs that!! 

I wrote the rest of this before my brain turned to mush from listening to (almost) only boy bands for a week.

Everyone has their own definition of "boy band," so this is mine, made to govern this list: It must consist of three or more male-identifying persons in a personality-focused singing group. They're allowed to "play their own instruments," if that's part of the marketing schtick. Boy bands that came before New Edition -- The Jackson 5, The Beatles, The Temptations -- do not count here simply because the modern idea of a "boy band" wasn't a cultural framework yet. To have a record qualify for this list, it must have charted on the Billboard 200, for what is a boy band if not a machine designed to sell millions of albums? This arbitrary but necessary measure means lamentable omissions (ie. Boyzone, Menudo, A1, Take That, SHINee, Super Junior, etc.), but this is my list. Get your own.

21. O-Town by O-Town (2001)

O-Town, named after Orlando, Florida, despite no member of the five-person act being from Orlando, Florida, arguably made the most sonically confused boy band album of all time with their self-titled release and only real slam-dunk hit. Coming off the heels of the first season of Making the Band, MTV's how-the-sausage-is-made reality TV show about how O-Town became a thing at all, the album was a formulated success that also happened to take full advantage of all 800 preset tones available on a digital keyboard during the turn of the 21st century. The production is an odd mess of vocals and instruments pinging from literally all stereophonic directions -- the opening track "Liquid Dreams" is especially strange, and the pounding whispered vocals in "Sexiest Woman Alive" are like early ASMR. Somehow, the controlled chaos settled for long enough for "All or Nothing" to surface as the best, most affecting track on an otherwise bizarre album that deserves to be shot into space for alien life to discover 1,000 years in the future. Lyrically, it's a capsule for less progressive and irony-free times; for example, on "Sexiest Woman Alive": "When you walk into a room / The first reaction's 'Ooh!' / Every guy around just wants to sweat ya / But I bet a million boo / They don't feel ya like I do / I'm about to make you my wifeyyy." Mostly, O-Town serves as a precursor to Maroon 5 with its dumb, white boy funk-pop fronted by lead boy Ashley Parker Angel (who has recently done boy band covers of songs from Wicked). The album wasn't especially good, aside from a song or two, but I guess it's a lesson for what you get when you make a band through a TV show: an accidental parody of every boy band already in existence. 

20. Word of Mouth by The Wanted (2013)

You'd be forgiven if you stopped paying attention to new boy bands after the mid-aughts, since that's exactly what most people who grew up with New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys did when they got older and wiser. But the same folks were probably in The Clubs dancing to certifiable jams by British-Irish party boys The Wanted, like "Glad You Came," without knowing they were enjoying a new crop of boy bands! Managed by Scooter Braun, a seven-dimension-chess-type guy who counts Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Ariana Grande among his clients, The Wanted can be somewhat indistinguishable from other Top 40 radio pop, especially now that nearly everything is injected with the EDM gene, but they're nonetheless a major new-ish genre force.

19. Revelation by 98°(2000)

98° will always, sadly, be the bootleg version of their late '90s/early '00s peers: *NSYNC, but less good at dancing, Nick Lachey battling it out with Nick Carter for the Top Nick spot but never inching ahead until he got a marriage and reality show package with Jessica Simpson. Revelation was as close as they got to breaking free from the boy band hierarchy, with "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)" emerging as their most popular single ever. It's just that white boys capitalizing on latin pop doesn't exactly make for a resoundingly positive legacy, nor does a pushy and regressive song like "Stay the Night." Better luck in the next life!

18. Sooner or Later by BBMAK (2000)

You'll likely remember BBMAK for their super-catchy breakout single "Back Here," which absolutely bangs as an earworm that's impossible to shake. These English lads were all about "writing their own songs" (sort of true), and two of them allegedly played acoustic guitars, but without a doubt, what drove their success was their spiky hair and three-part harmonies. Look no further than song two on this record, "I'm Not in Love," which smacks of an unmistakable Doobie Brothers vibe in the second half of the chorus. Altogether, Sooner or Later isn't a particularly memorable collection of songs, but it sure got the job done, making this record certified gold.

17. All-4-One by All-4-One (1994)

The early '90s boy band All-4-One is mostly remembered as a one-hit wonder with their Grammy-winning masterpiece "I Swear," but don't ignore the rest of this album. Like the chart-topping single, this is primarily a record of ballads and stunning vocal performances that swings firmly into R&B territory. Stick around through the back half of All-4-One and you'll be treated to the extremely horny croonings of songs like "(She's Got) Skillz," "Breathless," and "The Bomb." This album lacks the specific silliness that so many other boy bands thrive on, which makes this self-titled debut perfect for weddings and going to sleep!

16. Westlife by Westlife (1999) 

Those Irish boys in Westlife could sell soft boy rock like nobody else in the business, thanks to the extensive help of Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Ronan Keating (formerly of Boyzone), and Max Martin, and this particular album in their astonishingly long 15-year career is the softest of all. "Swear It Again," "Change the World," "Fool Again," "No No," "I Need You," all soar, but "Flying Without Wings," going on the name alone, wins. The ballad became an enduring first dance song at weddings and also appeared in the Pokemon: The Movie 2000 credits, which was a nice confluence of my personal interests circa the turn of the millennium. But, like Westlife's career, this album feels interminable at 17 songs, and even good things must end, preferably around song 12.

15. LFO by LFO (1999)

Here's a radical proposal: Skip "Summer Girls," which, despite being the band's breakout hit, is kind of bad and casually racist, and start at song two, "Girl on TV," and go from there because the rest of the record fucks, with "I Don't Wanna Kiss You Goodnight," "All I Need to Know," "Baby Be Mine," a very good cover of "Can't Have You." Otherwise, you're stuck with the artificial taste of California-core sung by a bunch of boys from Massachusetts through what could have been a near-great album.

14. Alive by BIGBANG (2012)

Often called the original "kings of K-Pop," BIGBANG had the first K-Pop boy band album to break into the Billboard 200, setting a huge precedent for the next wave of boy bands to come that's still surging in popularity (see: #2). Alive feels older than it should, sounding closer to the zipping synths of "Gangham Style" than anything off of BTS's latest chart-topper, but that hardly discredits the groundwork this album and its legions of fans laid for more South Korean bands to enter U.S. charts.

13. 5 Seconds of Summer by 5 Seconds of Summer (2014)

5SOS's boy band credibility has been up for debate since they first got mega-popular on tour opening for One Direction. On one hand, they (mostly) write their own songs, play their own instruments, and even palm mute guitar parts, but on the other hand… One Direction. Despite winning a newcomer award from hard rock music magazine Kerrang!, the Australian band's lyrical themes -- kissing, girls, love -- typically don't stray too far from what you'd hear in other boy bands or pop radio artists. Where LFO had Abercrombie & Fitch, 5 Seconds of Summer has American Apparel (RIP). Where O-Town had their "Shy Girl," 5SOS has "Good Girls," both equally and regrettably backwards in how they classify women. Still, they're certainly the only boy band to have Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte write a single for them (ironically, the least punk song on the album!), or have a song, "Social Casualty," that wouldn't be out of place on a Long Island pop-punk compilation from 2002 in between The Early November and Bayside. The fact that these sentences belong anywhere near the bands that come before and after this proves that forming 5SOS was a galaxy brain-level genius move.

12. Part III by 112 (2001)

112 was one of the few boy bands relentless with their horniness, skipping past gentle innuendo and going for the most you can get away with on the radio. "Peaches and Cream" was dirty as hell! Though the band's debut self-titled record featured most of 112's big ballads, like "Cupid," the satiny smooth "Come See Me," and "Only You," featuring then-label mate Notorious B.I.G., Part III upped the tempos to bops, propelling the record to a debut #2 spot on the Billboard 200.

11. New Edition by New Edition (1984)

Consider New Edition the first true Boy Band that established the formula for saccharine boy groups targeted squarely at teens, evidenced by the fact that they have the earliest entry on this list. The members were all literal boys when they were discovered performing on the talent show circuit and landed a $500 record deal with manager Maurice Starr, who later left in bad standing amid accusations that he was pocketing the band's money, going on to form New Kids on the Block. (Where the latter's name came from isn't rocket science.) Following Starr's departure, this self-titled sophomore record became New Edition's big breakthrough, which came out when they were all 14 to 16 years old. Funk and Motown influences are at the forefront of this release, a decision that was purposeful, of course. (Starr named them "New Edition" because he wanted them to be a new Jackson 5 modernized for the '80s.) A classic boy band record everyone should know and love.

10. Hangin' Tough by New Kids on the Block (1988)

Jordan Knight's two big hoop earrings. That is all.

9. THE WAR by EXO (2017)

EXO has packed anything you'd want from a pop record into THE WAR. A tight nine songs, the group's fourth album is stuffed with catchy hooks, which helped it add to the running list of records broken, including the most physical pre-orders for a Korean album ever at 800,000 copies.

8. Pandemonium! by B2K (2002)

B2K, aka Boys of the New Millennium, had a brief career, but in the time they were active, the group cranked out two albums in the same year and produced the 2004 feature film You Got Served, writing most of its soundtrack. Though B2K's debut has the smoother, digestible hits like "Uh Oh," Pandemonium! smacks from the second you hit play, and intensifies at the singular "Bump Bump Bump," taking adventurous and fun liberties with the limiting sounds of the genre that results in a more interesting and strangely mature record from a bunch of 17-year-olds.

7. Middle of Nowhere by Hanson (1997)

Is "MMMBop" the most genius pop song ever written? Indistinguishable words, who cares about the verses, with the easiest, catchiest chorus of all time, repeated ad infinitum. Join in whenever! Di-pi-dap-pap-doo!!!!

6. Jonas Brothers by Jonas Brothers (2007)

Who knew the Jonas Brothers were, in actuality, pop-punk icons masquerading as a boy band??? While looking like the squeaky-clean Disney boys they were groomed to be, these sneaky bastards put out one of the most front-to-back solid genre records that sold so, so many copies while snobby teenagers like me were off listening to Yeasayer or some shit, and I'll never forgive them for it. Goddamn those JoBros.

5. No Strings Attached by *NSYNC (2000)

*NSYNC's problem is that they flood the zone with so much Pretty Good content that nothing can ever surface as Truly Excellent content. Even choosing between 2000's No Strings Attached and 1997's 'N Sync was a struggle. In the end, NSA wins out, just barely: It was the band's answer to Backstreet Boys' Millennium, and they have the music videos with the iconic dance moves ("Bye Bye Bye," "It's Gonna Be Me") to prove they were competing for the boy band clout and stoking the fan rivalry over which boy band is better. Ultimately, though, the hits here are too sparse and the supporting tracks too absurd to carry much weight beyond 2003. Sorry, but "Digital Get Down" just doesn't hold up.

4. II by Boyz II Men (1994)

It's almost cruel to call this a boy band record because of how good it is. The production of Boyz II Men's sophomore record, II, is pristinely slick, devoid of the guilty pleasure quality and problematic lyrics that afflict other albums on this list. The best-selling album of 1994, one of the best-selling albums of the decade, and a true national treasure.

3. Midnight Memories by One Direction (2013)

It feels like a million years since One Direction still existed in this universe, before Harry Styles fully grew into a young Mick Jagger in more paisley and Zayn Malik was writing sexy-as-hell records that last for an hour and a half. Somehow, hearing "Story of My Life" doesn't trigger horrible flashbacks to summer 2014, when it was inescapable. The entire album -- 18 songs and still less than an hour! -- is like a shiny trinket from a special, better time, when people could still get mad about One Direction "changing" "their" "musical direction." Holding it sparks joy. Yeah, they were the biggest band in the world when Midnight Memories became the best-selling record of the year, but I think everyone knew when beautiful, aloof Zayn hit that high note during the bridge on "You & I," that this was TRUE ART and would one day be a CULTURAL ARTIFACT.

2. Wings by BTS (2016)

If you watched the Grammys, you definitely saw these seven boys cheesin' it up in their really good suits and haircuts singing along to performances by Dolly Parton and Lady Gaga, even having their own moment on stage to announce the winner of Best R&B Album (H.E.R.!). While we can debate the relevance of the awards ceremony in 2019, BTS's presence was a big deal: It was the first time that any K-Pop band was at a Grammys. BTS -- a.k.a. Bangtan Boys, a.k.a. Bulletproof Boy Scouts, a.k.a. Beyond the Scene -- continues to break new ground for K-Pop in the mainstream, and if you've somehow avoided the band and their rabid online fandom, BTS ARMY, it's time to pay attention. 2016's Wings, BTS's second studio album, was the first time one of the group's full-lengths charted on the Billboard 200, at the time becoming the highest-ranking Korean album ever to appear on the list. (They've already broken their own record with 2018's Love Yourself: Tear, which debuted at #1.) For all of the singles that make Tear great, Wings still stands out for its historic import, setting BTS on the path of becoming the biggest band in the world, and creative songwriting, fusing sweeping orchestral ballads with EDM dance and hip hop jams, to make the traditional boy band sound fresh again.

1. Millennium by Backstreet Boys (1999)

Unfortunately, there is only one correct answer to the greatest boy band album of all time, and it is Millennium. As thorny as pieces of the band have become (Lou Pearlman, Nick Carter), it's impossible to shake the cultural impact Millennium has wrought. When was the last time you went to karaoke and someone didn't sing "I Want It That Way"? Can you ever look at airport tarmacs the same after you saw that video (and were reminded of it again after watching Blink-182's "All the Small Things" video)? Will there ever be a more appropriately nostalgic way to conceptualize the bad chrome futurism of the early '00s outside of the "Larger Than Life" video aesthetic? Twenty years on, and Millenium still plays as some of Max Martin's best work behind the scenes, straddling the fine line between brilliant songwriting and idiotic instrumentation, and earning the Boys' wholehearted buy-in to deliver it with straight faces. The momentum of Backstreet Boys into Millennium flung the band into super-stardom, making Millennium the fastest-selling album of all time, which sold a record-setting near half-million records the day of its release, and is still one of the best-selling records of all time. They're why the choreographed swooping hand gesture is unmistakably a boy band move. It's how, 20 years later, Backstreet's still peddling new music, even though they know it'll never be as good or important as Millennium.

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Leanne Butkovic (@leanbutk) is an entertainment editor at Thrillist.