A decade and a half after they rocked stages with their high-pitched bubblegum pop, the New Kids on the Block are back. So, too, are the band’s shrieking fans, besotted as ever—but this time, with memories of their days before diapers and minivans.
The New Kids on the Block were cuter than all the boys in my school, and their names graced the cover of every one of my school binders. That’s how I knew which subject the binder was for…Danny for English, Jon for History, Jordan for French, Donnie for Science, and Joey for Math (my favorite subject, therefore my favorite New Kid!).
People spend thousands of dollars trying to look and feel younger, searching for the ever-elusive fountain of youth. What if I told you, you could relive those days? That is what all this is about. Reliving the glory days.
—Genevieve Comolli, Ontario, Canada
[sidebar]Sarah Gelinas and Crystal Gagnon drove down from New Hampshire this morning, arriving here at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield before the gates had even opened. It’s 10 a.m., and the New Kids on the Block—NKOTB to Gelinas, Gagnon, and millions of other loyal fans—won’t take the stage until at least 8 p.m.
It was only two days ago that NKOTB appeared on the Today show, marking the first time they’d performed together in nearly a decade and a half. Because the New Kids had never been the most talented group, and are no longer kids, the critics have been panning this reunion, joking about the difficulty of skipping down memory lane after hip-replacement surgery. Even so, it didn’t take long for NKOTB to sell out shows in Toronto, Chicago, and Atlantic City. Tickets for the big September shows at the Garden, meanwhile, are all but gone. And when I wrote on this magazine’s website that I was looking for fans to explain the hysteria to me, the response was overwhelming. I received e-mails from “Blockheads” (their term) across the country, and as far away as Italy, Brazil, and Scotland.
What I heard from my new pen pals was the same kind of passion that Gagnon, 27, and Gelinas, 29, feel to this day. The two met when they were preteens. They were both in the Rainbow Girls (like the Girl Scouts, only without the cookies and with a lot more Jesus) and bonded over a love of the New Kids. Both of them had rat-tails—just as Jordan did at the time. Gagnon’s mother tolerated the look, but used it as a form of parental control. The deal, Gagnon says, “was I had to be good in school, and I had to get good grades and behave, and I could have it. As soon as I slacked off from that, she was gonna cut it.”
The two friends spent a lot of time back then talking on the phone about the New Kids, and what kind of memorabilia they each had. Gelinas has kept most of hers through the years—curtains and life-size posters and the Christmas album that she still listens to every December. Having to pack all of that away when NKOTB broke up was tough. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap, what am I going to do?'” she recalls.
Middle school, Gagnon tells me, “is a confusing time for anybody.… You don’t really know who you are. Music, for a lot of people, it defines who you are. If you’re into the punk bands, you’re a punk kid. Boy bands, you’re the happy-go-lucky preppy person.” NKOTB’s decision to stop being NKOTB, Gagnon says, left her “kind of lost.”
Today, the women talk on the phone as much as they did back when the New Kids were at the center of their lives. Gelinas is a veterinary technician and engaged to be married. Gagnon teaches in an after-school program and is married with two kids. On the morning NKOTB appeared on the Today show, Gagnon called her daughter’s school to let the teachers know that the five-year-old would be late for class. Gagnon didn’t want to miss the performance. “It’s like a whole lifestyle again,” she says. “They take over.”
Which is why she and Gelinas were happy to pay $125 each for $50 tickets to tonight’s Kiss 108 concert. Before the New Kids actually take the stage, though, the pair have to endure a number of warm-up acts, among them the Jonas Brothers, who are apparently the New Kids for the aughts. One of the brothers is supposedly dating Miley Cyrus, who doubles as Hannah Montana. All of this is related to me by a teenager who speaks very fast. When I apologize for my lack of Jonas Brothers knowledge, she simply eyes me the way archaeologists examine antiquities.
Alas, there comes a time when what’s hip and fresh and now has passed us by. You can try to fight it—maybe camouflage yourself in skinny jeans and midriff-baring shirts—or you can just stick with who you are. Gelinas and Gagnon have chosen the latter. As I tell them I’m writing a story about the New Kids, Gelinas begins doing an excited jig—sort of a cross between jumping rope and Chubby Checker’s twist—while repeating, “Show him, show him, show him!” Gagnon, desperately trying to show me, roots around in her purse for a while before coming up with…a sort-of-ratty white washcloth that has “New Kids on the Block” written in faded blue letters. Gelinas had found it with the rest of the NKOTB stuff she’d kept packed away in boxes at her stepmother’s house.
As the intro acts drone on at the Tweeter Center, it begins to rain, leaving the two women soaked. When NKOTB finally come on, it’s after 8:30, and Gelinas and Gagnon are chilly in their damp clothes. Not that they care. They’re on their feet, hooting and hollering, yelling themselves hoarse. Gagnon begins to cry and can’t stop. (“She was bawling,” Gelinas will say later, with a laugh.)
Toward the end, Gelinas hands her the washcloth so she can dry her eyes.