I have a confession to make. A few years ago when I was living in Washington D.C., I made plans to meet friends at a bar near the Verizon Center downtown after work. As I made my way through the throngs to meet them, I remember thinking the bar was far more crowded than any other typical weeknight, and was confounded by the number of women who seemed dressed straight out of the 90s: neon, slouchy socks, a preponderance of over-sized buttons attached to the denim vests. But it was only after I looked closer at the teen heartthrobs on their buttons that I realized who these women were: New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) concertgoers seeking to relive their adolescent fantasies and see Joey McIntyre in the flesh. I laughed. I scorned. I asked things like: “Who in their right mind would pay to see the New Kids on the Block?” And I drank my beer feeling rather uppity, judging the desperate attempt on the part of these poor women to regain their youth.

So how exactly did I end up at the NKOTBSB concert at Fenway on Saturday? (That’s New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys for you novices). It was a series of rationalizations: It may have been the closest thing Boston’s going to have to Woodstock. I’m going as a journalist, seeking anthropological insight into feminine nostalgia. It’s for the people I’m with, who are a good time and will be openly mocking the music in a chorus alongside me. So believe me, I was as surprised as anyone when, after the acronym-friendly man band (can we stop calling them boys?) took to the stage, I let out a scream with a decibel level I thought was restricted only to dog whistles. What had gotten into me?

The truth is, I was never a boy band fan. I picked a New Kid (Donnie) to crush on when crushing on New Kids was playground currency, and this was in large part because we shared a birthday and I thought we’d have more to talk about if and when we met. And the Backstreet Boys were part of the mindless college soundtrack that now has a more permanent place in my neurons over all that Nabokov I read. Part of the fun of the — and, yes, it was indeed fun, despite (or perhaps because of) the driving rain — was the fact that I knew all the lyrics. Through them I proceeded to dredge up all of the weird adolescent angst and awkwardness that weighed on me in my youth. And then, strange as it seems, I absolved myself of all that. I couldn’t help but think about 13-year-old me with terrible curly bangs, a gangly frame, and a deep-seated fear that no boy would ever really understand me, and contrasting her with the me of today, married, un-banged, and generally much more confident as I navigate through life.

So, while I can’t say that watching an KNOTBSB banner unfurl over the Green Monster was a moment of clarity, was the concert cathartic? In a weird way, yes. I realized that these shows need not only be about grasping at adolescent nostalgia, it a way it’s an acknowledgement of how far we’ve come. (We’ve got better hair for one thing, thank God.) And believe me, that was the last thing I expected to take away from the evening. But sometimes little realizations come to you in life, step by step:

  • Erica from Dorchester

    Thank you so much for this! Its very hard for us 30-something women – many of us professionals, wives, mothers – to explain, or admit, our undying love for the New Kids on the Block after so many years. Its even difficult to for me to understand it myself. But we LOVE them and I, like most Blockheads, are unrepentant. Going to a NKOTB show is like stepping into a time machine, similar to what you said you experienced. Even though you weren’t a huge fan, it took you back to a simpler time but also caused you to pause and appreciate how far you’ve come. NKOTB nation is community and family. And for those of us from Boston, they WERE us and we were so proud of them. They’re our hometown boys. Blockheads have this shared experience of being fans from the time we were teenagers. All of our parents HATED the New Kids because we were obsessed. We all spent money earned working part-time after school on buttons and posters and, yes, their newest album on cassette. We all dreamed of meeting our favorite New Kid, and him surely falling in love with us and living happily ever after. Silly but very real for a 14 yr old. The feelings and memories of our adolescence dissipate as we get older so it’s an amazing feeling to have them back even if only for a few hours. Quite unexpected, having gone to my first show in over 15 years in 2008, but SO addictive. I never missed a tour back then and I will never miss a tour ever. Again, hard to explain but awesome. It seems you get it, even if just a little 🙂 Thanks again.