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: