Interview: New Kids On The Block
Tuesday, January 13, 2009, 03:30
WHEN Take That chose to call it a day in 1996, pop fans and the media mourned the loss of one of the most famous boy bands to have graced Top Of The Pops.
It was a different story when in 1994 the boy band who started it all, New Kids On The Block – Jordan Knight, Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood – decided to do the same.
“We just sort of walked away,” says Joey.
“And at that point, we weren’t exactly going to hold a press conference because no-one really cared.”
The downfall of New Kids On The Block’s career wasn’t strongly documented at the time, but with hindsight makes quite the Hollywood blockbuster.
Five teenage friends from a rough area of Boston formed a pop group and soon became a global phenomenon. On the back of hit singles Hangin’ Tough, Step by Step and Right Stuff, they sold 70m albums. But it was more than that – huge sales of badges, lunch boxes, mugs, watches, annuals and T-shirts showed the lucrative possibilities of boy band branding.
However, as quickly as they’d established themselves as constant chart-toppers, the public lost interest and the industry that had pronounced them a pop success story no longer wanted anything to do with them.
Now looking for the Hollywood ending, the five have reformed and this time it seems the public definitely does care.
Donny Wahlberg (brother of Mark) has arguably gone on to enjoy the greatest success since leaving the music industry, as an actor. So it’s surprising that it was his idea for the group to reform.
He says: “I heard this particular song and it sounded right. I was near to Jordan in Boston while I was working on a film in Connecticut. I was going through a lot in my personal life and music just seemed like a good idea.
“The song sounded good for the group and the guys reacted in the same way. I said, ‘Okay then let’s record it’. One song led to another, which led to another, which led to an addiction.
“Once I started writing, spending time in the studio and getting back into the music business again, I couldn’t really turn it off, it had been fomenting for the last 15 years, it became a 20-hour-a-day obsession.”
The other four were just as enthusiastic, albeit with an air of caution.
Says Jonathan: “Back in the day it was directed by people who wanted to capitalise on us and they didn’t really take into account the longevity or integrity of the group.”
Jordan agrees: “Yeah we made that mistake, we were only youngsters and unfortunately we signed one piece of paper and, boom, we gave away the sign-off and our managers went a little crazy. It commercialised us a little too much, but what are you going to do? This time the buck stops with us.”
This time around, they have decided to try to do as much in-house as possible.
“Donny took on a manager’s role and that was easier as he’s in the group and always has our best interests in mind,” says Danny.
“Everyone brought their own life experiences from the past 15 years to it and it’s made it a lot easier.”
The fact they didn’t reform for 14 years is as much down to what was going on with their individual lives as a lack of good offers.
“At some point, nobody wanted to do it and sometimes individual members didn’t,” continues Donny.
“But of the possibilities I’ve heard of, I wouldn’t have participated anyway because I was doing my own stuff as most of the other members were doing, too. Plus they weren’t real opportunities, they were fake, there was nothing attractive about them – only money and money doesn’t drive me.”
As for what the other members did with the 14-year gap, Jordan, Joey and Danny decided to launch solo careers, all releasing material, but Jonathan decided to step out of the limelight altogether and concentrate on building a real estate business.
And he still doesn’t seem totally at ease with the showbiz lifestyle. While he’s friendly, his privacy is very important to him. It’s therefore unfortunate for him that, aside from talk of Donny’s divorce, it’s been his private life – in particular questions over his sexuality – which has been the focus of gossip websites for the past couple of months.
While other members would be able to brush it off, he admits it does affect him.
“I wasn’t anticipating that. Nowadays it’s crazy, I was watching YouTube the other night and there I was, having a conversation with this girl at The Today Show – I didn’t even realise she was filming, but it was all there on video tape and then up on a website.
“You never know who’s watching and that part of it bothers me because it’s like Big Brother’s watching over you.”
While Jordan empathises that celebrity gossip on websites is not something they had to deal with first time around, he admits it does have its bonuses.
“Back in the day, a magazine said I had a sex change. It was published just a couple of days before I went on the Arsenio Hall show and that was a huge chat show and because of the magazine feature they brought it up.
“If that came out on PerezHilton or another site, it would have been over in two minutes because more gossip would have replaced it.”
It’s not just the media coverage that has changed since the ‘Kids were last in the charts, they’ve also seen themselves change from teenagers with no commitments, to having to juggle families and careers. They’re not going to pretend they’re still 18.
Says Joey: “It’s not like we’re trying to re-create every move from the past, we’re taking everything that we’ve got now. We’ve lived and done a lot of great things and we’re pulling all of that experience into this now as grown men and concentrating on putting on a great show and album.”
All five are determined to put things right this time and are confident the comeback will be a success.
“Back in the day we did take a couple of hits,” says Joey.
“Critically we were the whipping boys, but that’s in the past.
“We didn’t always make the right decisions but that’s why this is cool because we get to have the last word a little bit.
“There’s going to be people out there who don’t like what we do, of course, but I don’t think there’ll be any resentment from us because the power’s with us. You can only feel resentment when you’ve handed over the power and let others decide.”
*** Were you a big New Kids fan? If so, we want to hear your stories. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
New Kids On The Block, Arena, Friday, January 23, 7.30pm. Tickets are £34.26 to £44.04, call 0871 2200 260 or 08444 124 624. New album The Block is out now.