Photos: Channel 4, TBS, The CW, MTV, Peacock, NBC, Comedy Central.
Premiering tonight on ABC, the new drama Queens follows four forty-something women who were once the hottest thing in hip-hop who reunite for a chance to recapture their '90s fame. If that sounds familiar, it should: the Peacock's Girls5Eva shares basically the same premise, albeit for laughs. That show, too, was far from the first to create its own girl group (or boy band). This is a thing that stretches all the way back to The Monkees, who were such a successful fabrication of The Beatles that they became a hit group in their own right. Shows like The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch were so iconic for their own approximations of pop groups they they themselves were later parodied.
But the golden age of boy bands and girl groups was the late '90s and early Aughts, when The Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and N Sync dominated MTV, infuriating anyone who wasn't into their candy-coated vibe, and spawning a legion of TV copycats. With Queens set tojoin the pantheon of fake TV groups, here are ten of their most memorable (and equally fake) contemporaries, each notable for either skewering boy-band-era pop or nailing its sound, and often both at once:
At the moment, the gold standard in fake TV pop groups is Girls5Eva, from the Peacock show that bears their name. As the legend goes, Girls5Eva was a flash-in-the-pan hit girl group in the late nineties, with songs like "Famous 5Eva" and "Dream Girlfriends." Years later, they're back and trying to launch a comeback, but back in the day they were dead-on accurate in their approximation of the pop aesthetic of groups like Dream and Danity Kane. As is the case with many of the pop groups on this list, the parody makes sure to nail every type: Wickie the star, Dawn the serious one, Summer the dumb one, Gloria the workhorse, and the late, lamented Ashley (who … might not be dead?).
The network that birthed boy-band-era pop was among the first to parody it when MTV commissioned their own fictional boy band for a TV movie that aired in 2000. 2gether (or 2Ge+Her, if you get it) was the origin story of the fake band of the same name, where each member served a recognizable boy band niche. Evan Farmer played Jerry (The Heartthrob), Noah Bastian played Chad (The Shy One), Michael Cuccione played Q.T. (The Cute One, duh), Alex Solowitz played Mickey (The Bad Boy), and Kevin Farley, brother of Chris, played Doug (The Older Brother). The band's fictional big hit, "U + Me = Us (Calculus)" actually charted on MTV's Total Request Live, which was either a testament to the shrewd fiction of the band or a damning statement about the less than discerning tastes of pop fans.
Saturday Night Live's parody of Destiny's Child is mostly remarkable now for how it skewered a version of Beyonce who we mostly don't really recognize in pop culture now. There's probably a whole thesis to be written about how Beyoncé's depictions on SNL evolved from Gemini's Twin to "The Prince Show" to Maya Rudolph's current impression of Queen Bey. But back in the early aughts, Destiny's Child was more or less just representative of a whole genre of blingy pop, with a style of dress and attitude that was more Girls5Eva than anything. Maya Rudolph and Ana Gasteyer played the permanent members of the group, while a revolving door of guest hosts like Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, and Gwyneth Paltrow played the third member, a winking commentary on its own of the constantly changing Destiny's Child lineups.
7 Degrees Celsius
Saturday Night Live also got into the boy-band parody action in a different series of sketches. 7 Degrees Celcius included Jimmy Fallon (who already looked like he could've been in a real boy band) as the bleach-blond Timberlakian one, Chris Parnell sporting Chris Kirkpatrick hair, Chris Kattan with some unfortunate hair of his own, and Hortatio Sanz struggling with the choreography on the band's Fruit on the Bottom tour. And of course there was Will Ferrell playing the pervy manager. In one sketch, James Van Der Beek played a fifth member of the band, while another featured Joshua Jackson playing a breathless fanand the actual N Sync playing another fake boy band, named No Refund.
It's no surprise that Late Show with David Letterman would want to jump in on all the sneering fun, and in 1999, their writing staff — including Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who would go on to create How I Met Your Mother — came up with such an accurate parody of a boy band (and delivered it with such deadpan sincerity), that people thought it was real. The fake band was called Fresh Step (yes, like the brand of kitty litter) and the show cast a bunch of Broadway chorus boys as members, including an at-the-time unknown Matthew Morrison. The band even came back for a second song called "Don't Talk to the Hand, Girl, Talk to the Heart," attached to a fake James Van Der Beek / Sarah Michelle Gellar movie called Talk to the Hand. The parody was delivered so well (those guys were HOT, unsurprisingly since they were Broadway performers) that most viewers never picked up that they were fake.Honestly, Dave probably could have made some money off of them if he'd sent them out to tour.
Boyz 4 Now
By the time Bob's Burgers came around, the boy band craze of the early aughts had come and gone, and we'd already come back around again to a new boy band craze. Boyz 4 Now is more of a One Direction parody than anything hearkening back to the Backstreet Boys, and while the band is initially the object of Tina's fascination (naturally), the sight of youngest, blondest band member Boo Boo is what takes Louise by surprise and delivers her very first crush. It is awesome.
Unsurprisingly, given creator Seth MacFarlane's affinity for pop culture references and songs, American Dad came up with its own boy band, centered around Steve Smith and his friends Barry, Snot, and Toshi. As their name suggests, there are an unruly twelve members of this particular band, who were put together by Snot's uncle Lew Schnieder, who formed the group out of three smaller boy bands. Their single, "Girl, You Need a Shot of B12" is about as crude as you'd expect from American Dad.
"Girl, You Don't Need Makeup"
Back with the One Direction parodies again, this time it was Inside Amy Schumer picking apart the 1D song "That's What Makes You Beautiful" in all its semi-condescending glory. The 2010s trend towards men telling women that they have permission to feel body-positive was skewered by songwriters Jim Roach and Kyle Dunnigan as the unnamed boy band encourages Amy to eschew all her makeup, only to hastily backtrack when they see what she actually looks like. It's typical Amy Schumer self-effacement here, but it's also, on a very basic level, kind of a bop if you don't dwell on the lyrics for too long.
A Boy Band Made Up Of Four Joshes
If any show was going to nail the boy band sound with an on-point genre parody, it was obviously going to be Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It's wild that in only the show's third episode it was already flexing by nailing the boy-band aesthetic with not one, not two, not three, but four copies of dreamy Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), serenading Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) with lyrics that double as some much-needed therapy about her childhood abandonment issues (with perfect choreography, to boot). Songwriters Bloom and the late Adam Schlesinger nailed the vibe, and Rodriguez really harmonized well with himself!
The Brits have produced more than their fair share of real boy and girl bands, from Take That, Spice Girls and BBmak to later groups like One Direction and The Wanted, so it only makes that Britain's Channel 4 produced its own six-part miniseries parody back in 1999. Boyz Unlimited's claim to fame in 2021 is that it starred an incredibly young James Corden, prior to even his History Boys and Gavin & Stacey days. The above promo even managed to take a shot at Take That's Gary Barlow.
Joe Reid is the senior writeratPrimetimer and co-host of theThis Had Oscar Buzzpodcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.