A massively successful boy band, New Kids on the Block emerged in the late '80s combining R&B grooves, infectious pop hooks, and a dynamic, dance-oriented image. Guided by their producer Maurice Starr, the group built upon the popularity of Starr's previous protégé ensemble New Edition, helping lay the groundwork for the teen pop boom of the late '90s. During the New Kids' heyday, the group reportedly earned over one million dollars per week, and their string of hit songs — the bulk of which reinterpreted R&B-styled street music for a young female audience — made them one of the era's most commercially prosperous acts. Both 1988's Hangin' Tough and 1990's Step by Step topped the Billboard 200 chart, spawning singles like "You Got (The Right Stuff)," "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," "Hangin' Tough," "Step by Step," and "Tonight." Though they disbanded after 1994's Face the Music, they reconvened 14 years later, landing at number two on the Billboard 200 with their mature 2008 comeback album The Block. Continued fan support has kept the group touring and releasing material, including 2013's 10 and 2017's Thankful EP.
In 1985, Maurice Starr launched a citywide talent search in Boston, where he hoped to assemble an adolescent vocal group. Donnie Wahlberg, Jordan Knight, Jon Knight, Danny Wood, and Joe McIntyre were soon recruited to join, with Starr presiding over the young teenagers as manager, choreographer, songwriter, and producer. A contract with Columbia Records followed, and New Kids on the Block made an enthusiastic debut with their self-titled album in 1986. At the time, the group's oldest members were barely 16 years old, while McIntyre was only 12.
For their next album, 1988's Hangin' Tough, New Kids on the Block bolstered their neo-bubblegum beginnings with slick, radio-ready pop songs. From the romantic ballad "I'll Be Loving You Forever" to the title track's stab at funk, the album spun off a seemingly endless streak of hits in 1988 and 1989. Five songs entered the Top Ten, and even the group's Christmas album (released during the height of New Kids mania in late 1989) went double platinum, effectively riding the wave of Hangin' Tough's success up the Billboard charts. In another savvy marketing move, Columbia released a single from the group's previous album, which became a Top Ten hit in 1989 despite being three years old. It helped jump-start sales for the debut record, and both Hangin' Tough and New Kids on the Block climbed to multi-platinum status before the decade's end.
New Kids mania continued in 1990 with Step by Step, whose title track became the group's biggest single to date. The album sold three million copies in America and also fared well internationally, moving an additional 16 million units in other parts of the world. The boys supported their release with a Coke-sponsored tour, including 100 dates in the U.S. and additional performances overseas. Meanwhile, they also unveiled an extensive line of licensed merchandise — including dolls, lunch boxes, attire, and bed sheets — that earned the group an additional $400 million in 1991. Coupled with the sheer size of their official fan club, the modest popularity of 1991's No More Games: The Remix Album, and the amount of calls placed to "the Official NKOTB Hotline" at 1-900-909-5KID, the group's merchandising efforts made them the highest-paid entertainers of the year, beating out the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Despite their success, by 1993 the New Kids were experiencing some backlash, including accusations of lip-sync'ing brought up in a lawsuit filed against Starr by a former associate-producer; the suit was eventually dropped. At the same time, they were also dealing with the reality that their largely teenaged audience's tastes were changing as they were growing up. In January 1994, they rechristened themselves NKOTB (a move that was intended to distance the then-twenty-something singers from their kid-oriented past) and returned with Face the Music, which showed a remarkable degree of musical maturity. The group had grown into a credible urban R&B outfit, eschewing the help of Starr and writing many of the songs themselves. Nonetheless, Face the Music failed to replicate the heights of their previous success, and New Kids on the Block parted ways in June 1994.
Various members of the New Kids launched solo careers later in the decade, with Knight scoring a gold-selling record in 1999 and Donnie Wahlberg landing several movie roles. Attempts to reunite the group in the early 2000s proved unsuccessful; however, the bandmembers surprisingly reconvened in early 2008, announcing their decision to tour in support of a new album. The Block arrived later that year, debuting at number two on the Billboard charts and selling 100,000 copies in its first week. The Block re-established NKOTB as a viable commercial concern, something they took advantage of with a succession of tours, including concert cruises and a co-headlining jaunt with the Backstreet Boys in 2011.
More tours followed, and in 2013 the band returned with the full-length 10. Produced by the band, along with Deekay, Brent Paschke, Gabe Lopez, and others, it peaked at number six on the Billboard 200. Following more live appearances, including a 2014 residency in Las Vegas, they released the 2017 EP Thankful, featuring the single "One More Night." In 2020, they joined Boyz II Men, Big Freedia, Naughty by Nature, and Jordin Sparks for the song "House Party." ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Matt Collar