The 30 best boyband members – ranked!

From the Osmonds’ Donny to BTS’s Jimin, boybands have produced some brilliant performers behind the hair gel. Ahead of the release of Zayn Malik’s new album, we list the greatest

30. Antony Costa

Is erstwhile Blue also-ran Antony Costa purely on this list because, in 2011, he took multi-tasking – a boyband staple, let’s not forget – to extremes by urinating against a cash machine while also withdrawing money and using his phone? Yes. Yes, he is.

29. TJ Jackson

Michael Jackson’s nephew TJ, AKA one-third of temporarily successful trio 3T, wore a plaster over his bare chest, sort of near his heart, to signify pain, on the cover of their ludicrously sappy 1996 hit I Need You. That he was earnest enough to just about make it work speaks volumes.

28. Dane Bowers

Standing out in slightly ropey late-90s R&B/pop rabble Another Level wasn’t exactly difficult, but Dane Bowers – all honeyed vocals, emotive hand gestures and chunky knit rollnecks paired with thick leather jackets – did just that.

27. Abz Love

Abz (also known as Abs) fulfilled many important boyband functions in 5ive: he was the best dancer, the most vocally versatile, the shortest and, most importantly, their designated hat wearer. He now runs a chicken farm in south-west Wales.

26. Charlie Simpson

Every boyband needs a brooding outlier who doesn’t really want to be there, and Busted’s very own hair-gel-soaked rebel was Charlie Simpson, whose heavy-set eyebrows communicated more emotion than the other two members combined.

25. Les McKeown

According to Wikipedia, 25 men have been able to say they were once a member of Scotland’s answer to the Beatles, the Bay City Rollers. It was Les McKeown, however, who sang their biggest hits during the peak of their mid-70s hysteria, pulling off some ludicrous, often awkwardly cropped, tartan-themed outfits while maintaining a down-to-earth brio.

24. Taylor Hanson

Hanson were the anti-boyband when they emerged in 1997, all unkempt (yet probably expertly conditioned) blonde hair, slacker outfits and, you know, real instruments. But in middle brother Taylor, they had a ruddy-cheeked, beaded necklace-wearing, keyboard-hammering teen heartthrob.

23. Gary Barlow

There’s a lot to dislike about Gary Barlow vis-a-vis his boyband years. For one, he couldn’t dance. Two, he epitomised the antithesis of a good boyband member, ie he was the Sensible One, a role taken up by Liam Payne in One Direction. Three, he had zero stage presence. But, on the other hand, he wrote Back for Good, so he’s on the list.

22. Donny Osmond

Donny Osmond.
Donny Osmond. Photograph: Dezo Hoffman/Rex/Shutterstock

An original teen heart-throb, Donny Osmond was able to balance being the star of the Osmonds with a burgeoning solo career. Mind you, he almost lost both when, at the age of 13, his voice broke and he could no longer do justice to the band’s bubblegum ballads, leading to the more “experimental” Crazy Horses album in 1972.

21. Tony Mortimer

East 17’s chief songwriter was so untouchable during their early 90s peak that even when he sported two dangly plaits at the front of his otherwise cropped hair in the video for It’s Alright, no one seemed to say anything. Stay Another Day, which he wrote about his brother’s suicide, remains one of the UK’s best Christmas No 1s.

20. Lee Ryan

On YouTube, there’s a handful of fan-edited videos showcasing Blue lynchpin Lee Ryan’s not inconsiderable vocal range, from Breathe Easy’s showboating to some gloriously OTT ad-libs. What it doesn’t show, however, is the interview he did in 2001 where he criticised the reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and instead fretted about the plight of elephants, whales and dolphins.

19. Jason Orange

The fulcrum across which Take That’s more showy members span, Orange, alongside the less mysterious Howard Donald, chiefly took care of the dancing side of the boyband’s output. While Robbie wore his heart on his sleeve, the enigmatic Orange gave nothing away, even refusing to confirm or deny a long-rumoured affair with Relight My Fire collaborator Lulu.

Davy Jones in 1967.
Davy Jones in 1967. Photograph: Alan Messer/Rex/Shutterstock

18. Davy Jones

In many ways, the Monkees – who were created specifically for a TV show and had limited input into their early material – laid the template for the manufactured boyband as we know it. In fact, the lead singer, Manchester-born Davy Jones, also set the template for the perpetually clean-shaven, cute-as-a-button, bring-home-to-mum heart-throb, paving the way for Take That’s Mark Owen.

17. Jimin

At BTS’s recent London arena shows, it was 23-year-old hair-dye enthusiast Jimin who, in the middle of all the robotic choreography, brought the flashes of old school boyband sex appeal, “accidentally” showing off his abs during the gorgeous, slow-burn solo track Serendipity.

16. Nick Carter

Google “90s curtains hairstyle” and chances are you will get myriad pictures of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, whose blond tresses and ability to look good in all-white thin cotton made him the default boyband caricature for years to come.

15. Ralph Tresvant

With his crooked teeth and gangly physique, New Edition’s Ralph Tresvant wasn’t the obvious choice for band frontman, not least when you consider he was up against Bobby Brown. But, on songs such as Cool It Now, he mixes obvious enthusiasm (a crucial and often ignored boyband attribute) with his unique, stop-you-in-your-tracks vocal.

14. Brian Littrell

For sheer determination alone, perennially cherubic Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell deserves a place on this list. Born with a heart murmur, he underwent surgery in 1998, before contracting swine flu in 2009 and, two years later, announcing his golden voice was being slowly depleted by dysphonia. Boyband is life, though, so obviously he is still going.

13. Ricky Martin

Latino boyband institution Menudo, which ran for 22 years and utilised a constantly evolving lineup, had no time for imperfections. In fact, Ricky Martin was initially declined twice for being too short. Thankfully, it was third time lucky and the boyband boot camp set him on his way to hip-swivelling, perma-smiling, loca livin’ solo stardom.

12. JC Chasez

In any other boyband, all-rounder JC Chasez would have been the main attraction. In ’NSync, however, he played second fiddle to fellow Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake, sharing vocal duties (his was the more soulful of the two) while keeping pace with the band’s often ludicrous dance routines.

11. G-Dragon

G-Dragon during Paris fashion week in 2017.
G-Dragon during Paris fashion week in 2017. Photograph: Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty

In many ways, Big Bang’s G-Dragon, hailed by many as the king of K-pop, ushered in the era of the modern, multi-disciplinary Korean pop star. A singer-songwriter, rapper, producer, entrepreneur and fashion icon (he once appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue), G-Dragon brought an alluring androgyny and edge to the band. He is currently halfway through his mandatory military service.

10. Brian Harvey

When he wasn’t flagrantly boasting about class-A drugs or accidentally running himself over after eating too many jacket potatoes, the beanie-hatted Brian Harvey was one of UK pop music’s best vocalists, smoothing out the jagged It’s Alright and acting the angel on the lovely Stay Another Day.

9. Jordan Knight

Formed by producer Maurice Starr after he was fired by New Edition, New Kids on the Block carried an ace up their sleeve in the shape of Jordan Knight, who married a glorious falsetto with a penchant for waistcoats and a back-combed 80s fringe.

8. Stephen Gately

After a troubled upbringing marked by poverty, Gately seemed to have found his calling as one fifth of Boyzone, imbuing their litany of covers with true emotion. The video for Better, one of their final singles before his sudden death in 2009, featured Gately embracing his husband, further breaking down barriers following his public coming out a decade earlier.

Kevin Abstract in 2016.
Kevin Abstract in 2016. Photograph: Timothy Norris/Getty

7. Kevin Abstract

The leader of the self-proclaimed “best boyband since One Direction”, AKA the genre-bending Brockhampton, Kevin Abstract represents the future for boybands. As a queer black man unafraid to share his emotions publicly, be it in his music or via social media, he has also become a spokesperson for a generation.

6. Zayn Malik

Before the head tattoos, the graffiti obsession and the faint whiff of Howard Hughes, there was that feathery voice, lending even the most trite lyric a wounded soulfulness. Even his chosen performance style – an interesting mix of bored and confused – came across as enigmatic and brooding during the early years.

5. AJ McLean

Earnestness gets you a long way in an American boyband. No one knows that better than Backstreet Boys’ heavily tattooed rebel AJ McLean, who delivers each of his lines – from I Want It That Way’s closing declaration to the excellent pre-chorus on 2018’s Chances – as if his life depends on it.

4. Harry Styles

Dimples, hair, tabloid controversy (the rumoured relationships; his sexuality; that time he whispered into Matt Cardle’s ear about, erm, cats), unique style, tattoos and talent ... Harry Styles was a perfect storm, and often the only reason to see One Direction play live.

3. Justin Timberlake

There was something a bit head boy about Justin Timberlake in ’NSync; he could sing, dance and rock a tight perm, all seemingly without breaking a sweat. Mind you, that false projection of effortlessness is part of what makes a great popstar, and JT made it look very easy indeed.

2. Robbie Williams

Boyband members often fulfil specific roles be it heart-throb, rebel, clown or mouthpiece. In Robbie Williams, Take That got all of those things at once. Equal parts cheeky chappy, sex god and wounded victim, Williams was never going to be contained in the confines of a band, but it was glorious while it lasted.

1. Michael Jackson

Introduced to the world via the distinctly adult themes of I Want You Back, the then 11-year-old Michael Jackson imbued the song with a terrifying primal urgency. Having studied the Motown greats since the age of seven, Jackson was able to put his revision into practise, and he didn’t waste a moment, gliding his way across a litany of genre agnostic hits as part of the Jackson 5 and, later, the Jacksons. Adolescence may have destroyed him, but there’s something uniquely magical about seeing a true one of a kind hitting the ground running.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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