Donnie Wahlberg, of the recently reunited boy band juggernaut New Kids on the Block, had some unexpected words of defiance toward the end of his group's sold-out show at Staples Center on Wednesday.
"You know what people are saying now; it's the same thing they said 20 years ago," Wahlberg said. "They said you were too young to know what good music was, too young to have good taste. They said we were just five crazy guys from Boston. Well, who's crazy now?"
Wahlberg might have had a point. Admitting to New Kids fandom in 2008 may be a journey to the heart of darkness for even the most seasoned poptimist or winking hipster. But Donnie, Danny Wood, Jordan Knight, Jonathan Knight and Joey McIntyre's mission wasn't to disown or even revise their history as contrived tween dreamboats of the late Reagan era. It was a call to wash oneself of shame for enjoying them -- a kind of baptism to absolve the sin of "knowing better."
By and large, the fans seemed to be well-adjusted 25- to 35-year-old women (and a few sheepish boyfriends) who weren't kidding in the '80s and weren't kidding now about their affection for New Kids. The quintet, gently aged into natty suits and fedoras but still unafraid to pop a few buttons at big choruses, rewarded them with two hours of irresistibly hokey arena balladry and hip-hop seasoned dance-pop beamed straight to the central cortex of your inner 10-year-old girl, regardless of your actual sex.
The night's centerpiece was the bevy of top-then hits that made a New Kids lunchbox as much of a cultural staple for '80s babies as trickle-down economics was for their parents, songs including "Cover Girl" and "You've Got It (The Right Stuff)."
If the purpose of pop is to please the most people in the most immediate way possible, then one underestimates the New Kids' skills at his or her own peril. My Bloody Valentine might have been L.A.'s loudest concert of the season, but the Staples Center crowd's reaction to an encore of "Step by Step" would have made that band's guitarist Kevin Shields plug his ears.
The Kids' adjustment to a modern pop climate was even more surprising than the wild enthusiasm that greeted their big-gun hits. The group's comeback album this year, “The Block,” drops them firmly among Akon and Ne-Yo (both of whom guest on the album) in the school of upbeat R&B. Club-leaning tracks like "Single" and pleading makeup laments like "2 in the Morning" are wholly contemporary and master-crafted teen pop, and the Kids strutted and swooned with the same uncynical zeal as their fans as they performed the songs.
McIntyre even dropped a couple of f-bombs in a monologue that had the Kids lounging around a piano in the middle of the arena floor. A parent with children in tow might have been a bit offended, and on those terms, the Kids made their antecedents in Jonas Brothers look wholesome by comparison. Who'd have expected that in 2008?
The Kids would say that you did, back when you bought that lunchbox.