It’s never a bad time to celebrate boy bands — as pure a pop fixture as exists, with classic songs and timeless tropes that have resonated for well over half a century, with no sign of slowing down soon. But with one of the best all-male pop groups of the 21st century about to celebrate their 10th anniversary, and perhaps the first official boy band literary history due in stores around the same time, it felt like a particularly good time to rejoice in the legacy of big choruses, screaming fans, matching wardrobes, dreamy eyes and dreamier harmonies.
To that end, we’re ranking our 30 favorite boy band albums of the last 30 years. Why 30 years? Well, it helps to have a period manageable enough to not have to compare The Wanted with The Beatles — but also lets us encompass essentially the entirety of the modern boy band canon, after New Edition reinvented the form in the ’80s. Spanning from 1990 to 2020 takes us from peak NKOTB to (for now) peak BTS, and covers all the decades of sonic, visual, cultural and geographical evolution that happened in between.
But of course, the usual caveats apply about having to draw the distinction of who does and doesn’t count as a boy band — an unenviable task, even for the professionals. We basically stuck with our staff rulings from a few years ago about some of the most borderline cases: 112 and 5SOS in, Brockhampton and Boyz II Men out. (We did make an exception to include the first Boyz album, though, as a sort of passing of the torch from their boy band mentors — but we also elected not to include late-period albums from now-grown boy bands, like Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins.)
Here’s our favorites from the last three decades — and here’s hoping that the first great new boy band of the 2020s is figuring out their socially distanced dance moves as we speak.
30. 98 Degrees, 98 Degrees and Rising (1998)
The Story: As Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC spent the late ‘90s trading hits and Total Request Live supremacy, 98 Degrees, led by the brothers Lachey, not-so-quietly established a fruitful lane of their own, with second album 98 Degrees and Rising containing the most hits and high points of a long-running career.
The Classic: “Because of You” may have charted higher on the Billboard Hot 100, but “The Hardest Thing” stands as one of the era’s most interesting boy band ballads, complete with a boxing-themed music video and a lyrical shout-out to Doctor Zhivago.
The Deep Cut: “Heat It Up,” the first proper track on the album, samples Slave’s 1979 funk classic “Just a Touch of Love” — a bold move that 98 Degrees pulls off on a song that works for both tween fans and the parents lovingly driving them to the boy band concert. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
29. Dream Street, Dream Street (2000)
The Story: The first (and only) album to come from early-2000s boy band Dream Street was a showcase of individual talent, ultimately boosting member Jesse McCartney to higher fame in his later solo career.
The Classic: While the band wasn’t around long enough to claim a song on the Billboard Hot 100, there’s no question that “It Happens Every Time” quickly became their breakout single, especially thanks to their performances of the song on shows like Maury and Nickelodeon’s Slime Time Live.
The Deep Cut: Despite serving as the album’s introduction, “Feel the Rain” was never given proper recognition — the song features each of the five members getting their moment and sounding their best, while the instrumental simply squeals out a perfectly-early 2000s boy band melody. — STEPHEN DAW
28. Piso 21, Ubuntu (2018)
The Story: Piso 21’s sophomore album Ubuntu — coming six years after their debut — is home to 13 tracks that perfectly spotlight the Colombian group’s eclectic rhythms, laced with lyrics of love, hope, and good vibes, while showing their own personal and professional growth.
The Classic: Manuel Turizo joins the boys on their 2017 hit “Dejala Que Vuelva.” Amassing over one billion video views on YouTube, there’s no doubt that this infectious pop gem, about overcoming a long lost love, continues to resonate with the fans.
The Deep Cut: Piso 21 gets real deep with their simple but enchanting “Puntos Suspensivos.” The urban ballad, named after the points of ellipsis, is a heartfelt ode to that person we will always love and never forget. — JESSICA ROIZ
27. Westlife, Coast to Coast (2000)
The Story: Following the breakthrough success of their debut album, Irish boy band Westlife managed a feat many others in their industry couldn’t at the time by repeating their success. Coast to Coast went on to sell over 2 million copies in Europe, earning the band their second double platinum album within a year of debuting.
The Classic: While the band’s cover of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” serves as their most successful to date, there is no denying that their most successful original off Coast to Coast was album opener “My Love” — a stunning ode to their home country that debuted at No. 1 in the U.K. and remains a fan-favorite to this day.
The Deep Cut: Outside of the album’s official singles, Coast to Coast is mostly comprised of down-tempo slow jams or ballads — that is, until you reach “Dreams Come True.” A welcome influx of energy sitting in the center of the album, the track’s intense production, melodic breakdown and expert use of classic turn-of-the-century record scratching make this song a hidden gem. — S.D.
26. BTS, Map of the Soul: 7 (2020)
The Story: For its first half, 2020 has been the worst year ever for just about everyone…except for BTS. After debuting at the top spot of the Billboard 200, Map of the Soul: 7 proved to be an electrifying K-pop experience praised by both fans and Western critics, and also turned out to be the best-selling album of the year so far.
The Classic: The high-energy single “On” became the most buzzed about single on the album — boosted by the release of its accompanying music video(s) and an unforgettable performance in Grand Central Terminal via The Tonight Show.
The Deep Cut: In contrast to the upbeat lead track, “Jamais Vu” is a slowed down, more reflective ballad that flexes the vocal ranges of both Jin and Jungkook, punctuated by rap verses by J-Hope. — MIA NAZARENO
25. 2Gether, 2Gether Again (2000)
The Story: The MTV-founded satirical boy band 2Gether had enough momentum after its February 2000 debut to make it to a second album that same year, leaning all the way into the bit right from the appropriately ridiculous opener “5gether.”
The Classic: “The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)” remains the group’s pièce de faux-resistance, a sublimely unsentimental spin on “Bye Bye Bye”-type kiss-offs that makes its accusations of romantic larceny more literal: “You borrow stuff every time I turn my back/ I can’t believe I went out with a KLEPTOMANIAC!”
The Deep Cut: 2Gether proved equally adept at 98 Degrees-style mock-softness on “Sister,” a gorgeously sighing apology ballad with a perfect chorus kicker: “Oh girl, I never meant to break your heart/ I promise you/ I didn’t know she was your sister.” — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
24. Son By Four, Son By Four (2000)
The Story: The Puerto Rican quartet was the brainchild of Panamenian producer/songwriter Omar Alfanno — who conceived Son by Four as a salsa and tropical music boy group in 1998, a time when salsa and tropical music ruled the Billboard charts — and their self-titled sophomore set marked the group’s mainstream breakthrough.
The Classic: “A Puro Dolor,” the album’s lead track, was the biggest Latin single of 2000, spending 22 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, a record run at the time. “A Puro Dolor” also benefitted from an English version (“Purest of Pain”) and even more so, from its ballad version, which showcased López’s voice with piercing pathos.
23. The Wanted, The Wanted (2012)
The Story: As the teen members of One Direction were perfecting their stateside takeover in the early 2010s, the twentysomething members of U.K.-based the Wanted offered something a bit more rhythmic and grown-up, nodding to the concurrent EDM explosion on the more uptempo moments of their highly enjoyable self-titled album.
The Classic: After scoring a few U.K. hits, the Wanted rightfully blew up in the States with “Glad You Came,” a magnetic Eurodance banger that has aged better than many of the other turbo-pop anthems of the era. The song peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100, the group’s only top 40 hit.
The Deep Cut: Follow-up single “Chasing the Sun” was basically the sound of the Wanted asking, “What if we released ‘Glad You Came,’ again?” Lightning did not strike twice on the U.S. charts, but “Chasing the Sun” still makes for a lovably maximalist club track. — J. Lipshutz
22. Take That, Nobody Else (1995)
The Story: As growing as big as the New Kids or Backstreet Boys pretty much everywhere but the U.S. in the ’90s, U.K. boy band Take That said goodbye for the first time after releasing their most accomplished and successful album yet, the more mature third LP Nobody Else.
The Classic: If you know just one song by Take That, it’s probably the tearful acoustic singalong “Back For Good” — which reached the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 and probably would’ve endured as one of the decade’s ultimate karaoke staples if not for the TRL era kicking off a few years later.
The Deep Cut: “Hanging Onto Your Love” was a fun sophisti-pop shuffle that showed that despite the success of “Back For Good” (and member Robbie Williams’ burgeoning infatuation with the Gallagher Brothers), Take That were still more natural acolytes of George Michael than Oasis. — A.U.
21. H.O.T., We Hate All Kinds of Violence (1996)
The Story: The album that started it all for the K-pop world as we currently know it, We Hate All Kinds of Violence was the first release from a boy band put together by K-pop behemoth SM Entertainment, changing the state of South Korea’s entertainment world.
The Classic: There is nothing more quintessential boy band than the goofy, coordinated outfits — winter mittens, jerseys, and furry overalls obviously were a perfect match — H.O.T. donned while performing the impossibly chipper “Candy,” which spends its length pinging back and forth between momentary blips of hip-hop and reggae elements, all the while being an overwhelmingly bright, clap-happy dance-pop tune.
The Deep Cut: The duality of H.O.T. is best showcased by “Warrior’s Descendant,” the anti-violence alternative to “Candy” that queried the voice of a generation — with the members of the act performing predominantly using discordant, jarring tones to reflect the rage and despondency, plus a bit of hope. — TAMAR HERMAN
20. Barrio Boyzz, Donda Quiera Que Estes (1993)
The Story: Barrio Boyzz’s well-rounded sophomore 1993 album got the Latin pop group on the map — thanks to their fresh takes on R&B, rap, soul and salsa, and, of course, their collaboration with Selena which helped them crossover to the U.S. market.
The Classic: A fusion of Latin, R&B and pop, and one of the group’s most well-known tracks, “Donde Quiera Que Estes” was the group’s first and only collaboration with the legendary Selena, peaking at No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs in 1994 and ruling the survey for six consecutive weeks.
The Deep Cut: A proud homage to their bicultural roots, “América” was a standout on the album, and its propulsive beat makes it impossible not to literally jump on the dance floor. — GRISELDA FLORES
19. Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys (1997)
The Story: With an ascendant Max Martin tailoring every sonic centimeter of their sleek ballads and R&B-flavored dance-pop for this self-titled effort — the group’s second, after an international release of the same name in ’96 — Backstreet Boys flaunted their immaculate harmonies and “good bad, but not evil” sneer on several era-defining staples.
The Classic: “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” made a lot more sense to already-familiar international audiences than Americans, who got it on BSB’s first Stateside album. But with an irresistible party-starting vibe, a relentless cowbell rhythm and a chorus that even haters couldn’t help but bellowing at the top of their lungs, there was more body slamming than head-scratching when this came on the radio.
The Deep Cut: Although not a favorite of the band, the “Mutt” Lange-penned “If You Want It to Be Good Girl (Get Yourself a Bad Boy)” is a deliciously goofy bit of bad boy posturing — not unlike “Giddy Up,” the similarly dirty-adjacent bop that wrapped *NSYNC’s U.S. debut. — JOE LYNCH
18. Day26, Day26 (2008)
The Story: After watching his Making The Band 3 brainchild Danity Kane surge into mainstream glory with a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 in 2006, Diddy craved more wins. The following season, he went on an arduous hunt to discover his next success story, and, in August 2007, he formed his five-man army in Day 26 — who released their self-titled debut LP the following year.
The Classic: Songwriting stalwart Bryan-Michael Cox, birthed Day 26’s career when he penned MTB4’s explosive theme song “Exclusive.” A glowing highlight in the group’s curtailed resume, “Exclusive,” showcased the group’s vocal mastery and unyielding desires to go the official route in relationships.
The Deep Cut: Bryan-Michael Cox strikes again: slow-winding jam “Are We In This Together” watched Day 26 graduate from boys to men, as they sought reassurance in the wake of relationship trauma. — CARL LAMARRE
17. Bigbang, Made (2015)
The Story: After a four-year break following previous album Alive, BIGBANG returned in 2016 with MADE, with each of its tracks released in a media storm few other artists out there can hope to sustain. The result of the wait was the act’s magnum opus, and one of the most impactful albums ever created by a boy band, South Korean or otherwise.
The Classic: “Bang Bang Bang” is everything you want from a BIGBANG song; it’s dramatic and powerful, a riotous party track for the ages that showcases each of the five members’ distinct artistic style.
The Deep Cut: “Let’s Not Fall In Love” spends its length vacillating between heartbreak and dreaming of happiness, both mournful and euphoric in the bittersweet approach to romance — with forceful raps sitting beside despondent harmonizing in its all-too-relatable approach to willing something away while fearing the risks it may bring. – T.H.
16. One Direction, Up All Night (2011)
The Story: Following their stint on X Factor U.K., Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn Malik joined forces to become One Direction, and released their debut Up All Night in 2012. The album landed atop the Billboard 200 upon its release — a first for a U.K. group — and ultimately, planted the seeds for each members’ respective solo careers.
The Classic: As soon as Liam sang, “You’re insecure/Don’t know what for” on their breakthrough smash “What Makes You Beautiful,” listeners collectively thought: awww, really? And that’s how 1D’s most successful song pretty much ruined all other boys for a generation of now 20-somethings. Swoon!
The Deep Cut: Even though “What Makes You Beautiful” can’t help but eclipse all other tracks on the album, the summery jam “Na Na Na” — a bonus track on the set’s international edition — sounds particularly good upon revisiting in 2020. — M.N.
15. CNCO, CNCO (2018)
The Story: Not since Menudo had a Latin boy band melted our hearts or made us dance quite like CNCO. While the quintet was the product of a Univision reality show, they transcended the ephemeral nature of television: Their eponymous sophomore album, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top Latin Albus chart and No. 33 on the Billboard 200, perfected their bilingual, danceable formula and established them as a credible group with staying power.
The Classic: “Hey DJ,” immediately catchy, immediately danceable, married urban beats with strong melodies — the CNCO trademark — and also paired them with veteran reggaeton star Yandel, a huge nod of respect. A bilingual remix with Meghan Trainor and Sean Paul followed, but we like the original more.
The Deep Cut: The slow, acoustic “Fan Enamorada (Fan In Love)” astutely spoke with direct intimacy and understsanding to every smitten fan who pined for the guys. It’s a mix of Latin balladry and R&B, perfect for their bicultural fanbase. — L.C.
14. *NSYNC, Celebrity (2001)
The Story: *NSYNC’s third and final album saw the biggest boy band in the world pushing the boundaries of their dirrrrty pop with their most intricately produced, thoughtfully composed collection of jams yet — and still selling many millions of CDs in the process.
The Classic: “Gone” ended up being something of a dry run for Justin Timberlake’s solo career, but the group’s sighing backing vocals on the No. 11-peaking ballad still help make it the haunting masterpiece it is.
The Deep Cut: “The Game Is Over” was one of JC Chasez’s finest, a breakup banger whose expertly deployed video game sound effects make the title hook even more resounding. — A.U.
13. 5 Seconds of Summer, 5 Seconds of Summer (2014)
The Story: 5 Seconds of Summer’s self-titled debut made it clear that the quartet wasn’t just another cookie cutter boy band. The album paired sugary sweet lyrics with edgy guitar riffs and pop-punk vocals, creating their own unique sound that quickly skyrocketed them into stardom.
The Classic: Sure, American Apparel has had its ups and downs, but 5SOS’ immaculate No. 24 Hot 100 hit “She Looks So Perfect” still has fans swooning over the thought of looking perfect in the boys’ underwear from the trendy retailer.
The Deep Cut: “End Up Here” is the summer love song meant for road trips and late nights with friends. And, of course, there’s nothing better than hearing a group of Australian heartthrobs sing about falling in love over Nirvana and Bon Jovi. — RANIA ANIFTOS
12. B2K, Pandemonium (2002)
The Story: In 2002, B2K worked overtime, releasing their first two (and as it turned out, only) albums of their short career. Pandemonium! was a bountiful release, splurging with over 20 tracks, including “Bump, Bump, Bump,” “Girlfriend,” and the Christina Aguilera-borrowing “What a Girl Wants.”
The Classic: “Why I Love You” — which also appeared on B2k’s self-titled debut, but was too good not to recycle — was the quintessential 2000s R&B gem, especially on the visual front. Directed by Erik White, B2K, and their labelmates IMx donned Kobe Bryant jerseys while gunslinging their way into the hearts of their love interests: most notably, a young Jhené Aiko and Naya Rivera.
The Deep Cut: “Dog” — the final track on Pandemonium! – brought a raw Jhené to the forefront, as she muzzled creepers and cheaters lurking on the prowl with her sizzling opening verse. — C.L.
11. Seo Taiji and Boys, Seo Taiji and Boys (1992)
The Story: K-pop is the ultimate hybrid of music styles, so it’s fitting that the groundbreaking first album by Seo Taiji and Boys — the progenitor of what K-pop would become, is full of sounds straight out of the ‘80s and early ‘90s American and European pop and hip-hop scenes. It’s still up for debate whether Seo Taiji and Boys are a boy band or not, but their first album is an undeniable must-know when it comes to the legacy.
The Classic: “Nan Arayo (I Know)” is the ultimate classic, the foundational new jack swing-hip-hop-rock hybrid that is considered the root of all things K-pop. Recognized as the first South Korea-born modern pop song, its vibrant sound and style — That dance break! The raps! The tonal shifts! Those catchy refrains! — set a template for the ingenuity and experimentalism now commonly associated with South Korea’s idol pop scene.
The Deep Cut: “You, In the Fantasy” is the techno- and synth-infused counterpart to “I Know,” and while that song is all about love, “Fantasy” — with its wailing screams offering bursts of intensity — is a lively dance track, wrapped in a critique of how people disconnect from their reality and live in a denialist state of fantasy. — T.H.
10. New Kids on the Block, Step by Step (1990)
The Story: After an unexpected smash breakthrough with 1988’s Hangin’ Tough, boy band trailblazers New Kids on the Block returned with third album Step By Step in 1990 — which delivered their third No. 1 on the Hot 100 in the title track and even found them expanding into Beatlesesque psychedelia on top 10 hit “Tonight.”
The Classic: Topping the Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of 1990, “Step By Step” saw writer/producer Maurice Starr bridging the gap between the string-laden disco of 10 years prior and the sugary R&B dance-pop that would dominate radio in the late ’90s. But credit goes to NKOTB, too, whose heart-on-sleeve harmonizing (peppered with just a hint of danger in the delivery) would be imitated by nearly every boy band since.
The Deep Cut: A club banger that’s as gentle and playful as a kitten, “Call It What You Want” is similarly irresistible (and has nothing to do with the Taylor Swift song of the same name). A remix would hit No. 12 in the U.K., but in the U.S., this one was for the fans whose cassette tape copies of Step By Step hadn’t been chewed up and spit out after endless replays. — J. Lynch
9. Boyz II Men, Cooleyhighharmony (1991)
The Story: Blessed by Michael Bivins of New Edition (and named after a deep cut off that group’s 1988 Heart Break album), Boyz II Men burst out of the City of Brotherly Love and into superstardom with a mix of smooth classic soul and slamming new jack swing — and some of the best four-part harmonies of the late 20th century.
The Classic: “Motownphilly” tells the story of the group’s journey from high school kids in the cheesesteak capital to the new darlings of Hitsville U.S.A., with hooks zooming in from every direction and the most relentless beat of early-’90s R&B not recorded by Bivins’ second group.
The Deep Cut: Most of the cuts on Cooleyhighharmony are either aggressively up-tempo or molasses-slow, but “Little Things” splits the difference with a syrupy be-thankful-for-what-you-got lyric and even sweeter groove, and just enough production punch to keep it from getting too pillowy. — A.U.
8. Aventura, God’s Project (2005)
The Story: Aventura single-handedly revolutionized the music industry with their urban bachata movement, fusing modern rhymes with the traditional Dominican genre. Fourth studio album God’s Project, released in 2005, is a standout in the group’s career and a breakthrough for them commercially, paving the way for leader Romeo Santos’ eventual star solo career.
The Classic: The 15-track set is home to the timeless wedding anthem “Un Beso” (A Kiss), a romantic bachata entangled with a weeping acoustic guitar, where the group sings about the chemistry found in one single kiss.
The Deep Cut: Other great bangers such as “La Boda” and the Don Omar-assisted “Ella y Yo” are key God’s Project cuts, but one that Latin music lovers should never sleep on is “Angelito,” the proper opener following the album’s intro. In the uptempo, heartfelt track, Romeo Santos — joined by the sensual voice of Judy Santos (unrelated) — sings about non-reciprocal love and disappointment. — J.R.
7. Backstreet Boys, Millennium (1999)
The Story: From the moment a talkbox riff opens up “Larger Than Life,” the Backstreet Boys make clear that you are in for an iconic listening experience. Millennium was the peak of not only BSB’s mainstream appeal, but their commercial success as well — the album went 13x Platinum, was nominated for album of the year and best pop album at the Grammys, and is still included in lists of the best-selling albums of all time.
The Classic: It’s “Spanish Eyes,” obviously! Just kidding — no song in the Backstreet Boys’ extensive discography has the kind of pure, gargantuan, mega-monster hit power that “I Want It That Way” possesses. Beyond its many accolades, “I Want It That Way” has gone on to become one of the most well-known boy band songs of all time, breaking through every boundary placed around pop music and becoming one of the most iconic songs of the 1990s.
The Deep Cut: Before there was *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” there was the Backstreet Boys’ “Don’t Want You Back.” The moody breakup track is a fun switch-up — after hearing Nick, AJ, Brain, Kevin and Howie sing about fame, heartbreak and sexual drive, it’s fun to hear the boys get angry — while the constantly shifting beat and grimy melody give the song a certain edge that the album otherwise lacks. — S.D.
6. Hanson, Middle of Nowhere (1997)
The Story: Less a boy band than a band made up of actual boys, the Tulsa-bred trio — brothers Zac, Taylor and Isaac Hanson — were 12, 14 and 17, respectively, when they sent a million adolescent hearts aflutter (and earned a trio of Grammy nominations) with their irresistible 1997 pop-rock debut LP, Middle Of Nowhere.
The Classic: “MMMbop,” obviously. Written by the three Hansons and co-produced by The Dust Brothers — then best known for their work with the Beastie Boys and Beck — the song’s lyrics about the ephemeral nature of time were embedded into an effervescent melody that landed the track at both No.1 on the Hot 100 and in the top spot on the 1997 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll.
The Deep Cut: Album-closer “Man From Milwaukee” matched lyrics reflecting the goofball nature of youth with adult musical chops and an anthemic chorus — one that all of us who were teens and tweens in the late ’90s still know every word to. — KATIE BAIN
5. 112, 112 (1997)
The Story: Signed by Diddy as teenagers, the boys of 112 quickly became the signature R&B group of Bad Boy after the release of their 1996 self-titled debut, buoyed by some of the sleekest soul jams of the mid-’90s and the unmistakable angelic voice of Marvin “Slim” Scandrick.
The Classic: Shout out to “Cupid,” one of the most (appropriately) heavenly ballads of the whole ’90s, but the edge here has to go to “Only You” for appearing in two separate classic incarnations: As the shuffling, KC & the JoJo-sampling original, and as the stone-cold, Biggie- and Mase-featuring remix.
The Deep Cut: “Just a Little While,” a lush ballad (produced by the underrated Tim & Bob duo) with hair-raising harmonies and lyrics more anxious than Ginuwine. — A.U.
4. Jonas Brothers, A Little Bit Longer (2008)
The Story: The Jonas Brothers’ third studio album — their first No. 1 — was chock-full of jams that were beloved by the trio’s loyal Radio Disney fanbase. But for the first time, the grown-ups were paying attention, too: hard to ignore an LP that debuts with 525,000 copies sold.
The Classic: “Burnin’ Up” debuted at No. 5 on the Hot 100, a then-career high for the brothers Jonas (since passed by their chart-topping comeback song “Sucker,” of course). With a yell-along chorus, a verse from the JoBros’ bodyguard Robert “Big Rob” Feggans, and an epic music video — which stars Selena Gomez as the damsel in distress to Nick Jonas’ James Bond — “Burnin’ Up” was an instant and enduring classic.
The Deep Cut: Show some respect for the urgent, catchy “One Man Show,” which has the guys lamenting a relationship that ended in disaster (“Took my love and threw it on the ground!”) — GAB GINSBERG
3. BTS, The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever (2016)
The Story: The finale of their game-changing The Most Beautiful in Life album trilogy, Young Forever is a culmination of both prior albums and then some — a soundscape that changed the face of the music world forever by the way it became a pivotal era in BTS’s career. With some of the act’s most impactful, forthright songs sitting beside some of the singles that changed the fate of their career, Young Forever is a true masterpiece.
The Classic: “Dope” and its rambunctious, horn-laden flair is one of several singles featured on Young Forever, but stands out in the way it makes an anthem out of BTS’s career, with the septet introducing themselves while using the addicting melody to express how they’ve gotten where they are through hard work — and throwing in some criticism of a work-driven society for good measure.
The Deep Cut: There isn’t a lackluster moment on the album, but it’s titular track, the finale of “Epilogue: Young Forever,” is the ultimate boy band must-listen in the way it soulfully expresses the angsty reflections of the members while they ruminate on what it means to be “Young Forever” and chasing their dreams. — T.H.
2. *NSYNC, No Strings Attached (2000)
The Story: After settling a legal battle with Lou Pearlman and signing to Jive Records, *NSYNC took thinly veiled shots at their former manager by portraying unhappy marionettes in the music video to lead single “Bye Bye Bye.” It didn’t matter if you missed the subtext: No Strings Attached found the quintet reaching their commercial apex during the teenybopper explosion — it sold 2.4 million copies in its debut sales week, a record that stood for 15 years — as well as offering some of the most delectable pop hooks of the era.
The Classic: Second single “It’s Gonna Be Me” became the only Hot 100 chart-topper of *NSYNC’s career, equally remembered for its shiny pop chorus as for the undying “It’s gonna be MAY!” meme that gets revived every May 1.
The Deep Cut: Long before the age of dating apps, “Digital Get Down” became an unlikely boy band cybersex song: *NSYNC tossed out an ode to emotionally connecting on an Internet that was still evolving in its dial-up days (“Bouncin’ me from satellite to satellite/ I love the things you do for me so late tonight” is just one frozen-in-time lyric). — J. Lipshutz
1. One Direction, Four (2014)
The Story: One Direction’s appropriately titled fourth album wasn’t their biggest or most definitive album, but the group’s final set as a quartet achieved the most fully realized version of their panoramic pop-rock sound, while also seeing the lads totally coming into their own as songwriters and performers. Oh, and it also boasted by far the mightiest, most diverse and best-enduring set of songs of their career.
The Classic: Lead single “Steal My Girl” set the stage for the album to come: a not-quite-a-sample spiritual lift from a classic rock staple (Journey’s “Faithfully” in this case), a self-aware lyric that never lets you know exactly how winking it is, and an absolute uppercut of a chorus, designed for mass singalongs at the world’s highest-occupancy venues.
The Deep Cut: “No Control,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” “Girl Almighty,” “Fireproof,” “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Ready to Run” — how can you possibly choose one? Four was the absolute standard-bearer for the last decade of pop in terms of the album tracks being just as strong — in many case stronger — as its singles. Just go listen to the whole thing. — A.U.