Is this the new Fifth Harmony?
Meet Boys World! Tapping into the ever-expanding culture of TikTok, the group's five members — from across the U.S. (and actually, the world) — are building a diverse fandom of internet and music lovers alike.
The girls — Elana Caceres, Olivia Ruby, Queenie Mae, Lillian Kay and Makhyli — introduce themselves to PEOPLE as they chat about their formation, living in a house together and their debut single, "Girlfriends." (PEOPLE also premieres part two of their video The Making of Girlfriends.)
Formed by KYN Entertainment, the members of Boys World were just regular girls posting covers on social media and YouTube. For the girls, it all started out with a DM. Yes, a DM on Instagram!
"It took me a month and a half to even reply because a random person just hit my DM, you don't even know who it is," says Queenie, 19, who was the first selected to form the group. "I don't want to get kidnapped. Obviously, things are meant to be now. It was insane, to be honest."
"It was hard to believe at first," adds Lillian, 18. "'You want to put together this girl group and you want me in it?' I think we all had really long conversations when we got on the phone with them. It just clicked, it felt right."
Lindsay Ellary Boys World
The timing was perfect. While girl groups from across the world continue to dominate (Little Mix in the U.K. and BLACKPINK in Korea), there hasn't been a new girl group to make its mark in the U.S. since the disbanding of Fifth Harmony in 2018.
"There was a clear space in music for something a bit more fun and positive — a new girl group for a new generation of pop fans," Sonny Takhar, KYN’s founder, tells PEOPLE. "In finding each girl, it was vital that as the group was formed, the existing members were a part of that process to ensure that the girls were in the driving seat when it came to saying who was in the band."
After Queenie, followed Makhyli, then Lillian, followed by Elana and Olivia.
And Takhar was the perfect mastermind for the idea. Before starting KYN Entertainment, a joint venture with Live Nation, he served as the president of Simon Cowell's Syco Music, which was responsible for signing groups such as Il Divo, Little Mix, Fifth Harmony and One Direction.
"We wanted raw talent, but natural chemistry and forming strong bonds between them were essential," Takhar says.
Raw talent and chemistry is exactly what they got. Despite having been formed just two years ago — on April 26, 2019, to be exact — Boys World showcases a genuine sisterhood between five girls with completely different personalities.
And the name? Why Boys World?
"It's just so ironic," explains Queenie. "There are five girls, but it's a boys' world. We were just thinking that boys would be cute at first, and then we realized boys was an acronym for 'best of yourself.'"
"The world part for us just makes it global," she adds.
While they were "in development," as the girls describe the several months before they became public, they did so much research on the artists they wanted to be inspired by.
"I don't think we could pinpoint one," says Olivia, 19.
"It was like soul searching," adds Queenie.
The group was left a secret until January of this year when they introduced themselves via TikTok with a mini dance video to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and the caption "Best friends, a new girl group, or both?"
Since then, their numbers on the app have skyrocketed, even before releasing their first single in late October. (They posted covers on YouTube before then though, of *NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye," Keri Hilson's "Pretty Girl Rock" and a Zoom-themed cover of Lizzo's “Cuz I Love You.")
And just this week, Boys World reached 1 million followers on TikTok.
we just hit a million on tiktok!!!! 🥺💞 WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS HOW THANKFUL WE ARE!!!
— Boys World (@boysworld) December 3, 2020
"It was crazy because fans were supporting us even before music. We didn't have anything out. We were just showing our personality, showing our friendship," says Olivia. "Being able to just build a platform on TikTok, it's been so fun. It's really authentic to us and I love that."
The group's five members live in a single house, following in the footsteps of other notable TikTok creators who have built their platform by showcasing their lives together under a single roof.
"In the beginning, we shared bunk beds. It was like, Ooh, we're doing this," says Makhyli, 17, whose mom supervises the girls in their L.A. home. "It was a lot of fun, a lot happening, but we learned so much from each other. We help each other. One time, I had glue on my eyeball."
"She glued her eye shut in the car," quips Olivia. "We were rushing and she didn't have her eyelashes on yet. She looked at me and there's glue stuck in her eye, so I had to take a makeup wipe and get it out."
"Something is always happening," says Lillian with a laugh.
At times, it feels like these girls have known each other for life. They're all in their late teens and still exploring their identities — and they make it clear that they're going to stay true to who they are even as a unit.
"The team has always appreciated our individuality," says Queenie. "We're still learning who we are today."
"I feel like we definitely pull it out of each other," adds Olivia. "Inspiring each other has been a way for us to want to be ourselves and be who we are underneath."
Of course, the girls have already started to notice fans compare them to other girl groups. Whether it be the most recent groups or the iconic ones that came in generations past.
"Some say we kind of resemble the Spice Girls," says Lillian. "That was not on purpose! It's weird how it worked out. They were iconic and everybody loved them. It's really a compliment to resemble them in a way."
"When people compare us to girl groups like Spice Girls, I feel like they're manifesting success for us," adds Queenie. "But we'll be successful in our own way."
Boys World released its first single "Girlfriends" in late October to the acclaim of fans, or STARS as the girls call them. Its accompanying music video features A1 choreography in an office-themed backdrop. (Clips of the video soon went viral on Twitter.)
"Baby I can love you or love you not / Hope you're down with the friends I got," the group sings. "But if you're not, gotta cut you off / 'Cause you know girls stan girlfriends over boyfriends."
The group's music video — which starts with the girls running a "girlfriends hotline" as they answer calls from teens who need advice — showcases the girls' natural singing talent and cohesiveness.
"It's a girl empowerment song for sure," explains Lillian. "It was inspired by our friendship."
"Filming the music video was really, really cool because we've been working on 'Girlfriends' for over a year," adds Elana, 18, saying they practiced the choreo for a total of 64 hours. "It took a lot of time to get it to the amazing place where it is now."
The group pushes for inclusivity, even just in the video. Makhyli is seen chatting in ASL, Olivia answers a call in Portuguese while Queenie gossips in her native Tagalog. (Elana, who's Puerto Rican, filmed a part in Spanish but it didn't make the video.)
"We're trying to do something new, innovative, that hasn't been seen in a while," says Makhyli. "When you hear a Boys World record, you hear the friendship, you hear the energy, you hear the fun in the music."
As for their next steps, they're set to drop new music — and a fresh EP — next year. They also hope to soon be able to tour and showcase their talents on stage. For now, they'll stick to meeting their STARS over Zoom.
Meet each of the girls below!
Elana Caceres Elana Caceres
18, Queens, New York
Favorite singer: Amy Winehouse
Why do you love Boys World? "It allows me to express myself in the most positive way so that I can and hopefully inspire If not one person, thousands!! I love making music with my best friends and I'm so happy our fandom is growing."
Fun fact: "I love my Sully stuffed animal and Monsters Inc. is a movie I can watch over and over again and never get bored!"
What did you do before the group? "I was in high school, a regular girl. I was in dance. I was in competitions. That's really what I did. I only had two or three covers up when I got the DM. It was so fresh, so new. I had to build up the confidence to even post a cover. I was in the church choir as a kid, but singing was not something that I was super confident in, just because I did it in my house for fun. I use music to express myself. I had this little karaoke machine at home and I would just sing every time I got home from school. It's crazy how now I'm here doing this for real. I was just a regular girl."
Olivia Ruby Olivia Ruby
19, Columbus, Ohio
Favorite singer: Lorde
Why do you love Boys World? "I'm constantly surrounded by four girls that inspire me and make me wanna do better for myself and others."
Fun fact: "I can play guitar behind my head."
What did you do before the group? "Half of eighth grade I was homeschooled. I was stuck with myself and that's when I really started to pick up. I taught myself ukulele, piano, guitar during this time from eighth grade until I graduated. I've loved music since I was a baby. I would write songs with my mom and then I would post it on YouTube. I would have people send me their stories and then I would write them songs based on what the story was. Songwriting comes first for me, to be honest. I just really love the art of writing, but I do love singing."
Queenie Mae Queenie Mae
19, Manila, Philippines (raised in the Bay Area)
Favorite singer: Kehlani
Why do you love Boys World? "We're able to inspire others with our friendship and be a light to the youth."
Fun fact: "I'm super athletic and played 2 sports in high school."
What did you do before the group? "I grew up singing right out the womb. I had singing in my genes. My grandma is actually a professional singer. Right when I moved to California from the Philippines in 2007, I was about five years old. Every Friday she'd have gigs and I’d go with her. She'd make me sing 'L-O-V-E' by Nat King Cole every single time. I grew up really just singing with my grandma. I actually sang in the talent show in high school every year and I won every year. I don't want to do anything else, but sing. I feel really passionate about it and we all are."
Lillian Kay Lillian Kay
18, Boise, Idaho
Favorite singer: Ariana Grande
Why do you love Boys World? "I feel so supported to be 100% myself and feel less alone in this huge world and music industry."
Fun fact: "I can make the sound of a basketball player's shoe hitting the floor while playing."
What did you do before the group? "I was really shy. I did not let a soul hear me sing. I did not do anything in front of anybody. The first time I ever sang in front of my parents was for the audition for Boys World. I would sing in my room just quietly, I would play my guitar, write some really bad music. When my parents would go out to do something, I would run to my room that had the mic in it and I would just yell my heart out. Then when I saw their car pulling back in, I would run back to my room and pretend like nothing ever happened. I don't know why, because my parents were always so supportive of me."
17, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Favorite singer: Michael Jackson
Why do you love Boys World? "We're all so dramatic and there is always someone you can cackle with."
Fun fact: "I put hot sauce on everything."
What did you do before the group? "I was doing covers. My story is a little bit different because I moved to LA for music, for acting, just for the industry in general. I did a creative arts school and I did voice lessons. My mom was just always putting me in different things. I was a super shy kid. I wanted to do it, but I didn't know how, so my mom helped me with that. I was doing little stuff in my room. I was doing musical theater. Where I'm from, it's kind of small, but theater is really big there. Little camps here and there, just dabbing my toes into everything. I was just trying to get on people’s timeline with the covers."