Burning Question: Is One Direction the Biggest Boy Band of All Time?

Leslie Gornstein
Stop The Presses!

Q: One Direction is everywhere, from Madam Tussaud’s wax museums to the gossip blogs. So does that make them the biggest boy band of all time?

A: You might very well think this is the case, given that the media sees Harry Styles alone as the second coming of Elvis, if Elvis kinda looked like Mick Jagger in his pre-Jerri days. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, there’s a reason: You’re probably too young to know this, but there were some huge boy bands before 1D--New Kids on the Block, N SYNC, New Edition, the Jackson Five, the Backstreet Boys. And many have sold more albums than One Direction could even imagine at this point.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with One Direction. Nothing wrong with Harry or Zayn or Zeke or Klem or Curly or Ringo any of those guys. It’s just that, according to experts, they’re not nearly the biggest of their genre. Not yet.

Proof? Sure.

Let’s start with album sales, with a little help from my friend Keith Caulfield over at Billboard. If you’re still doubting what I say about One Direction, here’s an excerpt from the very beginning of my interview with him on this topic.

“Say, Keith, is One Direction the biggest--”


“Not even when you...”

“No. That would be a definitive no. Purely in terms of music sales in the United States, which is the biggest music market in the world, One Direction is still quite far behind groups like N SYNC and Backstreet Boys, which were blockbuster-selling acts in their heyday.”

As in: 28.2 million albums sold by N SYNC, Justin Timberlake’s old line-dancing grounds; and 31.2 million albums sold by Backstreet Boys.

Compare that with One Direction’s impressive-but-still-not-mind-blowing 3.6 million albums sold stateside, and you get the picture.

“N SYNC and Backstreet Boys, they were the kings of pop music,” Caulfield tells me.

Yes, them, and the Jackson Five. At least, when you look at chart performance.

Between the Jackson Five and The Jacksons, we’re looking at 10 top-10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with four reaching No. 1. Compare that with N SYNC, which has had 6 top-10s and 1 No. 1; and Backstreet Boys, who can boast exactly zero No. 1s out of their 6 top-10 songs on the Hot 100 chart.

In comparison, “One Direction has had 3 top-10s on the Hot 100 so far and one, ‘What Makes You Beautiful,’ was a smash radio hit,” Caulfield tells me.

(To be fair, singles were less easy to buy during the heyday of N SYNC, and mega-sellers like Bruce Springsteen have literally never had a No. 1 single on the Hot 100 chart. But still. Numbers!)

Now let’s take a look at concert sales. Or maybe I shouldn’t; Backstreet Boys have conducted 12 tours, including the one currently underway.

But let’s try to compare apples with apples as much as possible: The Backstreet Boys’ latest complete tour, NKOTBSB, had a total of 80 shows, sold 90 percent of its available tickets and grossed more than $46 million.

One Direction’s latest completed tour, which ended in July of last year, sold out, but it grossed a little over $5 million total, off of 62 shows.

There are some other signs that One Direction is huge. But the only arena in which One Direction may truly dominate? Media attention. During its heyday between 2001 and 2003, N SYNC garnered about 265 mentions from notable media outlets.

In the past two years, One Direction has generated more than 3,000 comparable results, thanks in large part to the arrival of blogs and other online media. And, you know, Harry’s cuteness.

“We sometimes think of these boy bands as having huge presences in pop culture,” Caulfield says, “but often they’re just bigger as media figures. They become phenomenons not necessarily because of their music, but because of everything that is directed back to the music.”

Come back to Yahoo! Movies to watch an exclusive live stream of the "One Direction: This Is Us" red carpet premiere in New York on August 26 at 5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. PT.