Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Confessions of a Boy Band Groupie

By Mindy LaBernz

JUNE 14, 1999:  In my youth, I took a strong anti-boy band stance. Recently, however, I've discovered something truly icky about myself that I cannot rationalize as ironic posturing. My rather unsettling epiphany struck one afternoon as I tore into the cellophane flesh of three new purchases by Robby, Ricky, and Jordan. Here's the deal: I dig boy band survivors.

My fixation becomes even more ghastly if I link my boy band present to my boy band past, more specifically, to a youthful indiscretion involving a hotel room and three New Kids on the Block. Let me explain.

Initially, when I fell into their demographic, I ridiculed boy bands. As is the nature of a middle schooler, I bristled at the creepy, chirpy sexual ambiguity of Menudo. When NKOTB (New Kids on the Block, you amateurs) hit the charts with Hangin' Tough, I was 16-going-on-17 and dismissed them as posers.

But then midway through my senior year, while working my first music industry job at a suburban Sound Warehouse, I got called up to the Majors: a NKOTB in-store at the downtown location.

At the signing, 3,000 screaming girls were held at bay while NKOTB's "people" selected employees for the coveted meet-and-greet. As the youngest and bustiest of the retail folks, I was hustled "backstage" (the stockroom), a black-and-white glossy thrust in my hands. Once inside, I leaned up against a wall, pouty and detached. That's precisely when Little Joey McEntire spotted me, and like the high school freshman he should have been, he dashed off to find his older, cooler friend.

Enter Donnie Wahlberg, he of the rattail and ripped jeans, who makes a beeline for the tan chick in the miniskirt, and though the interaction is fuzzy, I recall being hit on with a confidence I hadn't previously encountered with high school boys.

During the autograph session, I direct little girls to a table where they blubber their way past the boys, who mumble to each other and wave in my general direction. When a radio jock hands them a mike, they even send a special "shout out" to me. I act suitably disinterested.

Unfortunately, the passing of 10 years has not rendered my next move any less embarrassing. Sensing the afternoon is ending, and goaded by my store manager, I jot a note to the boys -- coy -- something like, "Hey, you aren't leaving town without a party, are you?" I hand the missive to a wailing little girl who's overjoyed about her special purpose. Little do I know that, as the note is passed from NK to NK, my sass will be taken quite seriously by the group's bad boy.

As the in-store ends and the boys file out, I'm relieved that my youthful cheekiness hasn't led to a party I can't deliver; at this point, I'm all talk, still quite virginal, and undone by half a wine cooler. Suddenly, an imposing tour manager, who my memory reconstructs as a Bill Graham/Peter Grant type, re-enters and calls out for a "Mindy." I'm whisked outside to a limo, where a tinted window rolls down, and Donnie reveals his hotel and code name. Panicked, I call two friends, both hotties and party professionals. My phone attitude is all bravado -- aren't they gay, and isn't this stupid, and how soon can you be ready?

By the time we reach the hotel, I've forgotten the code name. Luckily, the uncute but muscular New Kid walks by, and moments later Jordan and Joey are bouncing around us, mackin' like Beantown boyz. Though I'm flirtatiously snide, the boys graciously suggest we wait for Donnie to show up in their room. We follow the young stars to their lair where ....

Nothing happens. No three-ways, no lines of coke, nothing. Just five dopey teenagers sitting on opposite sides of the room watching a Damon Wayans HBO special, which we white-bred girls don't get, while the Boston boyz howl with their intimate knowledge of the "black experience." Our only lurid interaction is Joey asking my friend if she smokes. (No? Oh.) Donnie, probably buried in three feet of prime Houston stripper, never shows.

To this day, my friends berate me for my rudeness, always asking the same question: "Why'd you go if you thought the whole thing was so stupid?" I dunno. 'Cause I was embarrassed I fell for something so obvious. 'Cause I was sucker-punched by celebrity. 'Cause out of all the screaming girls they picked me. 'Cause even though their music sucked, they were simply real, live, cute boys. 'Cause I was a 16-year-old suburban girl who was waiting around for something fabulous to happen, and this, well, it was a start.

Until recently, my New Kids experience was quietly filed under "Formative: Embarrassing." But now that I've escaped my suburban confines and have experienced more than my share of the fabulous, I root for the boy-band-boy as he, too, struggles to shrug off the humiliation of the past and reinvent himself: the fugitive bad boy, Take That's Robbie Williams, who rolled around in his own shit and pulled through rehab with some panache; the converted boy, Ricky Martin, who replaced his clean, straight-legged Menudo dance with his naughty, pelvic, Sex-Mex; the pop boy, Jordan Knight, whose dancey command of cute has won over a second generation of little girls. The boys are all grown up, and so am I.

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