As a young feminist activist working in Washington, DC, I've had the opportunity to achieve many of my life goals: obtaining a graduate degree, becoming a writer, and serving as an advocate for women's rights. Last week, however, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of a different sort: I finally saw my favorite childhood band, the New Kids on the Block, perform live. And I did it in concert with about 20,000 other screaming twenty- and thirty-something year-old women.
I was 8-years-old when NKOTB rose to fame with their Hangin' Tough album and I became an instant fan. When I think back to 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, I mostly recall my intense crush on the band. I listened to their music, watched their videos and Saturday morning cartoon, became an official member of their fan club, and bought their merchandise. And, boy, did I have their merchandise: a NKOTB sleeping bag, T-shirts, posters, action figures, buttons, and tapes.
Outside of the stuff that came with my devotion to the pop group was a real love for their music. It was something that I shared in common with all of my female peers at the time. I have fond memories of sleepovers spent listening and dancing to their music, creating a fake radio show with my cousin where we talked about and played their songs, and banding together with my female classmates to defend ourselves from the boys in class who teased us for our dedication to the band. And the wholesome songs -- with lyrics like "you got the right stuff," "baby, I believe in you," and "girl, you're my best friend" -- made us feel good about ourselves. NKOTB truly served as a tool for building a positive girls' community of creativity, support, and a lot of fun.
Fifteen years later, the five aging -- yet ever handsome -- "New Kids" still have the power to do it again.
After the announcement that the New Kids on the Block were getting back together and producing a new album, The Block, two of my cousins and I bought tickets to see their reunion show in Washington, DC. In my parents' attic, I fished out my old T-shirt featuring Jonathan Knight -- my favorite band member -- and wore it to the show. As soon as the three of us exited the metro station at the venue, I knew we were in good company.
Tons of women around my age were dressed in 80's fashion, wearing crimped hair, high-top Converse sneakers, neon colors, and NKOTB T-shirts. People yelled to me, "I love your shirt!" and I responded, "I love your big button!" One girl sported a homemade shirt with the message we all shared: "Joey, I'm legal now!" The arena was packed with adoring fans who, like me, were eager to reconnect with their inner pre-teen and teenage selves.
We spent $38/ticket (not including the additional surcharges) and our seats were about as far as you could get from the stage -- in the second to the last row in the upper tier. We were so far away that it was hard to even see a clear image on the large television screens. Caught up in pre-show anticipation, we lamented the fact that we didn't spend the $100/ticket to be on the ground floor. For a few minutes of desperation, we considered pooling our cash together to upgrade our tickets or to bribe an usher to get closer to the stage.
When the lights finally flashed and the New Kids on the Block emerged onstage, the crowd exploded in deafening screams. My cousins and I grabbed each other, jumped up and down, and I was officially a giddy, school age girl again. During their set, I swooned when they sang the love songs, "Please Don't Go Girl" and "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)." It felt like Joey McIntyre and Jordan Knight were singing directly to me, and the distance between us and the stage seemed to melt away.
Over the next two hours, I belted out the lyrics to songs that magically came back to me after so many years. We danced, we shrieked, and we stood transfixed by a part of us that had been reawakened. The band acted equally shocked by the experience of reuniting with their fans.
An upside to our seat location was that we had a great aerial view of the arena. One of my favorite parts of the show was looking down and watching the entire crowd sway and wave their arms in one unified rhythm. In a surreal way, I felt connected in body and spirit to thousands of strangers. It struck me then how the band had brought together this amazing community of women all over again.
While the New Kids on the Block played a huge role in forming my pre-teen identity, it was an identity also shaped by a common bond with my best girl friends. My love for a teen boy band sensation translated into a powerful feminist experience of bringing me closer to my friends, and I was lucky enough to enjoy it a second time around. For the millions of other fans out there, I hope it did the same.