Would Boy Band Feel Sexist If It Were Called Girl Group?

Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC.
The world is in serious need of a good boy band. Earth’s greatest modern boy band, One Direction, went on "hiatus" in 2016 with no reunion in sight, and there’s no worthy heir apparent around. Sorry, Five Seconds Of Summer fans. So, ABC is out here trying to fix this terrible draught with their brand new summer show, Boy Band. The series aims to take 30 teen boys and young men and whittle them down into the perfect, well, boy band. It’s a very simple concept, meant for families across America to enjoy over barbecue. Yet, there’s one truly uncomfortable problem hiding behind all the pop songs and hair gel: Boy Band would feel so extremely sexist if there were teen girls and young women on that stage instead of young dudes.
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The inherent, aggressive objectification of Boy Band’s contestants in premiere "Meet The Boys" begins right off the bat, with the show’s very first audition. The first would-be boy bander is 19-year-old single dad Chance Perez, who already looks primed for a J-14 cover. The Spice Girl Formerly Known As Baby Spice, Emma Bunton, is so overwhelmed by Chance’s charm that she jumps out of her chair and demands a selfie with him. It’s clearly meant to prove the 41-year-old is attracted to the teen, as Backstreet Boys star Nick Carter jokes, "Lucky guy," in the background. Host Rita Ora tells Emma, "Make sure you send me that later," like she needs to lock down a photo of Chance immediately. All of this is adorable, but if 47-year-old New Kids On The Block alum Donnie Wahlberg and king of the TV hosts Ryan Seacrest had the same conversation about a teen mom, viewers across America would change the channel en masse.
The next time Emma rises from her chair is to squeeze the muscles of Cameron Armstrong — who is mercifully at least in his very early twenties — after Rita did a bit of feeling him up herself. As Emma and Rita fawn over the athlete’s "gun show," Nick and fellow judge, I mean "architect," Timbaland do a dramatic bro handshake in the background as a celebration. The underlying sexualization of Cameron didn’t stop there. In the second half of the episode, he performs “That’s What I Like” with one of the mini boy bands, Reverb. "Cameron, your moves!" Emma praises. "I need you teach me some of those later." Cameron picks up on the inherent seductive nature of that statement and his eyes almost pop out of his head. Again, please think of Donnie Wahlberg saying all of this to a girl in college.
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If you’d like to feel more uncomfortable, 17-year-old Devin Hayes is asked to serenade adult woman Rita Ora with the written-to-be-sexy lyrics of "Closer." Before the teen starts, Nick Carter yells out, "You're gonna drive her crazy, man!" Remember, this is a boy who probably isn’t allowed to go to senior prom yet and definitely can’t say “hotel bar” with any conviction. He’s supposed to drive the 26-year-old "Body On Me" singer crazy? No, thank you. Still, Rita tells the architects, "It’s a yes from me. Personally," once Devin is done flirting with her throughout the song. She also interrupts one of Emma’s less objectifying critiques to whisper, "He’s hot," about a tattooed 19-year-old named Miles Wesley. It’s far more cringeworthy than Emma’s well-put commentary that she loves the teen's look.
If all of this were going on with grown men, say with a Magic Mike-esque male stripper competition series I would like to request from the TV gods, it would be more than welcome on my television. But it’s different when all of this objectification is going on with a show that has "Boy"” in the actual title, along with literal boys in the competition. If we’re pretending Boy Band is so innocent the contestants have to swap out the word “sex” for “talk” in a Bruno Mars song, no one should be grabbing muscles and making innuendos about late-night rendez-vous. We wouldn't like it if there were women up there.
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