When a legion of fans assembled in Times Square on July 5, 1999 hoping to catch a glimpse of 98 Degrees on MTV’s Total Request Live, their passion in the moment likely clouded any consideration as to what their favorite band would look and sound like two decades later. After all, stressing about the future isn’t exactly a defining characteristic of adolescence and any misers out there in favor of kids growing up faster clearly forgot how it feels to be truly excited about something. As someone whose eardrums were victimized by 20,000 screaming females at an *NSYNC concert on July 20 of that same year, I can attest to the fact that a unique sense of Gemeinschaft developed among girls between the ages of 8 and 18 whenever a boy band came to town.
It’s easy to look back and discredit the boy band craze of the late ’90s as a fad that capitalized on middle class spending power without providing any musical value in return, but not everything has to be as ambitious as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to find an audience. Sometimes, all you need are catchy melodies and a few guys that can convincingly carry a tune before letting a major label fill in the rest, which is a recipe that worked to perfection more often than not during that era.
A small yet mostly appreciative crowd gathered inside the Seneca Niagara Events Center recently to revel in the past and perhaps discover what some of their favorite pop personalities have been up to since they lost touch. While Jeff Timmons, Drew Lachey, and Justin Jeffre of 98 Degrees were the most recognizable names on the bill, Jamie Jones of All-4-One and Erik-Michael Estrada of O-Town actually delivered the most memorable vocal performances of the evening.
Jones rekindled the smooth Prom Night magic of “I Swear” and appeared to be in charge of keeping the rest of the guys on track as they rolled through an assortment of holiday standards. “O Holy Night” stood tall, but ill-advised renditions of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and “This Christmas” exposed the fact that not all of them were on the same level as lead singers. As for Estrada, he buoyed the band, as well, and did his darnedest to take the fans’ attention away from the fact that one critical member was missing.
Not only did the absence of Nick Lachey hinder the effectiveness of “I Do (Cherish You)” and “The Hardest Thing,” two money tracks responsible for catapulting 1998’s “98 Degrees and Rising” to multi-platinum status, it also led to rows of empty seats in a venue that is routinely filled to the brim. The loudest ovation of the evening followed a sturdy rendition of O-Town’s “All or Nothing” and even then there were still people in my section voicing their displeasure.
Despite positioning himself as the odd man out for most of the show, Ryan Cabrera delivered acoustic versions of his forgotten early aught hits “True” and “On the Way Down” with a humility that didn’t feel forced, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he earned a bump from The Grinch in Santa’s clothing known as Spotify in the process.
If you missed it, there’s a strong possibility that this could become a yearly tradition given the public’s affinity for both Christmas and boy bands, so don’t fret.
However, Drew should convince his brother to come out of hibernation for the cause.