Were the Beatles a Boy Band?

*NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and the Beatles. There’s literally no difference. (A completely scientific, totally unbiased examination of why the Fab Four was a boy band.)

The Beatles Abbey Road album

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My dad and I have a lot of lively “debates.” One of our favorites is “King of Pop: Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber?” (My answer: both — former and current, respectively. My dad’s: Michael forever.) Another question we have yet to resolve is that of The Beatles: Were they a band, or were they a boy band? My dad thinks they were a band — a real band, which a boy band can’t be.

It’s a delicate issue. The answer holds a lot of pride for dads everywhere. If The Beatles are a boy band, that means every father on the planet has to concede that his John Lennon admiration is no different from his daughter’s Harry Styles fixation. And as anyone who’s ever witnessed someone in the throes of a Harry Styles obsession can attest, that’s not a flattering comparison. Plus, the dads would argue, The Beatles make real music. Harry Styles just makes radio-friendly Grammy-winning Top 100 hits. Which is not the same thing.

In honor of the 58th anniversary of The Beatles’ first U.S. concert, I decided to tackle the issue for once and for all.

Fortunately for inquiring minds, I was lonely in middle school. Which means I spent a lot of time in the world of One Direction, *NSYNC, Jonas Brothers, and Backstreet Boys. As a teenager, I developed an objective scale of boy band excellence:

Round 1: Does the band meet the most basic structural requirements of a boy band?

Round 2: Do the details make the group not just technically but really, in spirit, a boy band?

In the interest of adhering to the scientific method, we’ll use a known boy band as the control group to ensure the accuracy of my parameters.

Round One: Boy Band Essentials

1. Every member is a boy

One Direction in 2012.
One Direction in 2012 (Shutterstock)

“Boy” is key here — a group of men is not the same thing. That’s why the Red Hot Chili Peppers could never be a boy band. They have to be fresh-faced youths, ready to be marketed to teen girls.

One Direction: At the time of their formation in 2010, Harry Styles, the youngest member, was 16; Louis Tomlinson, the oldest, was 18.

The Beatles: Their first performance as the quartet that became known as “The Beatles” was in 1961 — a few weeks before George Harrison’s 18th birthday.

VERDICT: Requirement met

2. Multiple members sing

The requirement is “multiple” and not “all” because some confirmed boy bands, like the Jonas Brothers, have members that don’t sing.

One Direction: Yes.

The Beatles: While The Beatles didn’t all lend their vocals to every single song, tracks like “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” feature Ringo, the Beatle usually known for his drumming, on vocals. So technically, every Beatle has sung.

VERDICT: Requirement met

3. Band members are attractive

The Beatles album "Beatles for Sale"
The Beatles (Shutterstock)

I like boy bands, but I know that part of the reason they exist is to cater to teenage girls. And to be honest, that is probably part of the reason why I like them so much. A boy band has to be made up of hot people. Musical ability is… I’m not going to say it’s secondary, but hotness is definitely a primary consideration.

Zayn Malik
Louis Tomlinson looking good (Shutterstock)

One Direction: Zayn Malik? Absolutely. Louis Tomlinson, specifically in 2013 when he stopped wearing sideswept bangs for a year? Requirement met.

The Beatles: No. I’m sorry. But no.

VERDICT: The Beatles get a pass on this one, because 1. hotness is technically subjective and 2. it was the ’60s. Tastes were different.

4. They attract a primarily young, female audience

One Direction: Yes.

The Beatles: This is where The Beatles really take home the boy band title. Pictures of Beatles concerts are indistinguishable from photos of One Direction ones. Look at this.

Hysteria in 1963 and hysteria in 2012 (Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News & World Report magazine photograph collection, Library of Congress/Shutterstock)

Round Two: Boy Band Enhancers

1. One member leaves in scandal

One Direction: Zayn Malik, 2015.

The Beatles: John Lennon, 1969.

2. Conspiracy theories are present

One Direction: Louis Tomlinson’s baby not being real. Louis Tomlinson’s girlfriend actually being three different people. Most of them were Louis-Tomlinson-based, but they were there.

The Beatles: Apparently some people think Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced with a clone. And, of course, that classic favorite: there are supposedly secret messages in their songs when the records are played backwards.

3. They have a good name

One Direction: This is a terrible name.

The Beatles: This is such a good name.

4. Choreography is amazing

One Direction: No.

The Beatles: No.

Up your game(s), guys. The Backstreet Boys are out here getting whole flash mobs for their music videos.

5. Fans throw food at them

Bowl of Jelly sweets
Jelly Babies (Shutterstock)

I’m not sure why this is a uniting factor of boy bands, but both The Beatles and One Direction have had fans throw food at them during concerts. Not just any food, but a specific food that the fans had latched onto for some reason as a symbol of the group. For One Direction it was carrots, because of a throwaway comment one member made about carrots, and for The Beatles it was the British candy Jelly Babies, because of a throwaway comment one member made about Jelly Babies.

One Direction: Yes.

The Beatles: Yes.


John, Ringo, George, and Paul meet every part of the rubric with flying colors (except maybe hotness). But by far the most boy-bandy trait of the group is their fan base. When The Beatles were at the height of their fame, their fans were overwhelmingly young, female, and most pertinent, insane. It’s the fans that make a band, and The Beatles’ fans make them what they are: a boy band.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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