New Kids on the Block released a video last week for their new song “Bring Back the Time” which is perhaps the most powerful expression of nostalgia we’ve ever seen. It’s the past in its purest, rawest form, as if it was created in Walter White’s secret basement laboratory and injected directly into the veins of their fans.
The video, which also serves as a commercial for the band’s upcoming Mixtape tour, features Rick Astley, Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue (all of whom are on tour) recreating classic ’80s videos like Journey’s “Separate Ways,” “Devo’s “Whip It”, “Rio” by Duran Duran and “Flesh for Fantasy” by Billy Idol down to the last detail.
The lyrics are, of course, about the endless joys of being young. “The heart never changes”, sing the New Kids. “And inside we’re still the same kids/We were back in 1989/So take the time back/You know we still got the magic/There’s nothing can take that away from us/The feeling that we have tonight.”
Salt-N-Pepa kicks halfway with a rap: “Back when we were young/We had a ball/Little bikinis/High heels/Hanging out all day at the beach and the mall .”
The music video is more numbly nostalgic than Don McLean’s “American Pie.” american graffiti, Fat, American meeting, The big thrill, or even the 2018 Weezer tour where they started the show by recreating the “Buddy Holly” video. (And it was a revamp of a 1994 video that reshoots a 1974 TV series about teenage life in 1955.)
For some viewers, the New Kids video may seem like pimping, but we find it oddly refreshing. Many heritage acts claim they are selling something other than the past when they spin. They’ll release a new album and claim that’s their reason to go on the road, but they’ll perform, at best, a song or two from it. The New Kids played this game themselves in 2008 when they first got together and pretended it was all about their new LP. The block.
But they haven’t released a new album since 2013. ten and their tours have since become decidedly nostalgic affairs. They hit the road every two or three years and always bring other elders with them. They started with the Backstreet Boys in 2011 and have since featured 98 Degrees, Boyz II Men, TLC, Nelly, Paula Abdul, Naughty by Nature, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson and Salt-N-Pepa. (They nearly landed Wilson Phillips this year, but Chynna Phillips didn’t feel like committing to three straight months on the road.)
The New Kids put a new spin on the concept in 2019 when they stopped giving other artists traditional opening sets. Instead, they brought them out at random times throughout their set to play their greatest hits, then quickly handed the stage over to the New Kids. It was basically a mixtape coming to life and an acknowledgment that most people don’t want to hear anything from Tiffany other than “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “All This Time” and “Could’ve Been”.
It’s very difficult to look in the mirror and realize that the most precious thing you have to offer the world are the memories of the past. But New Kids on the Block understands this at the gut level. Their fans yearn to return to the world of 1989 when they were young, free of responsibility and able to imagine a future of endless possibilities. It wasn’t a life of mortgages, credit card debt, backaches, medical bills, and ungrateful children demanding dinner. It was a life where the only thing that mattered was that Donnie Wahlberg poster on your wall and waiting for the New Kids tour to come to town.
As with many boy bands, New Kids’ heyday was brief. They may have formed in 1984 and split up in 1994, but they were only superstars from 1988 to 1991. That’s a very short window of time, but millions of people were teenagers then. The group has been able to package memorabilia from this era and resell them to these people for the past 13 years.
There is nothing wrong with that. Fabian has been selling 1959 memorabilia to his fans for 63 years. That means we could be seeing New Kids tours for another 30 years. It can be hard to imagine Donnie, Joey, Danny, Jonathan and Jordan singing “Hangin’ Tough”, “Please Don’t Go Girl” and “Cover Girl” when they hit their 80s. But as long as they can still stand, it will happen. After all, as they say in the song, inside we’re all the same kids we were in ’89.