The Best Of: Boy Bands

Click the cover art for the music videos.

Originally posted in 2012. Updated in 2020.

Boy bands: what a great invention. For the past three decades, they've been formed to entertain millions around the world, with a new crop of all-singing, all-dancing young men waiting in the wings to take the place of any group that passes its use by date. Or, in the case of Menudo, to replace guys already in the group


So what constitutes a boy band? For the purposes of this list, it's a male vocal harmony group (although harmonies are negotiable), sometimes with dance moves, often with coordinating outfits and never (or very rarely) playing musical instruments. In other words, the "band" in the boy band is generally a backing track and the emphasis is on the boys — some of whom can sing and/or dance, some whose looks got them a spot in the line-up and some that are just there to make up numbers (I'm looking at you, East 17).

Since New Edition burst onto the scene in 1983 with "Candy Girl", I've enjoyed a lot of songs by boy bands, and when I first wrote this post in 2012, they were enjoying a resurgence, with One Direction, The Wanted and Justice Crew topping charts around the world. In 2020, K-Pop is keeping the boy band dream alive, while the now defunct 1D and The Wanted slide into my top 20 (and replace Another Level and Northern Line). 

Here's the (revised) countdown of my all-time favourites, based on their catalogue of singles...

20. JLS

Members: JB Gill, Marvin Humes, Aston Merrygold, Oritsé Williams
Years: 2008-2013

 

Unlike other successful pop groups to emerge from the British version of The X Factor, JLS existed before the audition process (although at that stage they were called UFO). After they came runners-up to Alexandra Burke in the fifth season of the reality show, they embarked on an impressive chart run in the UK, notching up 10 top 10 hits (half of them chart-toppers) taken from their four studio albums, released each November between 2009 and 2012 like clockwork. That rigorous schedule at home left JLS without Australian chart success, although Aston would hit the ARIA top 10 with solo track "Get Stupid" after the band went on hiatus.

Top 3:

1. "Billion Lights"

2. "Beat Again"

3. "Eyes Wide Shut"

19. Big Fun

Members: Phil Creswick, Mark Gillespie, Jason John
Years: 1989-1994

Big Fun were quite possibly the weakest vocalists Stock Aitken Waterman ever worked with (and there's some stiff competition), but regular readers will know of my love for all things SAW, and Big Fun were lucky to have been given such great pop tunes to try to sing. The group really only lasted for the one album, 1990's A Pocketful Of Dreams, although two of the guys (Phil and Mark) released a cover of "Stomp!" as an afterthought in 1994.

 

 

 

Top 3: 

1. "Handful Of Promises"

2. "Can't Shake The Feeling"

3. "Blame It On The Boogie"

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35. CAN'T SHAKE THE FEELING Big Fun.jpg
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18. New Kids On The Block

Members: Jon Knight, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood
Years: 1986-1994, 2008-present

 

NKOTB's placing on this list might be lower than you'd expect, but I was never a big fan of the New Kids. In fact, aside from the three songs listed below, I really only liked "Call It What You Want", "Tonight" and "If You Go Away". And so despite them being a worldwide phenomenon that took the concept of a boy band to a whole new level, the majority of their songs just never really did it for me. Obviously, the guys are back together these days, touring in between Donnie's acting commitments (since, surely, he's the only one they have to work around) and sometimes teaming up with Backstreet Boys (who are still to come) on the road.

Top 3:

1. "Step By Step"

2. "You Got It (The Right Stuff)"

3. "Remix (I Like The Way)"

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17. Phixx

Members: Mikey Green, Andrew Kinlochan, Nikk Mager, Chris Park, Peter Smith
Years: 2003-2005

Just as Liberty X was formed from runners-up in the season of Popstars that created Hear'say, then went on to be more successful, Phixx were also-rans from Popstars: The Rivals, the season that saw One True Voice go head-to-head with Girls Aloud for 2002's UK Christmas number 1 — and ended up outlasting and out-performing OTV. Debut single "Hold On Me" had a bit of a Duran Duran feel and the guys even covered "Wild Boys" for their third single, so it's a shame they didn't carry on, because a boy band doing New Romantic-style pop was a novel twist. In the end, the prospect of solo careers (that never eventuated) and a lack of significant chart success in the UK caused Phixx to self-combust. 

Top 3: 

1. "Love Revolution"

2. "Hold On Me"

3. "Strange Love"

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16. 911

Members: Lee Brennan, Jimmy Constable, Spike Dawbarn
Years: 1996-1999

 

More successful in Britain than they probably should've been, 911 came from an era when acts weren't dumped as soon as their first single flopped. Persistence paid off with the trio gradually building to a run of five consecutive top 5 hits in the UK in 1997-98. Then, a covers album gave them three top 3 hits in a row, including a number 1 cover of "A Little Bit More" (made famous by Dr Hook). In truth, 911's music was pretty bland and their position on this list is mostly down to the fact that they were able to get three albums and quite a number of singles out before splitting.

Top 3:

1. "Don't Make Me Wait"

2. "Love Sensation"

3. "More Than A Woman"

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15. Color Me Badd

Members: Bryan Abrams, Mark Calderon, Kevin Thornton, Sam Watters
Years: 1991-1998

Now we're getting somewhere. They may have had terrible dress sense and hair — even by early '90s standards — but America's CMB did have quality tunes. And they appeared on Beverly Hills, 90210! I never really liked their first and biggest hit, "I Wanna Sex You Up", but debut album  C.M.B. was packed with singles, including numbers 2 and 3 below, as well as "Heartbreaker", "Slow Motion" and "Thinkin' Back". My favourite, "Choose", came from less successful second album Time And Chance. Even I lost interest after that, despite the guys releasing two more albums before splitting. Sam is now a successful songwriter/producer while the others perform in various combinations now and then.

Top 3: 

1. "Choose"

2. "All 4 Love"

3. "I Adore Mi Amor"

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14. Boyz II Men

Members: Michael McCary, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman
Years: 1991-present

 

It was genius — combining old-school soul harmonies with new jack swing. And with New Edition/Bell Biv DeVoe's Michael Bivins (no stranger to boy bands) behind them, there was no way Boyz II Men could fail. Success came quickly, but the quartet really hit paydirt with the over-the-top "End Of The Road" — a song only beaten in the histrionic stakes by Mariah Carey collaboration "One Sweet Day". It's a shame the success of those big ballads meant they didn't release as many upbeat tracks. Another effect of their chart domination: the plethora of imitators. All-4-One, 4PM, Az-Yet, Shai, Silk, Next, 112, Jagged Edge... the list of R&B male vocal groups who owe a debt to BIIM goes on and on. Although bass Michael left in 2003, they have never broken up — and spent most of the 2000s recording a series of covers albums.

Top 3:

1. "Motownphilly"

2. "I'll Make Love To You"

3. "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday"

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13. One Direction

Members: Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson
Years: 2010-2016

Just when it seemed like kids in the 2010s wouldn't have a global phenomenon to call their own, One Direction came along, after being put together by the judges on the seventh season of The X Factor UK, to save the day. With Simon Cowell steering the ship, 1D were a new breed of boy band, who would go on to make fun of dance routines and other typical attributes in the "Best Thing Ever" music video. Over time they transitioned away from the pure pop of the songs listed above to more mature tracks like "Little Things" and "Story Of My Life", and could well still be putting out music today. But the departure of Zayn in 2015 was the beginning of the end for the group, with all five members currently in the throes of solo careers — some with more success and acclaim than others.

 

Top 3: 

1. "What Makes You Beautiful"

2. "One Thing"

3. "Live While We're Young"

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12. a1

* Second and third line-ups

11. Worlds Apart

Members: Ben Adams, Christian Ingebrigtsen, Paul Marazzi, Mark Read

Years: 1999-2002, 2009-present

 

When they hit the scene in the late '90s, a1 were so saccharine it made your teeth hurt just watching their videos. That might've had something to do with the fact that the quartet was formed by the brains behind Steps. But the primary colours were out for album two and in their place was a darker, broodier look. The result: two UK number 1s: a cover of a-ha's "Take On Me" and "Same Old Brand New You". Then, just as a1 was starting to be taken more seriously, with the well-received "Caught In The Middle" from third album Make It Good, Paul up and left, and a full split followed soon after. The other three have reformed, but are yet to enjoy success outside Christian's homeland, Norway.

Top 3:

1. "Same Old Brand New You"

2. "Caught In The Middle"

3. "Be The First To Believe"

Members: Cal Cooper, Schelim Hannan/Tim Fornara, Steve Hart, Nathan Moore
Years: 1993-2000, 2007

This is a strange one. Worlds Apart started life in the UK as a five-piece Take That knock-off formed by Simon Cowell and released mostly covers, none of which got higher than number 15 there. That would ordinarily have been that. But after a line-up shuffle (welcome, ex-Brother Beyond singer Nathan), Worlds Apart 2.0 moved to the Continent to ply their trade there. It was a smart move — this and the subsequent third incarnation achieved a number of hits in France, Germany and neighbouring countries. I'd been aware of the earlier line-up but didn't hear anything from the revamped boy band until chancing upon "Everybody" in 1996, then followed the group over the next couple of years online.

Top 3: 

1. "Everybody"

2. "Je Te Donne"

3. "Everlasting Love (remix)"

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10. Boyzone

Members: Keith Duffy, Stephen Gately, Mikey Graham, Ronan Keating, Shane Lynch
Years: 1994-1999, 2008-2010

 

With boy bands thriving by the mid-'90s, five fellas from Ireland got in on the action, and became the biggest selling boy band of the decade in the UK (yep, their albums even outsold Take That's). Key to Boyzone's success was a series of smart covers of songs originally recorded by artists as diverse as Tracy Chapman, Bee Gees, Anne Murray, Cat Stevens and Billy Ocean. Funnily enough, I usually preferred their originals (and the members were often listed as songwriters for those). Not surprisingly, Ronan went on to enjoy a successful solo career, but the only solo album by the late Stephen Gately also had some good pop moments. As for Keith and Shane's Milli Vanilli cover? Well, you decide...

Top 3:

1. "Picture Of You"

2. "No Matter What"

3. "Key To My Life"

9. East 17

Members: Terry Coldwell, Brian Harvey, John Hendy, Tony Mortimer 
Years: 1992-1999, 2012

If Take That were the good guys of British pop in the early '90s then East 17 were definitely the bad boys. Pitted against each other from the start, the two groups couldn't have been more different (although both had two members whose contributions were marginal). East 17 combined rap with pop to give them a harder edge, which, together with their tough guy image (oooh, tattoos!), made them the boy band it was cool to like. Their biggest worldwide hit, though, came when they showed a softer side on 1994's UK Christmas number 1, "Stay Another Day", so go figure. Post-1997 (and post-Brian's infamous ecstasy comments) the group has had numerous revamps and reformations but none have stuck.

Top 3: 

1. "It's Alright"

2. "House Of Love"

3. "Around The World"

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8. Human Nature

7. The Wanted

Members: Toby Allen, Phil Burton, Andrew Tierney, Michael Tierney
Years: 1996-present

 

Although they've developed into a Motown tribute act —
a very successful one, mind you — Human Nature's best period were the years between their launch and their 2001 greatest hits album. Aside from my top 3, tracks like "Tellin' Everybody", "Wishes" and "Always Be With You" showed they could handle more than one style — even convincingly imitating *NSYNC on their self-titled 2000 album. But when their first covers CD sold more than 10 times the amount of 2004's Walk The Tightrope, the writing was on the wall. And although the guys are no doubt happy with everything those Motown albums and their Vegas residency has provided, I suspect they'd love to go back to releasing their own music.

Top 3:

1. "He Don't Love You"

2. "Don't Say Goodbye"

3. "Eternal Flame"

Members: Max George, Siva Kaneswaran, Jay McGuiness, Tom Parker, Nathan Sykes 
Years: 2010-2014

I was surprised when The Wanted was launched in 2010. I thought the concept of the boy band was over, but it was nice to be proved wrong when debut single "All Time Low" went to number 1 in the UK then "Glad You Came" became a worldwide smash. Although the guys don't do formation dancing, I am impressed they can all sing and don't filter what they say to the media (including myself, in
an interview I did during their 2012 promo visit). They kind of fizzled out towards the end, but before they started releasing songs about Rihanna, they racked up enough good tunes, including "Chasing The Sun", "Lightning" and "Warzone", and some album tracks that could have been singles.

Top 3: 

1. "Lose My Mind"

2. "Satellite"

3. "Lie To Me"

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6. *NSYNC

Members: Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, Justin Timberlake
Years: 1996-2002

 

Just as East 17 and Take That were competitors in the UK, *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys became rivals in the States. But they had more in common than their British counterparts — the two five-piece groups were formed by Lou Pearlman (and went on to sue him), were big in Europe before the US., worked with Max Martin and ended up on Jive Records. With the huge sales of No Strings Attached, *NSYNC seemed to have the upper hand, but they only released one more CD, 2001's Celebrity, before Justin went solo. And that is the main distinction — Justin (and, to an extent, JC) was always the standout, while the attention is shared more evenly in BSB. It's a shame *NSYNC didn't last longer — "Gone" and the Nelly-featuring "Girlfriend" were a shift to a cooler sound — but perhaps it was best they quit while they were ahead.

Top 3:

1. "I Want You Back"

2. "It's Gonna Be Me"

3. "Pop"

5. Five

Members: Abs Breen, J Brown, Sean Conlon, Ritchie Neville, Scott Robinson
Years: 1997-2001

If anything could be learned from Five's career, it's that having the number of members in the group name is a big mistake — something S Club 7 would also realise. Because when Sean decided he wanted out of Five in 2001, and was replaced by a cardboard cut-out in the "Let's Dance" video, it really was all over for the boys. Until that point, the group had been more or less untouchable, even here in Australia, where many boy bands had struggled to sustain interest. Five (or 5ive, if you must) carried on East 17's legacy of a) blending rap and pop, and b) being the bad boys of pop, and even made inroads into the US market early on. But, like so many groups before and after them, they self-combusted just when they were enjoying their greatest success and credibility.

Top 3: 

1. "Keep On Movin'"

2. "Until The Time Is Through"

3. "Let's Dance"

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4. Blue

Members: Antony Costa, Duncan James, Lee Ryan, Simon Webbe
Years: 2001-2005, 2011-present

 

With most of the big '90s boy bands out of the picture by the early 2000s, there was a gap for a group to sit alongside Westlife and play Five to their Boyzone. And while Blue were closer to Another Level in terms of sound and image, they enjoyed a similar level of success to Five with a trio of UK number 1 albums. Blue were easy to like — they were talented singers, especially Lee; had an easygoing charm, especially Duncan; were easy on the eye, especially Simon; and sometimes said ridiculous things, especially Lee. Yes, I've missed out Antony, but he always was Blue's most overlooked member. The guys reunited in 2009, represented the UK in Eurovision in 2011 and released a few more great tunes like "Hurt Lovers" and "Break My Heart"

Top 3:

1. "All Rise"

2. "One Love"

3. "Fly By II"

3. Westlife

Members: Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily, Shane Filan, Brian McFadden (spelt Bryan during his time in the group)
Years: 1999-2011, 2018-present

As I just mentioned, Westlife stepped into the gap left by Boyzone's split at the end of the '90s — and not just because both were Irish. Westlife's stock-in-trade was also heartfelt ballads, with a liberal sprinkling of covers. There were also three (and, after Brian's departure, two) featured singers, with Kian and Nicky rarely getting a look-in on lead. Another coincidence: one of the five turned out to be gay, with Mark enjoying a long-term relationship with Kevin from boy band V, just as Boyzone's Stephen had dated Eloy from Caught In The Act. Westlife also shared Boyzone's lack of controversy. Even Brian quitting in 2004 caused only a minor hiccup as the guys racked up the third highest tally of UK number 1s ever (behind Elvis and The Beatles, equal with Cliff Richard).

Top 3: 

1. "If I Let You Go"

2. "My Love"

3. "Swear It Again"

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2. Take That

Members: Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams
Years: 1991-1996, 2005-present

 

Who'd have thought a band who started their career having jelly smeared on their bums by girls wielding mops would end up as one of the most beloved acts in British history? As attention-grabbing antics go, the "Do What U Like" video was genius — although the less said about Take That's leather-clad look the better. But success didn't come immediately. It took several singles before the group was on its way. By their second album, they were stars, and by album number three, a world-conquering boy band thanks to "Back For Good". Then the wheels fell off. We all know the rest: Robbie left, the band split, the band reformed, Robbie returned. And their post-reunion music has been as good as and at times better than their '90s hits. It's also been more adventurous, although most of Progress doesn't do it for me. Still, with sell-out tours and multi-platinum albums, even the departure of Robbie (again) and Jason haven't slowed them down.

Top 3:

1. "Could It Be Magic"

2. "Back For Good"

3. "Shine"

1. Backstreet Boys

Members: Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Litrell, AJ McLean, Kevin Richardson
Years: 1995-present

Here they are: my favourite boy band of all time — a fact that was reinforced when I caught the NKOTBSB show in 2012 and realised BSB could have played for another hour and still only scratched the surface of their vast catalogue of great songs, while NKOTB had exhausted theirs by the end of the concert. An instant success in Europe, BSB quickly developed a following around the world. Things kicked up a notch with Backstreet's Back in 1997, then again with 1999's Millennium. Although their sales and chart fortunes have dwindled, BSB continue to produce songs every bit as good as at their peak. The likes of "Incomplete", "Inconsolable" and "Straight Through My Heart" stand alongside my top 3, not to mention "Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely", "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" and "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)". And with Kevin back in the fold, they seem set on recording and touring forever more. 

Top 3: 

1. "I Want It That Way"

2. "Larger Than Life"

3. "As Long As You Love Me"

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Top 5 Boys In Bands

No look at boy bands would be complete without remembering those groups that looked and sounded like boy bands, but included members who played instruments. I'm going to count down my top 5 of what I'll call "boys in bands" - and the number 1 group would rank as my 4th favourite boy band if they were eligible for the main list.

I'm still dealing with the post-New Edition era (sorry Bay City Rollers, The Monkees and The Jackson 5) and I'm not including bands like a-ha, Wham! and Duran Duran, even though they all had a massive teen following.

To give you an idea of the types of "boys in bands" I'm talking about, consider the groups who almost made my top 5: Let Loose, Busted and North & South - three British groups who were conceived, marketed and/or received as boy bands. Right, ground rules set, I'll get on with it.

Members: Andrew Coyne/Graham Kearns, David Dixon/Richard Hennassey, Daryl Sims, Michael Szumowski
Years: 1989-1994

They might have hated being seen as a boy band (or even a teen act), but one look at the original cover for their debut album, Spoken Words, and it was clear that's what their record label saw them as. That label was Melodian, which was run by Molly Meldrum, and Indecent Obsession was the former Countdown host's first success (his other hit artist would be Peter Andre). After two albums, half the group - including lead singer David Dixon (who appeared on Home And Away at one point) - left, and the new-look line-up had some international success before the band folded. 

Top 3: 

1. "Say Goodbye"

2. "Tell Me Something"

3. "Indio"

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5. Indecent Obsession

4. Brother Beyond

Members: Steve Alexander, Carl Fysh, David White, Nathan Moore

Years: 1987-1991

This band couldn't score a hit to save themselves until their record company bid for the production services of Stock Aitken Waterman at a charity auction, with the resulting two tracks SAW wrote and produced for them being their only significant UK chart entries (and my two highest-ranked songs below). They did, however, gain a post-SAW lease of life in the US in 1990 with "The Girl I Used To Know". In Australia, Brother Beyond never took off, despite a promo visit to our shores in 1989 and a two-for-one offer for their SAW singles (which I gladly snapped up). Singer Nathan continued living the boy band dream in Worlds Apart, who we saw at number 11 on the main list above, and for a period of time in the 2000s worked as an artist manager.

Top 3: 

1. "The Harder I Try"

2. "He Ain't No Competition"

3. "The Girl I Used To Know"

13. THE HARDER I TRY Brother Beyond.jpg
17. HE AIN'T NO COMPETITION Brother Beyo
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Members: Michael Harwood, James Hearn, Nick Keynes, Jon O'Mahony
Years: 1998-1999

I have very international memories of this short-lived but enjoyable "boy band". I heard their debut single, "Say You Do", just before heading off to the UK in 1998 and while I was there, heard the follow-up, "Say It Once". By the time their third single, "The Right Time", came out, I was in Turkey and ended up buying it on CD single in the most out of the way place you could imagine. Then when I came back to visit Australia in 1999, "Say It Once" was becoming a hit here. It really did begin to feel like they were everywhere. Although, it would seem, they weren't ubiquitous enough — since they were dropped by their label after one album.

Top 3: 

1. "Say You Do"

2. "The Right Time"

3. "Say It Once"

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3. Ultra

Members: Luke Goss, Matt Goss, Craig Logan
Years: 1987-1991

I was 13 when Bros-mania hit — the first time I'd witnessed that level of devotion as Australia fell under the trio's sway. Fans camping outside hotels, beer bottle top shoe accessories and that urban legend about stomach pumping... everyone was fascinated. I always found it amusing that, as a band, Bros had a bass player and dummer, but no keyboard player or lead guitarist — you know, the instruments most prominent on their records. But who needed more members when you had Matt and Luke, two young men born to be pop stars. As if to prove that point, Craig quit after first album Push, and went on to a successful music industry career. Matt and Luke carried on for two more albums as a duo, but my favourite song of theirs was always their first release.

Top 3: 

1. "I Owe You Nothing"

2. "When Will I Be Famous?"

3. "Madly In Love"

8. I OWE YOU NOTHING Bros.jpg
16. WHEN WILL I BE FAMOUS Bros.jpg
42. MADLY IN LOVE Bros.jpg

2. Bros

Members: Tom Fletcher, Danny Jones, Harry Judd, Dougie Poynter 
Years: 2004-present

Even though McFly took almost a decade to make a splash in Australia (and then only with one song), they were big business for years in the UK. McFly came hot on the heels of another guitar pop band, Busted, and the two shared several links — not least of which was the fact that they dominated the cover of Smash Hits UK in the mid-2000s. Since I was editing Smash Hits Australia at the time, I wished they would be successful here because I would've had a veritable treasure trove of features, posters and cover shots I could run locally, but it was not to be. McFly may well carry on releasing music for years to come, but my top 3, as well as "Obviously", "5 Colours In Her Hair", "I'll Be OK", "Party Girl" and "Sorry's Not Good Enough" form a more than adequate pop legacy.

Top 3: 

1. "Please Please"

2. "Star Girl"

3. "That's The Truth"

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1. McFly

Best Of The Rest

And now, to finish off this look back at all things boy band, a few groups who never quite made the grade but are worth remembering for at least one great pop moment.

Another Level

Best song: "From The Heart" 
Year: 1999

Bad Boys Inc

Best song: "More To This World" 
Year: 1994

Caught In The Act

Best song: "Love Is Everywhere" 
Year: 1996

CDB

Best song: "Hook Me Up" 
Year: 1994

D-Side

Best song: "Speechless" 
Year: 2003

E.Y.C.

Best song: "The Way You Work It" 
Year: 1994

Hi-Five

Best song: "I Like The Way (The
Kissing Game" 

Year: 1991

98 Degrees

Best song: "Give Me Just One Night
(Una Noche)" 

Year: 2000

Northern Line

Best song: "Love On The Northern Line" 
Year: 2000

OTT

Best song: "The Story Of Love" 
Year: 1998

Point Break

Best song: "Stand Tough" 

Year: 2000

Riff

Best song: "My Heart Is Failing Me" 
Year: 1991

3T

Best song: "Anything" 
Year: 1996

Triple 8

Best song: "Give Me A Reason" 
Year: 2003

V

Best song: "Hip To Hip" 
Year: 2004

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