While their middle-aged forebears, Take That, are weighed down with tax-avoidance issues, the boy band game is otherwise healthier than it’s been in years. Leading the doe-eyed, chiselled charge are One Direction, now so huge that, as they begin their first European stadium tour in Dublin next week, they take fourth place in the latest Rich List of musicians under 30, with £14 million each. When the quintet reach Wembley for three nights in June, the screams should be audible from the International Space Station.
Times have changed, though. For the most part you’re unlikely to witness anything so uncool as a synchronised dance routine, and they’ll wrestle an electric guitar before they’d ever perch meekly on stools. They’re more about rock these days, with One Direction mimicking the sounds of The Clash and 5 Seconds of Summer directing fans towards the more credible pop-punk sounds of their idols Blink-182 and Green Day. They’re not only here to sell posters to teen dreamers now — they want to be proper bands, without that dreaded “boy” word affixed if possible.
Even if you’re resistant to their charms, consider this a handy field-identification guide, with 1D as the triumphant lions and The Vamps as the cheeky hyenas waiting for their scraps. Perhaps you’re a paramedic who needs to know who exactly has made your patient hyperventilate. Here are the lads primarily responsible for any hysteria in the vicinity this summer.
THE UNDISPUTED CHAMPIONS
Since their lowly third-place finish in The X Factor in 2010, Zayn, Niall, Liam, Louis and Harry have proved to be Simon Cowell’s biggest global cash cows. They had two of America’s top five biggest-selling albums of 2012, and the more recent Midnight Memories was their third worldwide number one in a row. Vigorous tweeting, Instagramming and such has served them well — Harry Styles typed the single non-word “Screll” last week and received 91,148 retweets. Theirs is now a big, energetic sound, full of shouty singalong choruses, and unlike the similarly successful Justin Bieber, fame doesn’t seem to have turned them into tiresome brats — so good luck to them, I say.
Biggest dreamboat: HarrEEEEE, who’s odds-on for a Robbie Williams-style solo career sooner or later.
Cover of choice: Their unholy mix of One Way or Another and Teenage Kicks was last year’s Comic Relief single. David Cameron, no less, is in the video.
Hear: Their three albums, Up All Night, Take Me Home and Midnight Memories, out now on Syco.
See Jun 6-8, Wembley Stadium, onedirectionmusic.com
THE DOWN UNDER DISHES
One of them has a lip piercing! Another has purple hair! You never got that with The Osmonds. This noisy Sydney quartet are a proper guitar-bass-drums band, with the legs-splayed stance of classic rockers, but they’re marketed firmly at the kids and are currently on their second One Direction support tour. Their debut single, She Looks So Perfect, was number one last month and is such a stubborn earworm that you’ll have to bequeath it to someone in your will. In other news, they’ve been writing songs with members of pop-punk bigwigs Good Charlotte and All Time Low, and singer Luke Hemmings really likes penguins.
Biggest dreamboat: In a traditional band line-up, you have to go with the lead singer, so that would be big-haired Hemmings.
Cover of choice: They do What I Like About You by Eighties US rock band The Romantics in concert — a credible pick.
Hear: The self-titled debut album is out on June 30 on Capitol.
Busted and McFly always had plenty in common when they formed over a decade ago, smashing the five-guys-in-a-line boy-band formula with their loud guitars and silly lyrics. McFly’s Tom Fletcher was a pre-fame member of Busted, and now they’re all together again in one hybrid supergroup (apart from Busted’s Charlie Simpson, who decided he’d rather do proper rock things like screaming and not selling many records). Their current arena tour is a riot and they’ll do it on an even bigger scale in Hyde Park this summer.
Biggest dreamboat: While others are happily married, McFly bassist Dougie Poynter still puts himself about. At the time of going to press he was squiring Ellie Goulding.
Cover of choice: Confirming their status as the funniest of the bunch, Poynter has been singing Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On in a chipmunk voice after receiving a kick in the balls every night on their current tour.
Hear: Busted have two albums, McFly have five, all on Universal Island.
See Jul 6, British Summer Time, Hyde Park, W1 (bst-hydepark.com)
THE MINI-ME ROCKERS
This lot also play their own instruments and have supported one of the pioneers of this kind of thing, McFly, on tour. On record, however, including their three top-three singles, they sound significantly tamer. Singer Brad Simpson’s high, edgeless voice is classic boy band, and the polished production gets rid of any small sense of danger.
Biggest dreamboat: Simpson is so tiny and puppyish he presumably sleeps in a cardboard box lined with newspaper. Perfect son-in-law material.
Cover of choice: They’ve given Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia new lyrics and a reggae beat. It’s pretty dreadful, to be honest.
Hear: Debut album Meet the Vamps is out now on Virgin EMI.
THE OLD-SCHOOL SMOOTHIES
More X Factor runners-up, Union J are the most traditional of the hunks currently plying their trade to the teenagers of Britain. If you’re going to spell your name “Jaymi”, you haven’t really got any career options other than boy-band member. With their sweet harmonies and a more electronic sound than the others, they’re doing nothing remarkable, and they haven’t yet had the smash hit to raise interest beyond the hardcore fans. A second album due later this year should make or break them.
Biggest dreamboat: Josh Cuthbert has the edge on Twitter followers and the looks of a Ken doll.
Cover of choice: On their last tour they did a medley of five Taylor Swift songs, so it’s safe to say they like her.
Hear: Debut album Union J is out now on RCA.