From Boy Band to Show Men: Why Human Nature’s ’90s Pop Stardom Never Defined Them
Posted by Andrew C on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Which came first, the boy band or the screaming teenage girls? For the cynical “grown-ups” among us, the conclusion has generally been that the former was invented solely to monetize the latter. But sometimes, the road to that unique brand of stardom is a far more well-intentioned one—produced not by a strategic marketing campaign, but by lifelong friendships and a passion for performing. Yes, Human Nature was once a “boy band”—a hugely successful one, in fact. And though they’re not proud of everything that phase of their career produced, they no longer shy away from it, either.
“The term ‘boy band’ definitely carries a lot of baggage,” Andrew Tierney admits. “It’s usually thought of as a group that isn’t organically formed like a rock band is. But that wasn’t us. We got together at school and did it for fun, and it evolved into something we could do more seriously as a career.”
Unfortunately–or fortunately depending on how you look at it– Human Nature was also emerging at a time when a boatload of more “manufactured” groups were popping up. And whether you were living in Australia, North America, or just about anywhere else on planet Earth, you surely can remember the sites and sounds of that ‘90s phenomenon…
The frosted hair, the tinted glasses, the bandanas, the unnecessary overalls—the matching color schemes. The distinct “personas” of the group members—the “bad boy,” the “jock,” the “cute one.” The way you carefully organized all those cut-out magazine pictures in your locker and on your bedroom wall. The giddy excitement awaiting the group’s scheduled appearance on MTV when you got home from school. Doing the math in your head to determine how old your favorite group member would be by the time you turned 18. You know, all that classic ‘90s boy band stuff.
“Yeah, a lot of those groups were doing things similar to what we’d been doing,” Tierney continues. “So we would naturally get defensive sometimes and say, ‘we’re not a boy band! We’re a vocal group like the Temptations or the Four Tops’—because those were the bigger influences for us. Looking back now, though, I think musically we were doing everything the boy bands were doing. We just had a different motivation or a different genesis. So while we were saying we weren’t a boy band, we were.”
It’s hard to say that was a bad thing, either. Human Nature’s debut LP, Telling Everybody, eventually went triple-platinum. And their 1999 follow-up, Counting Down, raced to #1 on the Aussie charts, as well. For American audiences just now getting to know Human Nature from their Motown shows, it can be surprising to learn just how massive the group has been in much of the world for nearly 20 years. For the group itself, though, that dynamic has created a unique opportunity to transition to a new part of their career without the “baggage”—or the glory—of their boy band days hanging over their work.
“Well I think for us, [succeeding in America] was always something we wanted to do,” Andrew says, “but it was sort of the political climate with record companies back in the ‘90s– it was hard to get support. We had a lot of success in Australia and Europe, but no one really championed our original records here in the States. So we just had to wait until a point in our career when we took more ownership of our own career direction and paved our own way. And that’s what’s happened.”
So, with their transitions from Australia to America and from Boy Band to Show Men both complete, what’s changed the most for Human Nature as a group? And maybe more importantly, what has stayed the same?
“The passion for music and the passion for being a group has stayed the same,” Andrew says. “We still really love performing together and taking on new challenges– new goals to achieve. That hasn’t changed. But I think maybe—I’m trying to think what has changed [laughs]. Well, we’ve almost gone back more to our roots, I suppose. There was a time when we got caught up more in that boy band wave and were trying to follow the trend a little bit. And then when we went back more to our roots—it was just closer to our hearts, I suppose. It’s a thing that has a greater impact and goes down a little more strongly. And that’s something we’ve learned more and more—to go with your heart and your gut and not to try to follow trends. Do what feels true to you and you’ll live and die by that. So I think that’s mainly what’s changed and helped us forge our new direction.”
Tierney doesn’t even mind if fans still refer to Human Nature as a “boy band.” After all, it’s hard to think of any other musical subgenre that’s generated more passion or produced more big ticket performers over the years. In a way, we probably all wish we could be as excited about our own favorite music as that screaming teenage girl is about her favorite boy band.
“It’s kind of given me more confidence to talk with Smokey [Robinson] or members of the Temps or Four Tops,” Tierney says. “They never cared about being seen as ‘boy bands’ or anything like that. There were just different perceptions about what those groups were like during that time. So I don’t cringe about it so much anymore. We’re more comfortable in our own skin now. We love doing what we do.”