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Interview: New Kids on the Block

90s Stars to play Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre July 19


When New Kids On The Block reunited in 2007, it was fair to wonder if the boy band would have more than just a brief second chapter.

After all, it had been 13-plus years since the five vocalists --Donnie Wahlberg, Joe McIntyre, Jordan Knight, Joe Knight and Danny Wood – had enjoyed an initial run in which they sold some 80 million copies of its four albums worldwide -- with the 1988 album “Hangin’ Tough” and 1990’s “Step By Step” leading the way.

The guys were now in their 30s, and their teen fans of the 1990s were now well into adulthood. Had the fans moved on? Would the songs New Kids On The Block sang in their teens still resonate when performed by a group whose members were starting to approach middle age? 

As it turned out, the reunited group’s first tour in fall 2008 was an all-out success, and since then the New Kids’ popularity has endured. This summer sees the group once again headlining outdoor amphitheaters that hold upwards of 20,000 people as they tour behind their third post-reunion album, “Still Kids.”

So back in 2007 did McIntyre envision a scenario where in 2024 New Kids On The Block would still be major stars and looking at what should be continued success for years to come? 

“Uh, no,” McIntyre said in a late-June phone interview. “I think If you asked any of us that 15 years later since we got back together, 16 years later, it's (pause), it's breathtaking. It definitely gives you pause. You're obviously very grateful. At the same time, on the day-to-day, I know how much we believe, you know what I mean, and we have this concoction of personalities and desires and drive.

 “The five of us all show up. So it's not a mystery as far as the day-to-day and the passion that's involved,” he said. “And you know, when something is this big for this long, for me, I get to a point where I can't keep trying to figure it out and just count my blessings and be of service. It's really be of service. You get to perform for 10,000, 12,000 people a night. You know, it's natural to want to try to figure it out. I think slowly but surely I'm at a point where I'm like hey man, I’ve just got a job to do and I'm lucky enough to have that job and I'm here to entertain the people and have a good time.”

The New Kids have certainly had quite the career both initially and in this ongoing second chapter. Assembled in 1984 by manager Maurice Starr (who previously had guided New Edition to blockbuster success), the New Kids got off to an uncertain start when their 1986 self-titled debut album stiffed. Starr, though, convinced Columbia Records to give New Kids on the Block another shot.   

In 1988, the teenage Tiffany, then at the peak of her “I Think We’re Alone Now” popularity, brought New Kids on the Block out on her Nation Area tour, putting the boys on stage in front of tens of thousands -- just when they’d released their second album “Hangin’ Tough.” 

By the end of the year, the single “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” was an MTV smash. By mid-1989, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” and the song “Hangin’ Tough” had also topped the charts, and when the New Kids and Tiffany went back out on tour together, they were “co-headliners” with the boys closing the shows.

Another blockbuster album, “Step By Step,” followed, but after parting ways with Starr and taking more control over songwriting and their music, the New Kids saw their fortunes wane.  The 1994 album “Face The Music” failed to generate any hits and the group was now playing smaller venues. Following the tour, the group decided to call it a day.

Since reuniting, it’s become clear that the New Kids weren’t simply interested in taking a victory lap. They’ve toured consistently and have now released three studio albums -- “The Block” in 2008, “10” in 2013 and “Still Kids” earlier this year.

The “Still Kids” project got started when Wahlberg, working with a variety of collaborators, started writing. Later on, McIntyre jumped in and ended up co-writing six of the album’s 14 songs with producer Sean Thomas.

The latest album retains many of the musical trademarks of the early New Kids albums, with buoyant, danceable uptempo tracks like “Magic,” “Dance With You” and “Kids” having the familiar synthy gloss and strong pop melodies. The album also has its share of grooving ballads, including “Come Back,” “A Love Like This” and “Better Days.”

At the same time, McIntyre said some songs pushed the group into new musical places. He pointed to “Stay,” one of the songs that explores an age-appropriate theme, as an example.

 “The last song on the album, “Stay,” it’s about relationships, obviously. It's about coming to terms with where you are and (where) that other person is and are you going to keep going,” McIntyre said. “Relationships either grow or they die and that song is about sort of wrestling with that. It's an important relationship that has been part of your life for a long time. Certainly, we can say it’s about us and the fans. We can certainly say it’s about the group and the dynamic and what we've been able to accomplish rolling with the ups and downs and being there for each other. And also I just think in your everyday relationship, we wonder what's on the other side of the mountain or sort of the grass is always greener kind of thing, too, you know what I mean. I think life and relationships can be that way a lot. And to not only say that in the song, but then to have that musical breakdown at the end to let the music take us, to have a pause, to let the piano and the guitar sing and express for us, that was something we don’t do a ton of and I just thought it was pretty cool.”

The shows New Kids on the Block are doing this summer will include upwards of five songs from “Still Kids,” as well as the expected hit songs from the group’s catalog. 

“We you want to give the people what they want and then also mix it up for us to keep it fresh. So we’ve managed to do that,” McIntyre said. 

And yes, there will be dancing, although McIntyre noted the group has had to make some adjustments now that they’re in their 50s.

“I think it's a balance,” he said. “We want to keep challenging ourselves, but we want to be appropriate for our age and not run around like chickens with their heads cut off like we used to. But let me tell you, it's a workout. It’s a workout every night, especially outside in summer. But it makes it kind of cathartic. It adds to the experience, but you know, we have our signature moves and we try to build a show that is about movement and dance and connection. I think we do a decent job balancing that out.”


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