“Step By Step”

’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Step By Step”

The twelfth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Step By Step” by New Kids on the Block. NKOTB, as they were later known, was arguably the first modern-era “boy band,” meaning a vocal group consisting of five young men, all Caucasian or Caucasian-approved, shamelessly over-merchandised, with a short shelf life, marketed to pre-teen girls. Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC famously led a boy band revival about 10 years after NKOTB. The big difference, though, is that although NKOTB may have been the trailblazers of this controversial sub-genre, they also happened to have created the worst music. Poorly written, poorly produced and not especially well-sung, NKOTB’s output felt incidental to their fame. This cannot be said for Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, each of whom released some truly high-quality singles with broader appeal. To underscore the point, here’s how many Grammy nominations each of these boy bands has earned to date:

  • *NSYNC: 8
  • Backstreet Boys: 7
  • New Kids on the Block: 1 (for Long Form Music Video)

“Step By Step” was New Kids’ third and final No. 1 in the U.S. After “Step,” they charted a few more times through 1994. When *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys took off later in the decade, NKOTB members Joey McIntyre and Jordan McKnight rode that wave of Pop revival as solo artists. Joey reached No. 10 in April 1999 with the gospel-inspired ballad “Stay The Same,” which was sappy but fine, and Jordan also reached No. 10, a few weeks later, with the flirtatious up-tempo “Give It To You,” which was a bit of an eye-roller but not altogether terrible. Almost a decade after those hits, NKOTB reformed and released the surprisingly good comeback single “Summertime,” which peaked at No. 36 in 2008. They’ve been touring and appearing on reality shows and various other things since.

Let’s take a listen to “Step By Step”:

Donnie, Jonathan, Joey, Jordan and Danny all deserve full credit for being hardworking, physically fit and perhaps in possession of basic music abilities. But they ought to be ashamed of the recordings they unleashed on us between 1988 and 1990, “Step By Step” included. Is the chorus catchy? Perhaps, but so is the Farmers Insurance jingle. That does not mean it should be a No. 1 Pop song. The verses are weightless, inconsequential Styrofoam peanuts. And jump to 2:45, if you dare, and try to endure the bridge. (“Step 1: We can have lots of fun. Step 2: There’s so much we can do. Step 3: It’s just you and me. Step 4: I can give you more. Step 5: Don’t you know that the time is right?”) Step 6: Please stop.

This song was only dope if you were a 9-year-old girl named Courtney. The rest of us, meanwhile, were stabbing our eardrums with an ice pick.

Does it hold up? Any 9-year-old kid today would be too sophisticated for this garbage.

Dopeness: 1 out of 5 Birkenstocks


New Kids on the Block
“Step By Step”
3 weeks at No. 1, starting June 30, 1990
Preceded by: “It Must Have Been Love,” Roxette
Followed by: “She Ain’t Worth It,” Glenn Medeiros f/ Bobby Brown

’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?

– John

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