Attack of the Jewish Boy Bands

We’ve come a long, long way since the days of the Miami Boy’s Choir. As Orthodoxy has modernized and liberalized, so have standards of acceptability towards things like goyishe music. Once upon a time, the sounds of modern rock just weren’t so kosher for a Jewish youngster. Sure, sure. You had Israeli rock, some decent Jewish rock groups like Inasense (before they became Suckfarm; sorry guys, you broke my heart) & The Moshav Band. But those guys are like, in their 30s. Now, with teenage girls (frum and not-frum alike) swooning for groups like The Strokes, Yellowcard, or whatever other “cute boys” are the flavor of the week on MTV, starry-eyed teen and 20-something frummies with rockstar fantasies are coming out of the woodwork like a termite infestation, looking to get in on the action.

Once groups like N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys received their deathknell from the press, a new generation of indie rockers were exalted as the would-be saviors of rock n’ roll. It was only a matter of time until their sound, too, had been co-opted and overrun by sellouts and industry creeps, who subsequently repackaged their music for the teenage market. Now 20 year-old wanna-be badasses with with hipsterhawks and leather wristbands are doing soundtracks for horeshit dramas on the WB and the girls of suburbia are flocking to Sam Goody, wallets in tow. It’s a sad state of affairs for the modern rock scene. In the mainstream anyway…

Of course, far be it from Jews to exclude themselves from all this nonsense. The rising trend in Jewish music seems now to be squarely on the boy bands. This explains Jewsweek‘s cover story this week, about the “increasingly popular” group Blue Fringe, and the flood of e-mails I’m getting from groups like Eden and Asparklaria begging for free publicity.

They might not have tattoos, piercings, or wild haircuts, but the sound they’re pushing is the same. The only difference is maybe the lyrics are sometimes in Hebrew or the songs are all ‘spiritual’ and ‘about G-d.’ It’s a kindler, gentler, rock and roll. Good wholesome fun for the family. Neil Sedaka with a grunge pedal. And, well, I guess it’s not that they’re that bad or untalented or anything, per se… It’s just, well, this is the kind of shit teenage girl’s dig on—the kinda shit you’d have a family sing-along in the minivan to. And, well, does that really rock? I mean, rock your face rock? I mean, FUCKIN’ RAWK?!! After all, just because you call something rock, and it sounds like rock, that doesn’t mean it ROCKS.

I’m reminded of a fit of calculated fury, wrought by comedian Bill Hicks, who, in referring to New Kids On The Block, asked his audience,

Since when did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children?


Hi! We’re the New Kids! We’re so good and clean and—SUCK SATANS COCK!—We’re so clean cut and—SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! A good clean country—HEIL! HEIL! HEIL!


And well, you might find that funny, you might not. But the question stands before us, do rock and “Jewish wholesomeness” really mesh? And well, should they even? Even if the answer’s no, can’t you be true to your roots and still tear shit up, like, say Matisyahu, Rav Shmuel or Yidcore? I mean, shit, I love all those guys to death, but I even find them too corny at times… Can’t Jews rock without shlock?

Hell, maybe I’m just being overly critical. As a DJ, and a person who’s produced a handful of albums himself, I think I’ve got a tendency to be critical. But I gotta tell ya, I wonder about these guys who think they’re gonna make it because they put ancient Jewish lyrics to the same trendy, crappy, hollow, vapid, cookiecutter music that’s plunged the rock scene into its current dismal depths. Are they just trying to cash in, or do they really want to do something special?

Either way, this little movement’s got a long way to go before it earns my respect. Y’all either gotta do something original and profound, or get the fuck off the pot. Cuz at this rate, you can play as many soldout shows at Frisch as you want, but you ain’t never gonna fuckin’ ROCK and your “commerical viability” is going to be marginalized to a very narrow and fickle market that’ll drop your ass the second MTV declares The Next Big Thing®.

Yeah, I’m harsh. But somebody’s gotta say it…

26 thoughts on “Attack of the Jewish Boy Bands

  1. Rock and Roll is about one thing: Rebellion. Fermenting it, pushing it, enacting it. Tearing down the walls of authority. It ain’t Rock if your ain’t pissed or heart broken. And unless your Jacob wrestling with the Angle, or Jonah in the belly of the whale, I have trouble imagining how singing about Hashem is going to rock. It‘s why I think Christian rock is a load of hooey. “Oh Jesus, I love you, I love you”. Fuck that. I don’t care if they are Members of the Tribe. I don’t care if you or they are frum. Play the Stones.

  2. I’m not sure BR really falls into the “boy band” category. My Boy Band Barometer generally sounds that klaxon when I can picture Menudo performing the song. Shelsheles, the Chevra and anything resembling 98 Degrees fall into this genre, which is actually a subset of the Shiny Shoe Music. (see discussion at velvel.blogspot.com or blogindm.blogspot.com). Now there’s schlock.
    I’d say BF is more like the John Mayer of the Jewish world. Slightly sweet, light on the rock side but not without talent, tight arrangements and a sound the masses enjoy. but they write and perform their own material. I’d call it CJR, Comteporary Jewish Rock, sharing the shelf with Eden, Moshav, Even ShSiyah Moshe Skier (both of whom rawk), Yom Hadash, yes. It’s a bit produced, but so what, they can sound like the album live without playback and that’s more than I can say for some.
    It is edgy? No, but neither are half the bands mentioned. As much as I love Bram and Myki, the Yidcore joke gets old after 20 minutes (Oi Oi, we’re the ‘brew). You can’t listen to that repeatedly, but BF I can enjoy in a chill mode.
    The bigger question is why Jewsweek chose to focus on them, rather than some other band. Perhaps its their age, their distinct sound in the JM world or more likely the personal/YU connection. Unless Jewsweek is going to start a Jewmusic column (not a bad idea) they should not play favorites.
    Sure, BF’s not completely original, but I can fill a house to see them. But Shelsheles? Talk about artistically corrupt. Puh-lease. That’s the type of shiny shoe narishkeit that certainly belongs in the “boy band” category.

  3. mobius, you and me have to start a band, with just crazy radical chassidic lyrics that tear down the whole fucking establishment. all we need is a bass player, a mean one.

  4. mobius, you and me have to start a band, with just crazy radical chassidic lyrics that tear down the whole fucking establishment. all we need is a bass player, a mean one.

  5. Why can’t you let Modern Orthodox and Flatbush kids enjoy some bad music. You seem to think that music must be rebellious, transcendent or God knows what or else you pull some Holier-Than-Thou (or Cooler-Than-Though, or Rocker-Than Though or Punker-Than Though) stunt. Look, you make your own music. You enjoy it. Let others enjoy their music.

  6. The real crime in the Jewsweek article is that it was written by a rabid fan. The author was way too excited and obviously is smitten with them. She romanticized too many mundane details.
    And she knows nothing about popular music. How exactly to they sound “like Linkin Park?”
    “Would Jewish teenage girls be falling over themselves for a bunch of geeks?” – ever hear of Weezer?
    Aside from this attrocious puff-piece of music journalism, BF is a boon for non-SSM. Nauseating article.

  7. Velvel:
    All of Jewsweek articles are written by rabid fans. Whoever they write about, they tend to gush over.
    Velvel, lets face it, if you wanted serious music you would not be the Jewish music scene. Just like if you wanted serious art, you would not be the Jewish art scene.

  8. Exactly my point. Marc Chagal’s Cross would not pass in a Synagogue. He used his Jewish Tradition to make general Western Art. He was not making “Jewish art”. He also made “Jewish” art. Levinas made a distinction between his “Parochial” Jewish essays and his general philosophical essays. Such a distinction (and how it played out for Levinas), might be useful for this discussion. If you want an explanation, let me know.
    I cannot judge the aesthetics of Reb Shlomo, only his message and feeling and the impact his music had. I do not think that anyone would call Shlomo Carlebach’s music “Rocking”, in most senses of the term.

  9. if you wanted serious music you would not be the Jewish music scene. Just like if you wanted serious art, you would not be the Jewish art scene. Nah … that’s just your ghetto-Jew mentality talking.
    (Ducks, covers.)

  10. Eden sounds pretty cool. Never heard of em’ though. They’re alot heavier than BF although not as heavy ad Yidcore.

  11. No. One could be a serious Jew and a serious rocker (e.g. Peter Himmelman). But since aesthetics are pretty minimal in the Jewish art and music scenes (their goal is more about building community), if you are limiting yourself to the Jewish Music scene, then don’t complain.

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