New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits — and launched an entire wave of boy bands.
Last week, tickets went on sale for NKOTB’s Capital One Arena show on July 23, 2022, alongside Salt-N-Pepa, Rick Astley and En Vogue for a nostalgia-packed Mixtape Tour.
“It’s going to be so great to get back on tour,” founding member Jonathan Knight told WTOP. “We’re saving the best for last by ending our tour in Washington D.C. That’s my manager’s hometown, so when we all go there we kind of feel like we’re at home with him, so it’s always a great place to play, have a few days off and do some sightseeing.”
Born in 1968, Knight and younger brother Jordan grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
“Me, Jordan, Danny [Wood] and Donnie [Wahlberg] went to elementary school together,” Knight said. “It was on the playground at Trotter Elementary School in Roxbury that I met Donnie. I was friends with his brother. I remember him bringing me out to play kickball, he introduced me to Donnie and the rest is history. We’ve been great friends ever since.”
They were put together as a boy band by former New Edition producer Maurice Starr.
“Coming from Boston, Maurice produced all of New Edition’s albums,” Knight said. “They had a falling out and Maurice put us together out of spite. We had a local manager and she started putting feelers out. … The first person she found was Donnie. … He reached out to us all individually, we went to the studio at Maurice’s house and one by one auditioned.”
In addition to the elementary school friends, Starr another younger member to the group.
“Our producer wanted a young Michael Jackson type, so they put out their feelers to find Joe [McIntyre],” Knight said. “When I met him, he was 12 and I was 16. The age difference felt so weird back then. He was this real young kid. Poor guy. He got the brunt of it when we were younger. We used to pick on him. I’m surprised Joe stayed in the New Kids.”
After performing in local festivals, they blew up when they toured with Tiffany. This led to their self-titled debut album “New Kids on the Block” (1986), but it was their second album “Hangin’ Tough” (1988) that went multi-platinum with a title song that was a smash hit.
“It just has that really good anthem feel,” Knight said. “It’s a weird song for me, because actually when I first heard that song, it wasn’t one of my favorites. But over the years after singing it so many times, it’s a song we always end our show with, it just feels so good.”
The album also featured the hit single “You Got It (The Right Stuff).”
“I remember hearing that song for the first time and loving it so much,” Knight said. “We got to go to New Orleans to film the video. It was the first video where there was hair, makeup, wardrobe and all these cameras. It was a big production. I just remember feeling special that we’re making this really cool video. Videos were more popular back then.”
It also featured “I’ll Be Loving You Forever,” which reached No. 1.
“It’s just a classic love song that I think a lot of people can relate to,” Knight said. “It can go so many ways. It could be about your dog, your wife, your husband, your aunts, your uncles, your grandparents. I just think it’s such a great, great ballad.”
Their next album “Step by Step” (1990) featured another hit title track where each of the guys sang a different portion of the song: Danny sang “Step 1,” Donnie sang “Step 2,” Jordan sang “Step 3,” Joey sang “Step 4,” and Jonathan closed it out by singing “Step 5.”
“I don’t know how that came about; that was just something in the studio creatively that just worked its way out,” Knight said. “As an artist, you really never know if something is going to work or not. You put your heart and soul into it and you hope people are going to love it. Luckily, we just hit the nail on the head so many times with these songs.”
The group officially disbanded in 1994 after Knight was the first to leave at age 22.
“We were just young kids thrown on a bus performing 360 days a year for at least four years,” Knight said. “We were having internal conflict as well as external conflict. People’s musical tastes were changing and people started to shy away from the pop music and they were more into the grunge, so it just got to a point where it kind of fizzled out.”
During the hiatus, Knight enjoyed watching his former bandmates succeed, including Donnie Wahlberg shooting Bruce Willis in the opening of “The Sixth Sense” (1999).
“We had broken up and I knew Donnie was doing movies, but I didn’t know what movies he was in,” Knight said. “I sat and watched ‘The Sixth Sense.’ I remember being at the movie theater with friends, did not know it was him, he looked totally different. It wasn’t until he laughed in the movie that I was like, ‘Holy wow, that’s Donnie.’ … Such a great movie.”
They reunited in 2008 to release “Summertime” and “Single,” featuring R&B star Ne-Yo.
“Taking 15 years off from each other in the long run helped,” Knight said. “We all got to go out, experience life, be ourselves and just find out who we are. So much of our identity was we’re the New Kids from Boston, this pop group, and it just gave us time to mature. Coming back into the reunion, that really helped because we all understood each other.”
Fans never forgot about them, having grown up with their dolls and posters.
“I hear all the time from random strangers on the street, ‘You were my first concert,'” Knight said. “It helped that our fans were young teenagers just finding out about love and having crushes. Most of our fans were 15, 16, 17 years old. Now, our fan base is anywhere from 35 to 55. … So many of our fans have kids and they’re bringing their kids to the shows.”
Today, the group’s legacy speaks for itself, having ushered in a wave of boy bands with Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, Boyz II Men, One Direction and the Jonas Brothers.
“There were a lot of boy bands before us, we just put it more mainstream on the map,” Knight said. “A lot of record companies and artists saw that the model worked. Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync were both formed by a man who followed our career very intensely. He modeled all of their careers after our success. I’m not going to sit here and take credit.”
In 2014, the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“In our minds, we actually don’t think we were that much of a big deal, so any time we’re recognized it’s a great compliment,” Knight said. “I think of stories of fans going through hard times. They always say, ‘You got me through.’ To me, that is all the validation I need.”
Today, the group is still going strong, no longer kids, but still hangin’ tough.
“NKOTB Version 2.0,” Knight said. “It still blows my mind that we did such a big career in our early days, took so much time off, then came back for what was supposed to be just a reunion tour of 32 shows. That did so well that we said, ‘OK, let’s keep on going.’ It’s so weird that we’ve been together the second time around longer than the first time around.”