Busted: The early 2000s boy bands who enforced unhealthy attitudes of sex and relationships on young women like me - Hannah Brown

Believing in the messages of boy bands from the early 2000s left a lasting impression on my attitudes towards relationships and sex, writes Hannah Brown.

James Bourne, Charlie Simpson and Matt Willis of Busted attend the VO5 NME Awards 2017 at the O2 Academy (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images).
James Bourne, Charlie Simpson and Matt Willis of Busted attend the VO5 NME Awards 2017 at the O2 Academy (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images).

Posters, books, friends and relationships were all part of my claim to an identity in my “just before teens” era. Racing through the Angus Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging book series to get to the "sex part” was, for me, a shameful but exciting aspect of my life when I was younger.

Yet, something that sets the tone in cinematic effect when reminiscing about a period in your life is its playlist. Your favourite songs, artists and those guilty pleasure tracks you would never tell your pals about. Screaming down a Singstar mic to Obviously by McFly with my sister is a defining moment of my late 2000s childhood.

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UK boy bands like McFly and Busted were adorned in baggy jeans, a chain somewhere on their clothes or around their neck, spiked hair and a grungy, very American attitude to give them extra allure. The sight of Charlie’s eyebrows from Busted would make my sister swoon. We bought Top of the Pops and Smash Hits magazines, trailing our fingers down a brightly coloured maze of questions to find out which band member was “our type”. We fell in love with them, as we sang their songs in the car gazing out at the window and thinking, “when will they realise we were meant to be together?”

We believed in them and, most crucially and worryingly, we believed in their messages.

Recently, I decided to cheer myself up and play some throwback tunes of my childhood sweethearts. I started with a classic. McFly’s It’s All About You blazed in my bathroom as I sang along in the shower. Some overly clingy statements are made, such as, “If you deny me one of your kisses, don’t know what I’d do”, but overall a fairly sweet song.

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Then the mood changed.

Saturday Night by the band is a homage to an empty or, more widely known outside of Scotland, a house party. It’s an upbeat sound, but lines like, “gotta find a girl you like/and you better hope she’s already drunk” soon dampened my mood. Well acquainted, like all women, to handsy men in clubs, I don’t want my Saturday to be a guy coming onto me with the implication my “frigidness” (ie common sense) is lowered because I’m drunk. I doubt eight-year-old me wanted that either. At the time, I did not fully understand this message but as I got slightly older, I excused what I did know.

“They are just being cheeky” was the phrase that pops into my head and within that one thought there is acceptance of unacceptable behaviour towards women and girls.

To Busted, we were allowed to be “psychos” but only if we were “hot” and, preferably (and legally, very questionably), if we worked on a plane or a school. They led the assault against their main target audience of young women when they rocked up on stage singing All the Way. The song describes how they were originally promised sex from a woman but she decides she does not want to anymore. After describing this through a slow and gentle melody, we don’t get a gushing of, “it’s okay, it’s your choice’” instead, “how could you do this to me? It’s just so unkind” and “it’s cruel” follows. Coercive control is now written into law, but will people of my generation perhaps not recognise it in all situations because our idols and society made us feel sorry for the perpetrator for so long?

Not all the bands’ songs were “toxic” as Britney Spears (Busted have a love song of the pop princess on their debut album)would say. McFly sang about a Stargirl who “rules the sky” and Busted is able to communicate the pain of heartbreak in Sleeping with the Light On. In the early 10s, the bands formed the force that was McBusted that, although much less harmless in its attitudes towards women and girls, probably went down the same with their fans as Grease 2 did with the rest of the public.

It is a huge and inaccurate leap to say two boy bands of the early 00s completely shaped my perception of relationships and sex and I’m far too proud of my female-dominated upbringing to do so. Yet, what these boy bands did do in some of their songs was let unhealthy thoughts about these topics into my head that I am still having to unpick.

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We are all a product of our environments and these problems do not lie solely at the doors of my floppy but spikey-haired icons. They reflected an unhealthy attitude towards relationships and sex a society I grew up in promoted and bought into. I believed in the bands because I loved the image I was sold of these boys.

“Obviously, she’s out of my league”, McFly sang to me and my sister. Of course we were, we just didn’t know it at the time. But is it too much to ask boys who perpetuate these unhealthy attitudes to just get better? We needed more artists like Lil Simz who spreads a message of confidence in being a black woman and a feminist and Lizzo who can hold her hands up when concerns around ableism in her lyrics are uttered. Or Harry Styles who, hailing from the boy band generation of the X Factor, changed his skinny jeans to statement dresses to challenge our binary views on how a male artist should look.

Artists are of course not fully accountable for the state of society but the reach of a popstar lies mainly in their popularity with young people. If they work at challenging sexist and misogynistic attitudes, we could get a step closer to equality.

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